Uyghur activist Rahima Mahmut shares how the Chinese government’s repressive system of forced labor in the Uyghur Region has impacted her and her loved ones.
My name is Rahima Mahmut and I am from Ghulja, in the north of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region/East Turkistan. I have been unable to return home since I came to the UK in 2000 because I chose to speak out about the injustice my people faced. But for most of those years I was still in normal contact with my family—we would have long conversations on the phone.
Then in 2016, I began to hear about the chilling changes taking place in my homeland as the current system of mass detainment and forced labor was developed. My telephone calls with my family suddenly changed; they were cut short and my closest family members suddenly stopped reaching out to see how I was, even though I had been sick.
In the winter of 2016, I started finding myself unable to reach my family, friends and classmates. I was so worried and I just kept calling. I finally got through to my eldest brother after New Years and he answered me in Chinese, instead of our usual Arabic greeting. He indicated in a trembling voice that I should no longer contact them. I could tell he was fearful and I understood that if they kept talking to me, they risked detainment. That was the last conversation I ever had with anyone in my family. To this day I do not know if they are safe or if they have been detained, imprisoned, or forced to work.
From the accounts given by the camp survivors, the life inside the camps is one of horror, where detainees suffer from brainwashing, indoctrination, torture, lack of food, overcrowding, sleep deprivation, rape, forced sterilization, and forced labor.
What is happening in my homeland is cultural genocide. The Chinese government is using forced labor to make people in my region forget their home, their religion, and their culture.
My heart aches with sorrow and pain, but I find meaning in my life by raising awareness and campaigning for the freedom of my people. That’s why I’m supporting Freedom United’s campaign calling on the Chinese government to stop this systematic exploitation. I believe that together, people around the world can make a difference if they join me in speaking out. So please add your name today.
Rahima is the UK Project Director of our partner organization the World Uyghur Congress (WUC). Together with our partner organization the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), the WUC is working to ban cotton imports from the Uyghur Region in the UK. Read more about WUC and GLAN’s letter to the UK government here.
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