Friday, 26 March 2021

 

A CNN news crew found his daughter. Then Chinese state media paid a visit

Mamutjan Abdurehim looks off into the distance, wearing a grey jacket. He has short greying hair and glasses. Sun glints.
Mamutjan Abdurehim says being away from his wife and children is torture.( ABC News: Jack Fisher )
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When Mamutjan Abdurehim saw his parents and daughter appear on a CNN documentary about the separation of Uyghur families in China, he was devastated.

Key points:

    "My heart was crushed," Mr Abdurehim told the ABC.

    Mr Abdurehim, who is an Australian permanent resident living in Adelaide, has been separated from his wife Muherrem Ablet, his daughter Muhlise and son Hikmet for more than five years.

    An Amnesty International report released last week documented the experiences of Uyghur parents in Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Italy and Turkey who are separated from their children, including Mr Abdurehim.

    A CNN investigation then managed to track down Mr Abdurehim's family home in Kashgar, where they interviewed his parents and daughter Muhlise. The 10-year-old told CNN that she had not spoken to her father since 2017.

    "I don't have my mum with me right now. I don't have my dad either. I just want to be reunited with them," Muhlise said on camera, while in tears.

    "It's so heartbreaking to see my daughter cry for a reunited family," Mr Abdurehim told the ABC.

    Chinese state broadcaster CGTN reported that Mr Abdurehim's wife and Muhlise's mother, Ms Ablet, had been arrested in 2019 "on suspicion of provoking racial hatred".

    CGTN framed the CNN crew's visit as foreign journalists rudely interrupting the "cosy" life of a Uyghur family.

    "A Uyg[h]ur family's cosy and simple life has been disturbed after three foreigners turned up on their doorstep," an article on CGTN said.

    Mr Abdurehim told the ABC that CGTN had "forced" his parents to say things that were untrue — namely that he had voluntarily cut off contact with them in 2017.

    "Of course, I try to communicate with them all the time," he said.

    CGTN has been approached for comment by the ABC.

    Mr Abdurehim had lived with his family in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for almost four years while undertaking his doctoral degree when Ms Ablet lost her Chinese passport.

    She returned to Kashgar in Xinjiang with her children to renew the document in late 2015, and was never able to be reunited with Mr Abdurehim.

    "She was a very kind woman. She wouldn't harm anyone," Mr Abdurehim said of his wife. 

    "She was just raising two children. She was trying to learn more about other languages and cultures when she was in Malaysia."

    Since an intensified crackdown began in 2017, rights groups have highlighted the practice of confiscating the passports of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities — especially those who have spent time in Muslim-majority countries such as Malaysia, Turkey or Egypt.

    The Chinese embassy in Australia has been approached for comment by the ABC.

    Mr Abdurehim first broke his silence in an interview with the ABC in July 2020, saying he felt that constant anxiety about the wellbeing of his wife and two children was "psychological torture".

    "Without them, you're like a dead person, just … you're lost," he said at the time.

    A woman rides a motorbike with several children as they ride past a picture showing China's President Xi Jinping
    Australia and New Zealand welcomed the US, EU, Canada and Britain taking joint action to impose sanctions on senior Chinese officials over repression in Xinjiang.( AP: Andy Wong )

    Alkan Akad, Amnesty International's China Researcher, said: "China's ruthless mass detention campaign in Xinjiang has put separated families in an impossible situation: children are not allowed to leave, but their parents face persecution and arbitrary detention if they attempt to return home to care for them.

    "The heartbreaking testimonies of the parents we spoke to only scratches the surface of the scale of suffering endured by Uyghur families separated from their children," he said.

    The ABC has spoken with a number of other Australian residents from Uyghur and other Muslim minority backgrounds who are separated from their partners, children and other relatives in Xinjiang.

    Pressure on China growing over Xinjiang policies

    Chinese authorities have faced accusations of grave human rights abuses, including forced sterilisation of Uyghur womenforced labour in factories, and other measures amounting to what has been described as cultural genocide.

    Protesters from the Uyghur community living in Turkey step on a Chinese flag
    Uyghurs protest against the visit of China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Istanbul, Turkey this week.( AP: Emrah Gurel )

    The Chinese government has repeatedly denied its "vocational training centres" are concentration camps, and says the measures are necessary to counter what it calls extremism and terrorism.

    Earlier this week, the European Union, Britain, Canada and the United States placed sanctions against Chinese officials over rights abuses in Xinjiang.

    Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne welcomed the sanctions in a joint statement with her New Zealand counterpart Nanaia Mahuta, citing "restrictions on freedom of religion, mass surveillance, large-scale extra-judicial detentions, as well as forced labour and forced birth control" in Xinjiang.

    "I hope the leaders of this country, especially the Foreign Minister Marise Payne, can be aware of my situation. Be aware of my family's tragedy," Mr Abdurehim said.

    "My children are stranded in Kashgar. My wife is detained. I hope [Senator Payne] will do anything she can do secure our reunification, our reunion."

    Sportswear giant Nike this week released a statement saying it was concerned over reports of forced labour in and connected to Xinjiang. 

    "Nike does not source products from [Xinjiang] and we have confirmed with our contract suppliers that they are not using textiles or spun yarn from the region," the company said, sparking calls for boycotts of Nike products on Chinese social media.

    Some Chinese netizens posted videos of themselves burning Nike shoes in protest.

    State media also criticised Western clothing brands H&M, Burberry, Adidas and New Balance for the companies' previous statements over forced labour concerns in the Xinjiang cotton industry.

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