Canada needs to take ‘concrete action’ to help Uighurs, says activist

LL: Adrienne Arsenault is co-host of CBC’s The National. She was in our Toronto studio. Tune in to The National tonight to hear from Canadian Uighers who fear for the safety and security of their families in China. Now, Mehmet Tohti is with the World Uighur Congress. He is in our Halifax studio. Hello.

MEHMET TOHTI: Yeah hello, Laura.

LL: What’s your reaction to these documents?

MEHMET TOHTI: It is not new for us, for Uighurs all around the world and back home. And it is, of course, alarming to the whole world. And they never expect that in this century this level of atrocities are taking place and never happen is just happening before the watchful eyes of world community. Just I have to correct number of things. Number one is the incarcerated people, it is the estimation of Dr. Adrian Zen, 1.8 million. In fact, it is more than 4 million. Because if you take two people out of eleven, you won’t see empty streets, all streets in East Turkistan or China call Xinjiang new territory authority. The streets are empty for Uighurs. It is not my narrative, it is the narrative for all the reporters who went there. And secondly, China’s government transferred more than 1.5 million young Uighurs to mainland China and imprisoned them, scattered them all prisoners across the provinces. And thirdly, the Chinese government held more than one million Uighur children, separated from their families. So actual numbers is more than 4 million.

LL: Alright. And you have family in Xinjiang?

MEHMET TOHTI: Of course.

LL: Do you have any idea how they’re doing?

MEHMET TOHTI: I don’t have any idea because since October 2016, I don’t have any contact with them. I don’t know whether they’re alive or dead. Not only my mother, 78-years-old, all my 38 family members, direct or indirect.

LL: What did your mother say to you the last time you spoke with her?

MEHMET TOHTI: Just it was the October 2016 and she was scared. And she said probably we are going to see each other at the next world. And so keep to whatever you are doing and just stay well and don’t worry about us and we should be fine. And don’t call anymore.

LL: What chance do you think there is that Uighurs in China will hear about this report?

MEHMET TOHTI: There is not any chance because even they cannot pick up any phone call from abroad. And all the Chinese government already installed the government mandated software to all Uighurs, that’s before the concentration camp. So that software not only monitors the phone call, the sort of phone calls you make or you receive. At the same time all of your daily activities, how much money you spend, where did you go, which way you entered your house, back door or front door, how much water you used. Everything. So it is impossible.

LL: And so what about Uighurs living here in Canada? What sort of pressure do they face from Chinese authorities?

MEHMET TOHTI: You can imagine actually, we have been bringing up this thing to the attention of our governments since more than ten years. And the Chinese extend it the arms everywhere. Because when you have families and the loved ones back home and it is not difficult for China’s government to take a hostage of them and it controls Uighur Canadians here. In fact, the 2006, the first Canadian citizen of Uighur origin, Mr. Assange was abducted from Uzbekistan and sentenced for jail. Life imprisonment. So that was the signal for not only Uighur Canadians, at the same time all exiled Uighurs, just watch your step. We can extend our hands wherever you live. And that is the signal and it’s still going on.

LL: Have you been pressured by Chinese authorities here in Canada?

MEHMET TOHTI: All the time. All the time because I have been advocating for this cause since more than 20 years in Canada. And the Chinese government knows me very well. And I was active when I was at university in 1980s. And that’s the reason China’s government did not allow any of my family members, extended family members or direct family members to come to visit me or they did not allow me to go and see them. So after I left in 1991, that was the last time I saw my mother and the family members. So that pressure are always here and for my activities here and my family members since 20 years, they suffered a lot and they sacrificed a lot. All the time if I go anywhere for a conference or anything, immediately police visit my family members and scare them to death and that pressure is all the time.

LL: Now that there is this credible evidence of what’s happening in these camps, these so-called schools, what are you hoping will happen?

MEHMET TOHTI: If world community does not act, I don’t know. If this level of atrocity does not send the alarm bell, I don’t know what should has to happen to make our politicians or world communities to act. And so, if we do not, it is not about Uighurs, it is not about four million people. It is about our future. If China madness, Communist Party madness continues in this way, so what is going to happen after 2035 when China’s Communist Party becomes world boss. What kind of world our children will be living. So it is not the Uighurs’ issue. It is about our future. And unfortunately, there are some reactions from the Western world and from Canada. There are very verbal expressions of concerns without any concrete action. It is shocking. It is really, really shocking.

LL: What do you want Canada to do?

MEHMET TOHTI: Canada can do many things, and the United States already sanctioned number of Chinese companies and sanctioned number of Chinese entities. And we have Magnitsky law. And why we passed the Magnitsky law, to prosecute human rights abusers. If 4 million people and a whole population of Uighur ethnic group living in digital gulag, not only 4 million incarcerated, if this kind of atrocity is not enough to trigger or to use the Magnitsky bill, what else should happen to use it?

LL: Just for listeners sake, the Magnitsky law allows the government to put sanctions on particular officials.

MEHMET TOHTI: Yeah of course, and also as Canada, now we are providing funds for Chinese infrastructure investment bank. That is the bank provides funding for China’s Belt and Road Initiative. And one of the prime reason why we are suffering today, because four landlines out of six are passing through East Turkestan, the Uighur’s homeland. That’s the reason Uighurs are suffering today. And Uighurs are the front line or East Turkestan, historic homeland of Uighurs are front line against Chinese plan to be a global boss. That’s the reason Uighurs are suffering today. It is not about the Uighur’s issue. So Canada should cut, should cut that funding to the bank.

LL: Mr. Tohti, we will leave it there. Thank you so much for your time.

MEHMET TOHTI: You are welcome.

LL: Mehmet Tohti is the Canadian representative for the World Uighur Congress. He was in our Halifax studio. And there will be more on China’s expanding influence in Canada and around the world on our special CBC News series, China’s Power, tonight on the World at Six and on The National. Now tomorrow on the program, sit back, relax, we’re heading to space with a good bottle of wine. The spacecraft heading for the International Space Station has all the usual supplies, plus a few dozen bottles of a good Bordeaux.

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