08/22/2022, 09.10
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Lagers and torture, Beijing's persecution of the Uyghurs

by Vladimir Rozanskij

The report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is expected in the coming days. After last May's visit to China Michelle Bachelet was reportedly pressurised. The testimony of Uyghur activist Jukhia Ilham. His father Ilham Tokhti arrested in 2014, the family has not heard from him or been able to meet him for five years. The identity problem of minorities. 

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet is expected in the coming days, which should also inform on the situation in Chinese Xinjiang. The Commissioner visited China last May amid press reports of pressure from Beijing on her to block the publication of the report.

In fact, Bachelet was to verify the situation in the many 're-education camps' where thousands of ethnic Muslims in the autonomous region are detained, which are nothing more than lagers for dissidents. Many countries and associations around the world have expressed great concern about the persecution of minorities in Xinjiang, but despite the many testimonies about forced detentions, torture and slavery, and the sterilisation of Uyghur women, there is no sign of any easing of the oppression by the Chinese authorities.

The Sibir.Realii website interviewed a Uyghur humanitarian activist, Jukhia Ilham, daughter of a world-renowned Beijing economist and author Ilham Tokhti, an authroity on intercultural relations between Uyghurs, Khantsy and other ethnic groups in China. Jukhia was just 18 years old when, at the beginning of 2014, she was due to leave with her father on a flight to the USA, but the authorities took Tokhti from the cabin of the plane and then sentenced him to life imprisonment on charges of inciting separatism.

The dissident then received in absentia a number of awards for his humanitarian activities, including the 'Vaclav Havel' title and the 'Sakharov' prize, which were presented  to his daughter on his behalf. Jukhia confesses that she knows almost nothing about the current condition of her father, who has not even been allowed family visits since 2017; it is not known where he is confined, whether in prison, in a lager or in a slave labour factory. During the last visit he appeared extremely thin, and had lost all his hair. In his first imprisonment, he was in an isolation cell in front of an always-on television, broadcasting state propaganda, at full volume even at night.

Since the 1990s, Ilham had been publicly speaking in support of the Uyghur people's rights to self-determination, accusing the authorities of discriminating against his compatriots, who were prevented from having any access to stable social standards and regular work. The situation was different for the Khantsy, considered an ethnic group of Chinese origin. The economist argued the need to build an adequate infrastructure in the region, as most of the roads were not even paved, and the Uyghurs were still forced to travel by mule, even if only to visit a doctor in a nearby town.

He also denounced the seizure of Xinjiang's resources, 'which is a huge territory, one sixth of China's fertile land', he wrote in his articles. 'And it is not right,' he continued, 'to take all the natural gas, the gold, the uranium, the oil, without giving anything in return, without building hospitals and schools, without fixing the roads'. As Jukhia states, 'my father's crime was just that, the attempt to protest against injustice'.

Ilham's daughter spent her childhood and early youth in Beijing, 'I don't even know the Uyghur language well, I studied it in America; only in the summer did I visit my grandmother in the Uyghur city of Artush, where my father was born'. At home, her parents spoke Uyghur, but Jukhia attended boarding school and only came home on Sundays. 'At boarding school, there were only Khantsy around me, I never felt I was either Uyghur enough or Chinese enough,' says the dissident's daughter, 'and I kept asking myself: who am I? To which people do I belong? They used to call me Xinjanka with contempt, but I felt suspended between opposing worlds'. An identity problem that today certainly does not only concern China's persecuted ethnic minorities, whose sacrifice should be an example for many.

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