A Uyghur family in Sydney, Australia is happily reunited today after three years of forced separation. Like many ethnic Uyghurs in China’s northwest region of Xinjiang, Chinese authorities in 2017 confiscated the passports of Sadam Abudusalamu’s family and banned them from leaving the region as part of the Chinese government’s mass arbitrary detention, torture, forced political indoctrination, and mass surveillance of more than a million Turkic Muslims.
I first met Sadam in Sydney when I was working with ABC’s “Four Corners” news program to expose the pattern of human rights violations in Xinjiang. He told me how his family had been separated. Sadam, a Uyghur and Australian citizen, bravely went public in 2019 to campaign for his wife and his son, also an Australian citizen, to be allowed to leave China and join him in Australia. His courage, and that of others in Australia’s Uyghur community, helped to shed light on the horrific repression suffered by China’s Uyghurs.
With the support of Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and hard work by officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Chinese authorities returned the passports to Sadam’s wife and son, and allowed them to leave China two weeks ago.
But numerous other Uyghur families remain separated from their loved ones, banned from travelling or leaving Xinjiang. Inside Xinjiang, Muslim minorities still endure horrific levels of oppression and mass arbitrary detention.
Beijing claims that its political education camps have closed. Recent evidence shows that while some have been decommissioned, nearly the same number have expanded, and that unknown numbers of Turkic Muslims are being held in higher security facilities including prisons. Meanwhile, those Beijing said had been “released” have often been pushed into forced labor, as foreign businesses start abandoning Xinjiang over this human rights issue.
Human Rights Watch this week exposed the workings of the Chinese government’s big data program for policing, which is used to detain Muslims in Xinjiang for “offenses” such as their “general performance,” or speaking to a sibling living abroad.
Governments around the world should speak out about China’s severe abuses in Xinjiang and demand that Beijing end its repression of Turkic Muslims, so that more families like Sadam’s can enjoy the rights and freedoms to which they are entitled.