Uyghur activist’s fight for East Turkistan

Uyghur freedom activist Abdurehim Gheni raises the flag of East Turkistan at his campaign spot at Dam Square in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, on 6 July 2019.

Uyghur freedom activist Abdurehim Gheni raises the flag of East Turkistan at his campaign spot at Dam Square in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, on 6 July 2019. Tibet Sun/Lobsang Wangyal

By Lobsang Wangyal

ON THE WEB, 10 July 2019

Every weekend, he is at one of the most popular tourist spots in Amsterdam — the Dam Square, right in front of one of the royal palaces of the Netherlands. He is there for a different reason — bringing awareness to the human rights abuses of the Uyghurs in East Turkistan (Chinese: Xinjiang) by the Chinese government.

Abdurehim Gheni has been staging the campaign for over a year, and says he does it because “God kept me safe from Chinese genocide in East Turkistan. For this, I became the voice of the voiceless Uyghurs.”

The 41-year-old is a soil care analyst at a private company in Wageningen in central Netherlands, and travels to Amsterdam every weekend for the campaign. He has a wife and two children.

Gheni says that China is seeking to eradicate the Uyghur identity through a series of repressive policies.

“By worsening mistreatment, institutionalising discrimination, and intensifying assimilation, over 25 million Uyghurs in East Turkistan are currently on the verge of extinction,” Gheni says.

He charged that the international community has remained silent over the tragic condition of the Uyghurs. “Some countries have even gone as far as to help capture and repatriate Uyghur refugees to China in favour of China’s economic aid and friendship.” Afghanistan, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Thailand, Uzbekistan, and even Germany, are some of the countries he named that have done this.

Gheni displays images of Chinese atrocities, distributes leaflets, and collects signatures to be sent to the European Parliament and UN Human Rights Committee.

He highlights the Chinese atrocities to Uyghurs, which include political re-education, elimination of Uyghur scholars, forced indoctrination, control over religion and culture, forced abortions, and organ harvesting.

Gheni says that the Chinese authorities have held more than three million Uyghurs in detention centres, in what the Chinese authorities call “re-education camps”. There Uyghurs are brainwashed to “feel patriotic towards the motherland” and to “love” the Chinese government.

The detainees are accused of religious extremism, and sent to these “re-education through labour camps” or “vocational training” centres, without any form of trial. They are often held on charges of religious “offences” such as excessive praying, or of accessing proscribed websites.

China at first denied the existence of such camps, but later said they were “vocational centres” offering Chinese language and cultural lessons, and work-related training. Now authorities say that the centres are about combating terrorism and separatism.

Uyghurs are the natives of the region of East Turkistan, occupied by China in 1949 and now part of western China. Like Tibetans, they have faced massive discrimination and repression at the hands of Chinese authorities.

East Turkistan is officially an “autonomous” region within China today, just like Tibet to its south. But like Tibet, the region is fully controlled from Beijing.

The Turkic-speaking Uyghurs feel culturally and ethnically close to their central Asian neighbours Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia, rather than to the rest of China itself.

For Abdurehim Gheni, East Turkistan is different and separate from China, and would like to see it become independent again. To raise awareness towards this goal, he explains to any person that comes by his spot and shows interest, the situation of the people of East Turkistan.

His works and beliefs are not limited to the deplorable plight of the Uyghurs alone. He supports the Tibetan people’s quest for a free Tibet, and joins Tibetan activities whenever he can. He participated in a recent Tibetan event in Amsterdam celebrating the Dalai Lama’s 84th birthday.

This one-man-army’s vision and passion is clear: “I will never stop until the hope becomes a reality.”


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