Uyghur-American to Congress: Testifying Against China ‘May Cost the Lives of My Parents’

China Nury Turkel
Congressional-Executive Commission on China

Uyghur-Americans face regular threats from the Chinese Communist Party on U.S. soil and the fear of having their families imprisoned in a concentration camp, Nury Turkel, a Uyghur-American attorney, told Congress on Thursday.

He also noted that all Americans, thanks to China’s pervasive presence in the American manufacturing supply chain, are at risk of buying products made by Chinese slaves and unknowingly enriching the repressors who imprison them.

Turkel is the co-founder of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, an organization dedicated to exposing human rights abuses by the Chinese Communist Party against the ethnic Uyghur minority native to Xinijang, or East Turkestan, China’s westernmost and largest province.

The Communist Party is believed to be imprisoning as many as three million Uyghurs — and other Muslim minorities, such as Kazakhs and Kyrgyz people — in concentration camps in Xinjiang, where they are regularly subject to murder, rape, indoctrination, live organ harvesting, slavery, forced sterilization, and other human rights atrocities.

Turkel, a U.S. citizen of Uyghur descent, told the bicameral Congressional-Executive Commission on China during a hearing Thursday that China’s flagrant human rights abuses have pervasive consequences in America for all Americans. Uyghur-Americans, however, must weigh their desire to speak freely with the potential torture and murder of their loved ones in Xinjiang.

“Uyghurs outside of China are also subject to extraterritorial surveillance and coercion,” Turkel noted. “Our latest report on this issue documents these ongoing and flagrant violations of federal law on U.S. soil. They are telling us, ‘We are watching you. Wherever you go, still you are a Chinese.'”

“Even though you are outside of China, [that] doesn’t mean that they can’t do something to you because they have your friends, children, parents, and relatives,” he noted. “Agents of [a] foreign power are surveilling and terrorizing our own fellow American citizens with threats to send their remaining family members to the camps if they speak out about what is happening in their homeland.”

Asked by commission member Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) to describe his personal experience, Turkel said he does not expect to ever see his parents again and that China may kill them to punish him for appearing before Congress.

“Two things I thought that I was over with when I arrived in the United States and became a U.S. citizen: one, that I would never talk about my past history of being born in a reeducation camp; some 40 some odd years later, we are talking about similar circumstances,” Terkel responded. “Two, that I should be able to speak my mind. That is not happening to its full extent”:

The last time I saw my mother was when she was here in 2004 for my law school graduation … My father is 80 years old, mom is 68, I don’t think that I will ever see them again unless China’s government allows them to spend the rest of their lives here with their three American citizen grandchildren.

It’s been difficult. It would be disingenuous to say that I have a normal life. I don’t. I would like to go back to what my life was two years ago … At least I was able to check up on my family members … because of this software that the Chinese government forced Uyghurs to install on their phones, the Uyghurs have been disconnected. Even testifying at this hearing may cost the lives of my parents. But, you know, it’s the right thing to do. I have to speak out. It helps me to overcome the sense of anxiety, sense of guilt, sense of desperation, despair, because speaking as a voice for the people is very empowering.

Rubio responded by noting that every American company doing business with China is complicit in the harassment of U.S. citizens like Turkel and the widespread human rights abuses in China “because your partner [in business] is the Chinese Communist Party.”

Rubio used the recent controversy surrounding the NBA’s silencing of Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey for his support for Hong Kong protesters as an example of the corrosive impact Chinese communism has on American businesses. The NBA currently hosts a “training camp” in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang.

Several others at the hearing provided examples of how China’s human rights atrocities affect America and Americans on a routine basis. Congressman Thomas Suozzi (D-NY) recalled the story of Dan Zhong, convicted in March of enslaving Chinese workers in Brooklyn.

“A jury in Brooklyn convicted the head of a Chinese construction firm for engaging in a conspiracy to provide forced labor of Chinese laborers here in the United States of America,” he noted. “People were working 14 hours a day, seven days a week, without receiving pay … right here, in Brooklyn!”

Zhong previously worked as a diplomat for the Chinese Communist Party.

Adrian Zenz, a non-resident senior fellow in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, testified to the commission that the Xinjiang concentration camps include facilities used for slave labor and that China provides significant subsidies to Chinese companies to engage in slave labor in the region.

China is “turning its internment campaign into a business of oppression … they will be able to undercut global prices and turn ‘Made in Xinjiang’ into a multi-billion-dollar business model,” Zenz warned.

Both Turkel and Zenz noted the example of Hetian Taida, a Chinese corporation that the U.S. government recently banned from importing goods into the country, as many of its goods are believed to be made by Uyghur, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz slaves.

“Hetian Taida shipped 1.2 million items of baby pajamas and baby sleeper blankets with the destination of Costco, and Costco was going to sell it on their website,” Zenz told Congress, noting that China produces a fourth of the world’s cotton, and Xinjiang produces 84 percent of that.

“It extremely disturbing that U.S. companies were still sourcing from the company,” Turkel said of Hetian Taida. “Two weeks ago, baby clothes produced by Hetian Taida were on the shelves at Costco. … It’s hard to understand how the goods got on the shelves in the first place.”

Turkel urged Congress to help “end the unwitting complicity of the American public” in enslaving the people of Xinjiang by limiting the import of Chinese products, because, “given this system of intimidation and terror both inside and outside of China, corporate supply chain due diligence is impossible.”

Reports of the reality of the Xinjiang concentration camps are few and far between, and mostly come for Kazakhs and Kyrgyz people whose relatives managed to levy their ethnic identity to get nations like Kazakhstan to get them out. Sayragul Sautbay, a Kazakh woman who escaped slavery in a Xinjiang concentration camp, told Haaretz in a story published Thursday that she was forced to teach Mandarin, which is the only language Beijing recognizes as authentic “Chinese,” and regularly saw inmates beaten, tortured, bloodied, used for medical experiments, and raped.

On one occasion, she told the newspaper, she and about 200 others were forced to witness a gang rape by police, and those who winced or seemed uncomfortable were punished with torture:

One day, the police told us they were going to check to see whether our reeducation was succeeding, whether we were developing properly. They took 200 inmates outside, men and women, and told one of the women to confess her sins. She stood before us and declared that she had been a bad person, but now that she had learned Chinese she had become a better person. When she was done speaking, the policemen ordered her to disrobe and simply raped her one after the other, in front of everyone. While they were raping her they checked to see how we were reacting. People who turned their head or closed their eyes, and those who looked angry or shocked, were taken away and we never saw them again. It was awful. I will never forget the feeling of helplessness, of not being able to help her. After that happened, it was hard for me to sleep at night.

Other women who have escaped say they have been subject to forced sterilization, forced abortions after multiple rapes, and had their organs screened for viability as an unwilling donor. Survivors say that young men were also raped and sterilized.

China claims the camps are “vocational training centers” for people vulnerable to becoming jihadists and calls all survivors of the camps liars.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.


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