Members of the Uyghur Muslim ethnic group are calling on China to post videos of their relatives who have disappeared into a vast system of internment camps.
The social media campaign, launched Tuesday under the hashtag #MeTooUyghur, follows the release of a state media video showing famed Uyghur musician Abdurehim Heyit, who many believed had died in custody.
“China, show us their videos if they are alive!” Halmurat Harri, a Finland-based Uyghur activist, wrote on Twitter. He urged the government to also release videos to prove that others believed detained are in good health amid reports of neglectful and sometimes brutal conditions in the camps.
China has come under increasing scrutiny for the camps, which hold an estimated 1 million minority Muslims in its far west Xinjiang region. Former detainees who fled overseas say that while they were held captive, they were ordered to renounce their faith and pledge loyalty to the ruling Communist Party through indoctrination tactics reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution.
Beijing, which long denied the existence of such facilities, now says they are vocational training centres where Uyghurs, Kazakhs and others receive free skills education. Surveillance cameras, security checkpoints and riot police have become ubiquitous in Xinjiang in recent years, but the government maintains that such measures are necessary to combat separatist violence and latent religious extremism.
In a rare show of public criticism from a majority Muslim nation, Turkey on Saturday called China’s treatment of Uyghurs “a great cause of shame for humanity.” Citing reports of Heyit’s death, the Turkish foreign ministry condemned “concentration camps” and “systematic assimilation” to which Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang are subject.
At a regular news briefing on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said of the #MeTooUyghur campaign, “China has more than 1 billion people, do we need to release a video of everyone?”
Hua on Monday called Turkey’s statement “a very bad mistake.” She said the video of Heyit, released by the state outlet China Radio International, showed that claims of his death were an “absurd lie.” She said the renowned musician and poet was being investigated for allegedly endangering national security.
The video shows Heyit in a grey sweater against a nondescript grey wall. He states his name and gives the date as Feb. 10, 2019, then says that he is in good health and has not been abused.
The authenticity of the video could not be verified, and it was not clear where and by whom it had been filmed.
Many Uyghurs outside of China have said they are unable to contact relatives still in Xinjiang. Fearing that their loved ones have been ensnared by the security dragnet, they say they do not even know whether their family members are dead or alive.
The mere act of communicating with someone overseas could spur detention, Uyghurs say, and as a result many of their relatives in China have blocked them on social media. On Twitter, Uyghurs abroad posted photos of themselves holding up images of their missing parents, children and siblings.
If they are still alive, the posts said, the Chinese government should release videos of them too.