Young Ugyhurs living overseas, reporting on the detention and forced labor of Uyghur and other Turkic Muslim groups in China, risk exposing their family members who remain in the country to surveillance and punishment by the Chinese government.
Unwinding for the evening in her Washington, D.C. flat, Uyghur activist Jewher Ilham often has two thoughts as she turns on her laptop: What should I watch tonight? And will I be interrupted by Chinese hackers again?
From her webcam switching on by itself to her laptop’s cursor moving around as she watches Netflix, it is a bugbear Ilham has learnt to live with since she started criticising the Chinese government for detaining her father, a Uyghur academic, nearly a decade ago.
The outcry against the state-organized rights abuses of the Uyghur community is not limited to the Uyghur diaspora, with some foreign governments formally calling the Chinese government’s actions genocide, businesses on alert for compromised supply chains and even the United Nations stating that the situation warrants investigation.
However, activism from within the Uyghur community involves added risks and burdens.
Four twenty-something-year-old Uyghurs spoke to the Thomson Reuters Foundation about receiving threats via phone and email, being harassed on social media, and even being physically spied on.
Zumretay Arkin, who works for World Uyghur Congress said, “I know that it has consequences. But I’m also thinking about the Uyghurs who are detained, and my family members who have disappeared. At the end of the day, even if you’re silent, your relatives are going to be targeted anyway.”
According to Human Rights Watch researcher, Maya Wang, the Chinese government is indeed monitoring the Uyghur diaspora.
But Darren Byler, University of Colorado researcher, finds a note of optimism as “The state is trying to surveil them and they, in turn, are surveilling the state. The internet allows people to … push back in real-time.”
Freedom United believes in the power of online mobilization to effect real-life change. We understand why the voices of these young Uyghur activists scare the Chinese government.
We were so pleased to host Jewher Ilham on our Forced Labour Fashion panel discussion last year, discussing Uyghur forced labor and the fashion industry’s role in disrupting this economy. We condemn all attempts to intimidate and violate the privacy of those who choose to exercise their fundamental right to freedom of expression to advocate against all forms of modern slavery.
Over 77,000 people have signed the petition calling on the Chinese government to end Uyghur forced labor. Add your name today.
Chip in and help end modern slavery once and for all.