This the second part of a series on the treatment of China’s Uyghur population. Read the first part, about the pressure on mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, here.
The woman leading the call for mining magnate Andrew Forrest to use his position of influence and speak out against the Chinese government’s treatment of the Uyghur population is Meyassar Ablat, whose parents emigrated to Australia in 1985.
Ablat was four years old when the family arrived and settled in Adelaide. In her words she has “had her kids” and is now vice president of the East Turkistan Australian Association, an organisation co-founded by her father to support the community across Australia and, more recently, to “stand up and fight” for the Uyghurs trapped in their homeland in the north-west of China.
This is an edited version of her interview.
“When we first tried to bring the attention of the world to people in East Turkistan being locked up in concentration camps, China went out first with their usual tactic: they denied every allegation until there were satellite images that proved the existence of these camps that were being built on an industrial scale across the East Turkistan region.
“We also had leaked documents from within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) itself with officials quoted on how those centres were supposed to be run.
“Eventually their denials fell apart and then they tried to get across that the camps were re-education centres, because [the Uyghur] people were trying to get better educated.”
“What I find ironic about the ‘re-education’ claim is that it includes my husband’s father who is 70 years of age, retired and who worked all his life for the Chinese government. He has been taken in as well as all my brothers-in-law who all have stable jobs. I don’t understand what they needed to be ‘re-educated’ about.
“Other families have relatives, friends, cousins who were teachers, doctors, musicians — it’s across the board. They’ve all been taken in. and what they need to be re-educated about is a bit baffling to us.
“Some of these people were also transferred into prisons. My father-in-law has been transferred into a prison and given a seven year sentence because he has a son — my husband — who lives overseas. So he has a connection overseas and that automatically qualified him to get a seven year prison sentence.
Fears for family
“It’s very hard to get information out from that region. We’ve lost contact with our family for over three years now. We can’t call them. Last time we did they hung up on us and now we’re just scared that if we do, it will give them even more reason to put them even further into detention or torture and we don’t want that — so at least we can raise awareness of what’s happening and speak up for them on what’s been happening, and get some sort of action taken against the Chinese Communist Party.
As an international community we need to stand up and take a stronger stance and actually put some sort of consequences against China so they realise what they are doing is unacceptable and they have to change.”
The propaganda war
Crikey cannot independently verify Ablat’s statements about the treatment of her family and others. Her story, though, is echoed in accounts collected by Human Rights Watch and the UK’s Anti-slavery International group, among other human rights agencies.
As we reported yesterday, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) also detailed human rights abuses against the Uyghurs as part of a research project which documented the existence of enforced Uyghur labour in the supply chains of over 80 international and Chinese brands. The report was picked up by media outlets around the world
In response the Chinese government-owned outlet The Global Times, accused ASPI of being at the vanguard of a “slandering campaign” against China, spreading the “China threat theory” wantonly, and producing “a large number of untrue reports” on the Uyghurs.
The Global Times accused ASPI of fomenting “anti-China hysteria” to the benefit of its benefactors, pointing to ASPI’s funding from the Defence Department, military hardware manufacturers, the US State Department, Japan and the UK.
ASPI executive director Peter Jennings has responded, telling Inq:
“Partial funding for our Uyghur report came from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. All our sources of funding are publicly disclosed. Many think tanks and Australian universities receive funding from Defence Industry and from foreign governments.
“The claim that we are pursuing an agenda at the behest of industry or of a foreign government is nonsense and an attempt to distract attention away from the quality of our work, based in this instance on exhaustive research using Mandarin sources. I don’t see our critics engaging on the substance of our research.”
In July the US-based Uyghur Human Rights project (UHRP) published a critique of China’s statements on the Uyghur. Its report — ‘The Happiest Muslims in the World’: Disinformation, Propaganda, and the Uyghur Crisis — analysed what it said were Chinese government’s attempts “to craft and promote a narrative” responding to international criticism of its detention of Uyghurs. The title of the report is drawn from a Chinese government claim that the Uyghur population was happy with its lot.
According to the UHRP, the Chinese government’s narrative had evolved from “secrecy and denial” to “whitewashing and justification”.
“The CCP is relentless in its efforts to cover up and justify its human rights crimes against Uyghurs,” UHRP executive director Omer Kanat said. “The authorities claim that the world should applaud their policies in East Turkistan, but they cannot admit what they are really doing. This large-scale disinformation and propaganda campaign is the other side of the coin of genocidal repression.”
Yesterday China’s Deputy Ambassador Wang Xining gave a remarkable address to the National Press Club in which he accused Australia of betraying China by calling for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, without first consulting with China. He also alleged illogical paranoia, outdated stereotypes and political distortion had undermined the Australia-China relationship.
In February, Wang appeared on the ABC’s Q&A, where he said Uyghur detention camps were “training centres”, and the people living there were “mostly” there voluntarily.
A spokesperson for Forrest’s philanthropic Minderoo Foundation told Inq that Forrest “has, and will continue to have, strong discussions behind closed doors about modern slavery issues in China, as he has with any country”.