For Nefise Oghuz, giving testimony about the illegal imprisonment of her uncle and what she says is the genocide of Uyghurs in western China was her “duty.”
The 20-year-old Uyghur student provided statements in four languages — Uyghur, English, Mandarin and Turkish — on social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, about how police in Urumqi, capital of western China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, arrested her uncle, Alim Abdukerim, 33, at his home on Aug. 28, 2017.
“I dared to share this video testimony as I could not bear the sufferings of my people facing genocide,” she told Radio Free Asia. “I could not accept the fate of my uncle and that of millions of Uyghurs in the concentration camps, and I felt terrible for my nephew, who had not seen his father even once after he was born.”
Abdukerim’s family did not know his whereabouts for two years, though Oghuz later obtained information that he was in prison in Korla, known as Ku’erle in Chinese and the second-largest city in Xinjiang, two years after he was taken away.
“My innocent uncle has been in jail for the past six years,” Oghuz says in the multilingual videos. “I demand the Chinese government release my uncle, Alim Abdukerim, immediately.”
‘I could not bear this injustice’
“My uncle Alim Abdulkerim has been detained in Xinjiang for six years because he is Uyghur. He hasn’t been able to see his son, Abdulkerim, who is now six years old. We believe he is innocent and appeal to the Chinese
government to release him and reunite him with his family. pic.twitter.com/EdWEMkhVri
— Nefise Oğuz (@NefiseOguzz28) April 2, 2023
The videos have received widespread attention from Uyghurs in the diaspora as well as an outpouring of reactions on social media.
“Since we could not get any information about him, I could not bear this injustice,” Oghuz told Radio Free Asia by phone from Istanbul, where she and her family have lived since 2015.
“So, I gave this testimony. For the past years, we kept mum, fearing that our testimony would cause harm to other relatives in our homeland,” said the sophomore majoring in English journalism at Turkey’s Istanbul University, who studied in bilingual classes in Xinjiang until middle school.
“Although I have not openly advocated for my uncle previously so as not to cause trouble for my relatives back home, I have advocated for my uncle through various channels in a more discreet way,” she said. “Realizing my uncle had suffered too long, we lost our confidence in the Chinese government’s justice and began openly demanding his release.”
Chinese police detained Abdukerim shortly after he married amid a larger crackdown on Uyghurs beginning in 2017 during which authorities arbitrarily detained ordinary and prominent Uyghurs, such as businesspeople, writers, artists, athletes and Muslim clergy members into “re-education” camps.
China has claimed that the camps were vocation training centers set up to prevent religious extremism and terrorism in the restive mostly-Muslim region. But those who survived the camps say Uyghurs there were subjected to torture, sexual assault and forced labor.
The U.S. government, the European parliament and the legislatures of several Western countries have declared that the Chinese government’s abuses against the Uyghurs amount to genocide and crimes against humanity. A report issued by the U.N.’s human rights body has said that the camp detentions may constitute crimes against humanity. .
Reason for arrest unclear
Abdukerim, who has a young son he’s never seen, was a computer engineer responsible for managing computer and internet-related business at a family-run company called Halis Foreign Trade Ltd. He and Oghuz grew up together.
Oghuz said she tried to obtain information about him from relatives in Xinjiang and from Chinese social media sources.
“We don’t know why the Chinese government arrested him,” she said. “He had never been abroad. I think the Chinese authorities detained him for being Uyghur and Muslim.”
Following Abdukerim’s arrest, the family’s company closed its doors. His crime and the length of his sentence remain unknown, though Oghuz learned that he is being held at a prison in Korla that operates under the auspices of the Xinjiang Construction and Production Company, a state-owned economic and paramilitary organization also known as Bingtuan.
His prisoner number is 3153.
“I hope the Chinese government releases my uncle and allows him to meet his son,” she said. “It’s OK if I don’t see him, but his son needs to see his father. I will not stop being my uncle’s voice until the Chinese authorities release him.”
Oghuz said she presented testimony in Turkish, hoping that the Turks would pay attention to the sufferings of the Uyghurs, thousands of whom live in the diaspora in the southern European country.
She gave it in English, hoping that the international community would also pay attention, at a time when Uyghur rights groups are calling for concrete measures to hold China to account for its actions in Xinjiang.
And she gave testimony in Chinese to try to force the Chinese government to respond to her demand.
“For those who think they cannot give testimony in foreign languages, they may provide it in the Uyghur language,” Oghuz said.
“Your testimony will eventually cause anxiety among the perpetrators,” she said. “The Chinese will see your testimony and worry that if more people like you speak up, they will expose their crime to the broader global community.”
Translated by RFA Uyghur. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.