Mass detention in Xinjiang: 'My brother's fault is just being Uighur'

From Voices, 6:00 am on 14 June 2021

For the past four years, Rizwangul NurMuhammed (Riz) has been seeking justice and answers. 

In 2017, Riz’s brother, Maiwulana, was arrested on charges of separatism - charges Riz denies - and detained ever since in Xinjiang.

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Rizwangul NurMuhammed holding photos of her brother, Maiwulana- detained in Xinjiang for the past four years.

Rizwangul NurMuhammed holding photos of her brother, Maiwulana- detained in Xinjiang for the past four years. Photo: Subject's own

On Friday last week, Amnesty International released a crucial report highlighting the cases of 50 Uighur detainees, and witness testimonies gathered from 2017 to April this year. The report features Riz’s brother as one of those cases.

The report highlights harrowing accounts on China’s mass internment, torture and persecution of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang being conducted under a guise of fighting terrorism.

Riz is one of hundreds of thousands of Uighurs whose family members have been arbitrarily arrested and sent to re-education and internment camps by Chinese authorities.  

Riz’s younger brother, a university graduate, was running a small internet business when he was picked up.

"His youth has been taken away from him. I think my brother's only fault is that he is Uighur."

It's been a long and hard journey for Riz, who only decided to speak out publicly about her brother last year in June for the first time.

"I could have gone to the media earlier but I chose to give the New Zealand government and Chinese Embassy space to respond.

"But I still have no update ... nothing."

A facility believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, north of Akto in China's northwestern Xinjiang region pictured on June 4, 2019.

A facility believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, north of Akto in China's northwestern Xinjiang region pictured on June 4, 2019. Photo: AFP

In May this year, Parliament unanimously called for action to prevent severe human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims - the motion stopped short of calling those abuses genocide

Many in the community feel New Zealand’s stance on the situation or language used around it hasn’t been strong enough. 

Unlike America, Canada and Britain, we have stopped short of saying what’s happening to the Uighurs is genocide.

A Uyghur man walks towards the Id Kah mosque for Eid al-Fitr prayers in Kashgar, in China's western Xinjiang region, June 2019.

Photo: AFP

All across Xinjiang, the report states that Uighurs have been surveilled, forcibly indoctrinated and detained by Chinese authorities without sufficient evidence pointing toward international recognisable offences. China says it is acting to stop terrorism.

But the report says many Muslims in the region have felt threatened to the extent of giving up their Islamic prayers, Uighur language, and staying in touch with in family overseas.

Security cameras are seen (right) on a street in Urumqi, capital of China's Xinjiang region on July 2, 2010.

Security cameras are seen (right) on a street in Urumqi, capital of China's Xinjiang region on July 2, 2010. Photo: Peter Parks / AFP

Riz's frustration with the process is becoming more evident – but she’s appreciative of the report that highlights her brother’s case. She’s not about to give up fighting for him – despite the risks her speaking out could bring.

Since being awarded a Fullbright scholarship last year, Riz has been struggling to juggle a massive study-load and her efforts towards her petitioning for her brother's release. 

"It's been draining.

"What gives me courage is that truth is on my side."

China has previously denied such accusations, and says its camps in Xinjiang are voluntary vocational and de-radicalisation programmes for combating terrorism in the region.

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