How A DU Professor Is Fighting For Solidarity With The Uyghur People In China

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Photo: Uyghur Protest
Rebiya Kadeer, center, former head of the pro-independence World Uyghur Congress, shouts slogans with others holding Uyghur flags, or pro-independence of Eastern Turkistan, during a protest in Brussels, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018.

A University of Denver professor calls the detainment of Uyghur people in China "a campaign of cultural genocide."

But despite the severity of the circumstances, Nader Hashemi is concerned that the international visibility of this Muslim ethnic minority's situation is too low.

That's why DU and Hashemi, the director of the university's Center for Middle East Studies, are putting on the event "Mainstreaming Stories: A Day of Solidarity with Uyghurs​" on Friday.

"It’s arguably one of the worst human right catastrophes in the world today," Hashemi said.

Journalists and governments have found evidence of internment camps housing up to 2 million Uyghur people, where officials force them to renounce their religion and conform to Chinese cultural standards.

The U.S. State Department detailed in the 2018 Human Rights Report:

"During the year the government significantly intensified its campaign of mass detention of members of Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang). Authorities were reported to have arbitrarily detained 800,000 to possibly more than two million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other Muslims in internment camps designed to erase religious and ethnic identities. Government officials claimed the camps were needed to combat terrorism, separatism, and extremism. International media, human rights organizations, and former detainees reported security officials in the camps abused, tortured, and killed some detainees."

Chinese officials deny the detainment, saying the camps are "vocational centers" and are part of an effort to combat terrorism.

Information about the Chinese government's treatment of Uyghur people frequently comes from Uyghurs who have fled the country. One of them is a Colorado woman who spoke to Colorado Matters on the condition of anonymity out of concern for her safety and that of her family.

"Being a Uyghur is really hard. Practicing your traditions and religion, and just being able to speak and think freely — also, being able to identify yourself as a Uyghur — is hard," she said.

The woman knows many people detained in camps: former professors and teachers, childhood friends and about 30 members of her extended family. Communicating with family back home would put both her and them at risk, so updates on their whereabouts and status are few and far between.

Before moving to the U.S. several years ago, she said she was required to give a blood sample and carry an ID, called a "green ID" that identified her as Uyghur.

"It was supposed to be temporary. But we would have to have that ID carried with us if we traveled, " she said.

Hashemi hopes the day of solidarity will raise awareness for the plight of Uyghur people and start a network of supporters in the area.

"It’s visibility, but also, it’s an attempt to try and put some restraints on Chinese human rights records," he said. "So by trying to raise awareness, lobbying politicians, organizing a local group that will sort of be part of a global campaign to stop these atrocities."