Genocide against the Uyghur Muslims continues to worsen as the world looks on, despite its mass atrocities that have come into stark focus over the past five years.
Thousands of Uyghur children have been abandoned without parents and family, as their mothers, fathers and siblings are forced into Chinese internment camps, prisons and other detention facilities, according to evidence from government documents in Xinjiang.Two months ago, the day it was confirmed that his 19-year-old sister had been detained at a detention facility, Kewser Wayit, based in the United States (US), rushed to call his family hailing from Artush city in southern Xinjiang.
However, the countless calls made to the Chinese national security officer in charge of communication between him and his family were instantly cut. Frantic and desperate, he continued his attempts at making the calls again and again, always with the same result.
“I tried calling the office for over a week repeatedly for confirmation that my sister had been taken, but no calls or texts were being responded to. Then I realised he’s put me in this position to trap and break me, so I decided this must stop. First, they took my dad and, now, my sister. I’m speaking up now,” he said.
Kewser, a 26-year-old ethnic Uyghur from China’s frontier region of Xinjiang, left his homeland for the US back in 2013. When he returned to the US from Xinjiang after a visit in the summer of 2016, he had no idea that would be his last visit, and of the horrors that would follow his family.
In 2017, his father was suddenly arrested and imprisoned in a detention centre before being forcefully transferred to a concentration camp, where more than a million Muslims have been arbitrarily detained.
“I thought my dad would be there for a short term for interrogation purposes since there was no reason behind his arrest, but they ended up keeping him for two years,” said Kewser. His family were later informed by local authorities that his 10-day business trip to Turkiye had raised serious suspicions of separatist activities, hence his detainment.
Uyghurs are banned from travelling to 26 ‘sensitive countries’, most of which have a Muslim majority population, including Egypt, Turkiye, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia.
“It was a frightening time; I felt so helpless and far away,” described Kewser. “I started losing interest in school because of depression because I started questioning what’s the point of learning if I can’t even help my family? I left sports too; I used to play track and field, but it felt pointless.”
“I wasn’t the only one suffering; I had other Uyghur classmates and friends who were being told about their family members disappearing into the camps.”
In 2017, according to official statistics, arrests in Xinjiang of its ethnic minority citizens accounted for nearly 21 per cent of all arrests in China, despite people in Xinjiang making up only 1.5 per cent of the total population.
However, most people around the world, particularly in the West, had not been made aware of Xinjiang or heard of the plight of the Uyghur Muslims.
“There were mixed responses when we tried telling some Chinese students at my college of what was happening at the time, but most of them responded in support of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) saying it was for stability reasons,” said Kewser.
“The Americans and others would listen to us but couldn’t imagine such abuse to be true and actually happening today.”The evidence of China’s barbaric abuse of Uyghur Muslims is now undeniable, though. According to information obtained through leaked official documents and first-hand eyewitness accounts, somewhere between one million and three million people have been forced into these camps, where they’re subjected to dehumanising abuse, such as torture, rape, forced labour and routine humiliation.
Hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs have been held for years without any due process or explanation.
In spite of repeated accounts of such torture at the hands of authorities, the Chinese government says accusations of human rights abuses against the Uyghurs are “the most preposterous lie of the century, an outrageous insult and affront to the Chinese people, and a gross breach of international law and basic norms governing international relations.”
“My father changed,” said Kewser. “When he was finally released in 2019, during which he was admitted to the hospital twice due to high blood pressure, his health deteriorated greatly. He looked so thin and lost a lot of hair. He also started constantly suffering headaches and developed a heart problem.”
“But he couldn’t talk about it with me. He couldn’t share what he went through inside because of the WeChat calls being monitored.”
Tormented by his father’s silent suffering, Kewser shared a video testimony in September 2019 with Gene Bunin, a prominent campaigner, best known as the founder of the Xinjiang Victims Database, which contains entries for over 50,000 people incarcerated, detained or unaccounted for in Xinjiang.
The move cost him an instant loss of communication with every member of his family. The CCP often punishes the relatives of dissidents and treats them as guilty by association and further uses them to threaten outspoken family members.“When I kept calling the local police station back home, they kept hanging up. After almost 100 calls, they connected me with the Chinese National Security Director of Artush, who ended up going to our house twice in 2022 and allowed me to speak with family. My siblings were not allowed to be on those calls. And, both times, I was told to stay silent and not get into political activism in the US.”
During the months of radio silence following the call, Kewser’s sister, Kamile Wayit, headed to college to study pre-school education at a university in Henan province in Central China.
Despite being deleted from her WeChat contact list, a Chinese social media app, as safety precautions, Kewser was still able to view her latest posts. One day, she had posted in support of the “white paper revolution”, calling for an end to strict Covid lockdown measures and political freedoms, which her dad received a warning call about from the police.
“I found a way to communicate with her for a few months in the fall of 2022, before her return home and she told me about the white paper revolution post. I also took the opportunity to ask her about some relatives who disappeared into the camps and what happened during Covid when I was cut off from communication,” explained Kewser.
“The conversation was a risk because she was not allowed to communicate with me, since my family was forced to sign a document not to contact me by any method in September 2019,” he added.
Kewser was right. Upon her return to Xinjiang for winter break, Kamile was arrested by the Chinese police. However, due to the ban on communication with his family, Kewser was unaware of his sister’s detainment.
It was not until he noticed the sudden lack of updates and posts on her WeChat account since 12 December, that he started questioning her whereabouts, after which he immediately contacted friends and called the police station in Xinjiang and confirmed that his sister had been arrested.“They gave no clear reason for detention, but it could be because of my communication with her or the post she shared about the white paper movement. I was worried for my parents’ well-being, so again, I tried reaching out to the Chinese National Security agent; however, he ignored my calls and messages. Then, I finally made the decision to no longer stay quiet.”
“I don’t want to imagine what my sister is going through; she suffered enough during my father’s detainment. I’m worried and feel guilty but I have
nothing left to lose now; I will be active and speak up now.”
It has been almost three months since Kamile’s arrest and the circumstances of her case remain unclear.
In a short video posted on Twitter, Kewser called out the CPP, “My 19-year-old sister Kamile Wayit has been detained by the local Artush city police after her arrival at home. She’s innocent and committed no crime. I demand the Chinese authorities release her immediately and let her speak to me.”
“I won’t stop until she’s free,” he said.
I am devastated to learn that my 19 year old sister, Kamile Wayit, was detained by local police last month when she returned home for winter break. I demand Chinese authorities to release her immediately! I won’t stop until she is freed!
Please share to help her.#uyghur #china pic.twitter.com/q6mUrHl5t9
— Kewser Wayit (@KewserWayit) January 22, 2023