2 Jun 2022

'It's a slow motion genocide', attorney and Uyghur activist

From Nine To Noon, 10:05 am on 2 June 2022

Nury Turkel was born in a Chinese re-education camp in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, managing to flee China in 1995 to attend university in the United States.

He was the first Uyghur to receive an American law degree and went on to become a human rights attorney and activist for Uyghur people.

It's estimated between one and two million Uyghurs are detained in what’s known as re-education camps in the region. But China has repeatedly denied any mistreatment of Uyghurs.

Turkel has just released a book, part memoir and part call to action, called No Escape: The True Story of China's Genocide of the Uyghurs.

Nury Turkel

Nury Turkel Photo: Supplied

He tells Kathryn Ryan the unfolding Uyghur crisis is turning into the greatest human rights crisis of the 21st century.

He believes China’s actions constitute a “slow motion genocide”. 

Last week, a leak of data and photographs from Xinjiang police computers revealed in unprecedented detail China’s brutal use of re-education camps and prisons as a system of mass detention for Uyghurs.

The documents also uncovered a "shoot to kill" policy for those who try to escape and thousands of photographs of people who have been incarcerated.

Turkel says he is frustrated by the lack of action in the international community about the issue, despite China's repression of Uyghur Muslims intensifying in recent years.

“I just wanted to tell the world look, what more do you need? Look at those faces. We're talking about more than 2800 human faces and some of them happen to be children. As a father of two young children, I'm heartbroken,” Turkel says.

“And looking at that 73-year-old woman, who was just a year older than my own mother, I'm heartbroken. This is just tip of the iceberg. These families have been shattered, these families have been purposefully destroyed by the Communist government in Beijing.”

China is using its economic and diplomatic power to intimidate smaller countries, he says.

“Anyone looking at those pictures should be concerned that we are doing business with this regime, [which] not only commits this kind of atrocities on its own population, but also, actively engaging in transnational repression around the world, threatening, harassing even individuals like myself.

“The international community can no longer think of the Uyghur crisis, the Uighur genocide, as another typical human rights crisis that the world is used to hearing about. This is about us as civilisation.”


After the leak, the Chinese ambassador to the UK in a tweet called it a “fabricated story” and accused the media of spreading disinformation.

However, Turkel says there have been two previous public releases of documents exposing treatment of Uyghurs, with the latest being the most significant.

“This is a Communist Party leadership ordered genocide, this is exactly what this document is saying, and also the Chinese government, as we know, to this day even does not recognise the June 4th massacre was wrong.

“And we cannot expect this government, this regime to come out and publicly acknowledge that they have been committing a genocide on world's watch.”

Western allies need to push back against China on a societal, government, and business level, he says, just like they united against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine.

“We also need to use the power of consumers to put pressure on businesses.

“This past February … NBC’s viewership dropped by half simply because of activists advocating not to watch the genocide Olympics. We cannot underestimate the power of the consumers.”

However, only eight governments have officially recognised what is happening in Xinjiang as genocide, while more than 140 countries, who have signed onto the Genocide Convention, have yet to do so, he says. 


When it comes to China, the cost is too high for the international community to put their foot down, Turkel says, referencing the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ recent visit to the region in which she said she was not there to investigate.

“This is not very difficult for us to appreciate UN operations budget apparently one-third is paid by PRC.

“This is purely a political show game. And this also reminds us what happened during the 1930s that the Nazi regime allowed the International Red Cross to visit the camps. This is nothing different than what the world history taught us as the wrong lesson.”

Western allies need to withstand China’s “corrosive, corrupt and coercive influence operations”, Turkel says.

“New Zealand has been subject to that, Canada [too]. We need to stop. We need to push back.

“I genuinely believe that if the international community shows the type of resolve, shows the type of courage, shows the type of moral leadership, I think the Chinese leadership will get the message.”

Nury Turkel is co-founder and chair of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, a commissioner for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.