Decision was historical but was just a start, Uyghur refugees say.
by Ruth Ingram
As the London Winter rain drips onto a piece of crumpled paper, 19-year-old Uyghur activist Gulnaz Kerim reads out the names of those whose lives have been lost. Hoping that somehow someone in the Chinese Embassy across the road might wonder at this vigil for the slain in the internment camps in their far northernmost province, she speaks slowly and deliberately giving each of the 36 who had died in custody or shortly after release, the honor of a life well lived but cruelly taken.
The eighteen month wait for a genocide judgement is over, but the victory is bitter sweet. The internments, torture, endless days and nights in cramped cells and terrifying hours and days strapped to “tiger chairs” live on regardless of a people’s tribunal in a foreign land. The CCP lashes out in defiance and outrage over the “vile, despicable and dirty” proceedings, condemning them as a “political farce staged by a handful of contemptible individuals.”
“The participants of the ‘tribunal’ included an ‘expert’ in indiscriminate lawsuits of human rights, an ‘academic rogue’ who fabricated lies related to Xinjiang, an ‘actor’ cultivated by anti-China forces, and a criminal engaged in separatist and terrorist activities,” complained the Global Times mouthpiece of the CCP following the verdict. “The so-called trial initiated by such a group of swindlers will only make the world more aware of their hideous features,” said the spokesperson.
Camp survivor and fact witness Yerbakyt Otarbay together with Dolkun Isa, head of the World Uyghur Congress and Rushan Abbas, director of Campaign for Uyghurs whose sister disappeared and was later found to have been sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, approach the barred entrance to the Chinese Embassy to present the findings of the tribunal, but are prevented from delivering the document by staff who have been expressly forbidden to accept anything from the public.
Dilnaz begins with the dead.
72-year-old Kazakh Qaliolla Tursun, retired cadre and legal consultant, died in prison, 81-82-year-old retired writer and editor Mirzahid Kerimi, 87-88-year-old religious scholar Ablet Barat, 75-year-old Bekri Ibrahim, 78-year-old Mrs Ayhan Memet and 73-year-old village head Rusul Eziz, all died in detention. The inventory of those who had perished contains teachers, businessmen, writers, health inspectors, and farmers. They were ordinary people ignominiously silenced who were never charged, represented in a court of law or allowed a defense.
The terrible roll of honor continues with those who had received long prison terms. Hesenjan Qari sentenced to 20 years, Ahmetjan Rahimbergen to 22, Satwaldi Rahimbergen to 22 years for praying, Yalqun Eysa to 24 years and Mirzan Bakhtkhan to 14. These are just some of the hundreds of Turkic people whose names are recorded in the Xinjiang Data Base.
Closer to home Dilnaz finishes with six of her own family members who have disappeared without trace. “This is my family in East Turkestan. I am desperate to find out about them,” she concludes, asking the public to support her #findmyfamily campaign.
Rahima Mahmut Director of the World Uyghur Congress in London, addressing the crowd after a grueling day reminds onlookers of the tragedy unfolding in Xinjiang. She speaks with mixed emotions describing the reality of her people’s plight as an “overwhelming,” “terrifying,” and “devastating crime,” that is not a memory but “a living nightmare.”
“Today we will mourn for those lost, those disappeared and missing, our loved ones, family members, brothers and sisters,” she says. “But we also stand here emboldened that the genocide of our people has today been thrust onto the global stage with this momentous judgement. Heartened by the camp survivors who came forward to tell their stories and the thousands of pages of evidence that trumpeted the atrocities with every word,” she concludes with a rallying cry to carry on and never give up. “Tomorrow and each day after that we will continue our fight with this judgement propelling us forward,” she says.