In a rare response, the Chinese government on Friday formally accepted to the UN, the death of an Uyghur man, whose family believe had been held in a Xinjiang internment camp since 2017.
Over one million people from the Uyghur and Turkish Muslim communities in western Xinjiang have been allegedly detained in camps since 2017, under a systematic crackdown on ethnic minorities which world leaders have termed as cultural genocide. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has repeatedly turned down the requests by international bodies to independently visit and investigate the region, despite growing backlash from international communities.
The Uyghur man’s disappearance was registered with the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) in April 2019, but the CCP did not respond to formal inquiries until September this year. In a statement to the WGEID, China said the retired driver named Abdulghafur Hapiz from Kashgar had died almost two years ago, on November 3, 2018, due to severe pneumonia and tuberculosis.
However, his daughter, who is also an activist in Australia believes that Hapiz was sent to the camps in March 2017, and had been advocating for his release, or at least information on his whereabouts ever since. She said China’s formal acknowledgment of her father’s death was significant for the Uighur community as it brings hope and potentially legal recourse in their struggle.
One of the thousands of Uyghurs herself, Abdulghafur said she has been trying to get in touch with the rest of her family in Xinjiang but it is not safe for her to do so. She had received some messages via third parties over the years.
The WGEID also enquired after Abdulghafur’s mother and two other siblings, who have also disappeared. Authorities had reported that her 63-year-old mother was leading a social, normal life, but she believes that her mother is under house arrest.
In its 2020 report, the WGEID urged China to inform the families and legal groups regarding the whereabouts of missing Uyghurs and said failure to do so amounts to enforced disappearance.
New research reveals that China’s crackdown on Xinjiang is expanding with hundreds of new detention camps being set up and the destruction of thousands of mosques and other cultural and religious sites. In recent months, news regarding forced sterilisation of women, and expansions of forced labour programs in the region had also surfaced.
Consistently denying the accusations against it, the CCP says the camps are vocational training centres built in response to religious extremism.
(Image credits: AP)