Activists and members of Washington, D.C.’s Uighur community demonstrated in front of the White House, urging President Joe Biden to recognise East Turkistan as a country occupied by China, which has been accused of human rights violations against the region’s ethnic group.
The rally was timed to coincide with the end of Captive Nations Week, which has its origins in the Cold War, when the U.S. government designated certain communist countries as “captive nations.” In this year’s captive nations proclamation, released July 16, Biden explicitly called out the human rights situation in western China, writing, “We hear millions of Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang, China, who have been unjustly interned and subject to surveillance and forced labor.”
The East Turkistan National Awakening Movement, a non-profit organisation based in the United States, has called for the independence of the Chinese province of Xinjiang, also known as East Turkistan. The Uighur people are a Turkic ethnic group who originated in a vast region bordering Central Asia.
“China has been illegally occupying and colonizing East Turkistan … resulting in an ongoing genocide,” said Salih Hudayar, prime minister of the self-proclaimed East Turkistan Government-in-Exile.
Hudayar was born in the region and grew up in Oklahoma. He was elected as the organization’s prime minister in 2019.
“We are calling on President Biden to hear the voice of the East Turkistani people,” Hudayar said. “And we urge the international community to take stronger actions,” with regard to the human rights situation in western China.
In recent years, the Chinese government has established an elaborate network of surveillance and internment camps in Xinjiang for Uighurs and other Turkic ethnic groups, including Kazakhs and Kyrgyz. According to the Chinese government, the camps are vocational and training facilities aimed at combating extremism and promoting social integration in western China. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on the other hand, stated in March that China’s treatment of Uighurs and other Turkic ethnic groups in Xinjiang amounts to genocide.
“‘Never again’ has only become empty words,” Hudayar said at the rally. “Today ‘never again’ is happening again in East Turkistan. China is bent on destroying an entire nation.”
Just this week, the Senate unanimously approved legislation prohibiting the import of Xinjiang products into the United States. The bill was introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., in response to allegations of forced labour among Turkic ethnic groups in the region.
“We will not turn a blind eye to the Chinese Communist Party’s ongoing crimes against humanity, and we will not allow corporations to profit from these heinous abuses,” Rubio said in a statement.
The bill is now being considered by the House of Representatives.