By Halmurat Uyghur
China proudly calls itself the offspring of the dragon. I think I am a descendent of Adam and Eve. We all ended up where we are, thanks to the first homo sapiens who went out to explore the world. And I believe the ancestors of Chinese people were along with our ancestors, who dared to explore the world and ended up settling in at the east edge of Asia. Nevertheless, China is a great power, one of the world’s biggest economies, and militarily and diplomatically it is a strong country. Being someone who fights this great power, this dragon, was never included in my life plan – until I learned my mother had been incarcerated in a concentration camp in April 2017.
I have turned to become an activist, first for defending my parents‘ right, their immediate release from the concentration camps. Later, during the course of 2018, after I learned and witnessed so many tragic stories of my fellow Uyghurs, I became someone who dedicated himself to helping and fighting for my kinsmen, their rights, and human dignity. Which makes me more or less political. A fate, my family has been hiding for at least three generations.
After fighting the dragon for 3 years, as a full-time self-sufficient activist, I feel tired, depressed, and confused. I feel like I start to lose my energy and dedication. I don’t see the point, why I have to sacrifice for things, that always others claim credits, and I am always left alone, having to face all the consequences. I think it’s time, that I need to face reality, I am not the messiah.
To be honest, these days I am thinking of stopping from what I am doing. I feel tired and stressed, and I have to admit, I am depressed. I am receiving attacks both from China and Uyghurs, I feel insecure and confused. I don’t know where the end is, I don’t know why I have to risk my and my family’s life, for maybe nothing. My people don’t accept me as who I am, and I don’t know when I will be able to see my parents. Or when I can go to see my hometown. As an only child, that’s a very big sacrifice for my parents and me.
After I became an activist, I have put myself in a situation that could risk my life. I have been followed by strange people while I was traveling in Turkey, I have received threats saying that if I don’t stop what I am doing, my family will face consequences. I have tried to seek help from authorities, they don’t have solutions, or they have ignored me.
I have traveled to over 26 countries, attended conferences, private meetings with diplomates and politicians, gave speeches on panels and meetings. I was interviewed by different media over 600 times, I launched dozens of campaigns, demonstrations, press releases, and meetings. All these events and activities, I have funded myself. Yet, people who are not really involved in this work have claimed credit. Of course, I didn’t do those things for credit or glory, but the hypocrisy and corruption of people ate out my energy.
On the 23rd of May 2020, I learned that my twitter account has been suspended. I believe it is another revenge attack by the Chinese authorities, maybe its trolls reported my account. Ironically, twitter is an American company, yet, it feels like its owned by the CCP. Frankly speaking, after I saw the suspension of my twitter, I feel released and relaxed. Maybe, this could be a good time to have a break. I am upset, but also thankful that this could be a good chance for me to stop, because almost all new contacts reached me via twitter. Now, without twitter, without contacts, there are no new campaigns or events.
This is the third time that I am facing the same dilemma, the same question whether I should stop or continue. The first time was in December 2018, after my parents had been released from the concentration camps. If I continue, I may put my parents in further danger, if I don’t, there are millions of others still suffering in those camps. And I saw their relatives abroad, they fear to speak out, even if they are encouraged to speak out, they don’t know what to do. I am privileged to have access, a network and the ability to reach out and help them. And I see they had put a lot of hope into me to help them. I tried my best to help them, to create awareness for their personal cases, to help them contact journalist, international organizations etc. Then, in August 2019, I received threats from people, whom I helped. Within two weeks, over 60 people reached me, asked me to delete testimony videos I had collected with their permission, asked me to contact international organizations and media that I helped them to reach out to, media who had included their relatives’ stories in their reports. They demanded to delete those reports, which I can’t have access to. The only thing I could do for them was to contact the journalist and the international organizations and forward their demands. Or help them translate their messages and let them contact them directly. After I told them the options, some of them threatened me with death. I was very upset. Those people, who have praised me for helping them, after their relatives have been released, threatened me with death and my family.
– “Halmurat, I know where you live, I know you have two daughters. If you don’t let those newspapers delete the report about my relatives, who now have been released, I will let you suffer. If reports remain, my relatives might possibly be taken to the camps again.”
An Uyghur male called me, and threatened me.
– “How much did the newspapers pay you? Why can’t you let them delete the reports? Is money so important to you? I will sell my kidneys, and pay you what you need, please let them delete the reports!”
Another Uyghur smeared me and threatened me. Interestingly, she doesn’t know that I am not paid by anyone. On th contrary, I pay from my own pocket to go to places, and organize things to help them. I have never demanded them to pay me, or never asked anyone to donate for my activism. Yet, I teach people how to use crowd founding, they have abused the crowdfounding, have collected tens of thousands of dollars, didn’t do anything really meaningful. That was the second time I faced the dilemma. I just wanted to stop and give up. But, I didn’t give up, because people in my hometown are still suffering, more and more people are joining the resistance, if I gave up, that will discourage them. Because, many of them told me, they decided to stand up after they saw my dedication and courage. I became a role model for many to copy, for those who were afraid to speak up, after they saw my parents are being released. Even though, I didn’t stop, I helped others, encouraged them to speak up, dared to resist the tyranny. I started campaigns and events, where they can create awareness of their personal cases, then their relatives have been released. After that point, I became consultant for people who want to do something for their relatives in the camps. I have helped them design plans, provided them a network, and encouraged them to be brave. I even flew to different countries to talk to people, to help them go thought the dilemma they are facing. I bought the plane tickets myself, never asked them for a penny, or anything in return. Yet, once, after an Uyghur male’s invitation, I went to the country where he and his family live, they were afraid to meet me. I ended up waiting for 5 hours at the airport before I reached him on the phone. Then I learned that he got “sick” and couldn’t meet me. Then, I spent the night at the airport and returned to Finland. They were crying and asking me to help them, to tell them what to do, to help them plan and provide them a network to create awareness for their incarcerated relatives. They begged me to go to meet them in person, yet, they gave up to rescue their relatives, until this day, they didn’t give a testimony, or say a single word about their detained relatives. Last time I contacted them by phone, wanting to know if their relatives are being released, I got a negative answer. But, they are still optimistic that the Chinese government will change their policy toward Uyghurs. It’s their political opinion, I don’t force mine on them.
From the beginning of this year, I learned that some Uyghurs were openly talking about my religious faith. Many have expressed their discomfort, they told me they feel upset to know about my faith. I didn’t give any explanations. I have never answered their questions about if I am a Christian or a Muslim. In my speeches in Uyghur, I always avoided to include religious opinions or quotes from the Qur’an or Bible. I believe my religious believe is my privacy between my creator and me. And I strongly believe, people have the right to practice any religion with their freewill. That’s the fundamental principle of religious freedom. I respect people’s right to have a different faith, I have always tried to avoid offending people’s religion. And I believe being Uyghur can’t be defined by faith, Uyghurs can be Muslim, can be Christian, or Atheist, or anything else. That is the major reason why I have never corrected them when they thought that I am a Christian, or a Muslim. But that suspicion of people is getting bigger and bigger, just like a snow ball. Then, people started to threaten me with death.
– “Halmurat, you did good things and greatly contributed to our community. But after I learned that you are an infidel, I was shocked. I respect your job, but you will go to hell, God damn you!”
A female from the Uyghur community called me and told me these things. I was shocked, never having expected anything like this from her. I wanted to ask her, will the things I had done to help her make any difference, if I am a Buddhist, or a Jewish, or an Atheist? She didn’t give me any chance to talk, she just hang up on me.
– “Halmurat, a few of us gathered and discussed about people’s suspicion about your faith. We think it is very easy to solve, we all believe you are a Muslim. So, we believe there are no harm if you live stream on your Facebook, and announce you are a Muslim, denounced Christianity. This will help you to clean yourself from the suspicions and threats.”
Several Uyghur men called me together and suggested this solution. I feel offended by their action, because they are people, who are suffering because China doesn’t respect religious freedom. They are people, who are fighting for religious freedom, along with other rights. Why can’t they understand that religious believe is my private life, my individual decision. I told them:
– “Dear brothers, it is an easy solution or escape for me to claim a religion publicly. But, this nation has to learn what religious freedom is, people have the right to be a Muslim, a Christian, or anything else. We can’t demand or force people to believe in same religion we believe. This act is the same as what China is doing to our kinsmen in our hometown. We can’t win evil with another evil, we can’t lighten darkness with darkness. By saying this, I don’t mean any religion is evil or darkness, I just want to say, your action is not right according to religious freedom. What I want to do is let people learn what religious freedom is!
After they listened me, someone from the back start yelling into the phone:
– “I know, this pig is an infidel, he deserves to die!” …
– “Brother Halmurat, I never thought you are so stubborn and stupid. I just want to let you know, this world is temporary, you are standing on the wrong side”…
Then they hang up on me after they were don cursing me. Among them, there are people who I met during my visit to the country he and the others are based in. If had not been there myself and if I had not known who they are, I would have thought it’s a call to destruct me calling from Urumqi. Then, dozens of others repeated similar words and threats. I still believe that the majority of Uyghurs do not care what my religion is. For them, they respect me for things I have done for them. But, I don’t know how many among them really understand, believe and follow the principles of religious freedom. Without any research, I can’t answer these questions.
But, their attitude towards me can’t change the situation of the Uyghurs, a nation under brutal oppression, desperately needing help and to be rescued.
I want to believe that America is not only helping Uyghurs because of the trade war; China tells other counties the USA is using Uyghurs as a pawn to attack China. I know some Europeans also believe the US is using the Uyghur cause as a tool to demonize China. But one thing is a fact, the US is (still) helping the Uyghurs, while the majority of European countries are not taking it seriously/are not helping. Personally, I believe democratic countries can do a lot of things to help Uyghurs. But, they choose not to. The US Uyghur rights bill has not yet passed, even if it passes, what changes it will bring to Uyghurs? Other than creating media attention and diplomatic stress for China. So far, I know, not a single country made the Uyghur issue a priority in its dialogues with China. How many Uyghur refugees have the US and the EU received since the concentration camps started? How many Uyghur organizations and activists have received founding from US- and the EU-based foundations? How much they have received? According to experts, there are at least a million to 3 million Uyghurs detained in those camps. Did Uyghur organizations receive 3 million USD for campaigning and advocacy? According to my knowledge, all together, Uyghur organizations received about a million USD for their activities. This is not even 1 USD for rescuing one Uyghur. It’s an irony to say, Uyghurs are being used by the western powers. Those working with the US government are not a puppet of the US, like many countries that are a puppet of China. The US is the only country punishing China for concentration camps and leading the world to call out China so being pro-US or being associated with the US is not a liability; it’s an asset because it’s the only country China is afraid of. Regretfully, including the USA, no country is really making the Uyghur issue a priority. At least, not at the same scale as I and many other Uyghurs hoped for.
We need to be empowered, we need to be protected and encouraged. We are not doing our work for money or glory, but we need to be founded financially and receive international recognition, which gives us power and more credit for our further future work. We need real help. Help which counts and has consistency. What we are facing is a hegemony. A tyranny can be a real threat to democracy, human rights, and all other common values we all believe in and are dedicated to contributing to and fighting for. China wants to silence people like me, who dare to speak, criticize and fight. China is redefining common values, exporting its narrative and brutality to countries abroad. Its long arms have already reached far out to Europe and America. We are in a no man’s land fighting the hegemony, we are tired, yet still keep struggling. Don’t leave us alone, because after us, it will come to you.