Interview: ‘I Think Silence Is Complicity,’ Says UK Activist For Uyghur Rights

British graduate student Ella Morgan uses social media to speak out against China’s abuse of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
2021.08.19
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Ella Morgan, a graduate student in international relations at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom, in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of Ella Morgan

Ella Morgan is a graduate student in international relations at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom who uses Twitter and Instagram to raise awareness of violations of Uyghur human rights and to chastise the Chinese government for its abuses committed against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. She has focused her campaign on what several Western governments and legislatures have deemed a genocide in Xinjiang, the use of Uyghur forced labor, and calls for a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Morgan creates short videos on Instagram about the Chinese Communist Party’s policies in Xinjiang and shoes that publicly traded companies in the United States and other Western countries do business with Chinese firms thought to use Uyghur forced labor. She also has hosted members of parliament and Uyghur activists in a webinar on “Why the Uyghur Genocide Will Shape the World’s Future.” Morgan spoke with reporter Shahrezad Ghayrat from RFA’s Uyghur Service on Aug. 12 about her work on behalf of the Uyghurs. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

RFA: When did you first learn about the Uyghurs?

Morgan: Last year [when] I read an article that came up on my newsfeed. I remember exactly where I was standing when I read it because it was so powerful. I think it has never left me, and I will always remember that first moment when I came across what was going on.

RFA: How did you react after learning about what was happening to the Uyghurs?

Morgan: I was shocked that nothing was being done, and I was confused about why nothing was being done. We were brought up as kids learning about the Holocaust and about international morals and human laws. It just went against everything, so I was really shocked. I did my research, and I started to incorporate that into my studies for my [school] assignments, so I was able to learn as well as start a bit of activism.

RFA: You’ve been making videos on Instagram to raise awareness about the genocide of the Uyghurs and major companies that work with their Chinese counterparts, some of which have used Uyghur forced labor. You’ve also called for a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympics. What motivated you to speak up about these particular issues?

Morgan: I couldn’t see anyone doing anything or else it was so little. The UK government wasn’t doing anything and I [wondered] what was going on? This is crazy. Since I was young, I have really valued human rights, and I have a strong sense of morals and justice. I felt like it would be a betrayal to myself, what I stood for, and what I was taught. I thought my silence was complicity at the end of the day. Because I have the power, I have my voice and I'm able to speak freely, and with so many of us being so lucky, I chose to make that decision — to say I need to do something, and I'm so pleased I did. I hope others will follow because just speaking about it is just as important.

RFA: What was the reaction of your family, friends, and followers that you have on social media after you posted the videos and talking about situation of the Uyghurs?

Morgan: My family was obviously pleased. They were shocked and horrified as much as I was, as were my friends. A lot of people don’t know what is going on, so I had loads of messages asking what’s going on. My family and friends check where everything’s from now. They make efforts to keep up to date and [ask] if there is there anything [they] can do on social media or talk to people at work. They’re really supportive. [My] followers on social media have been really supportive as well, so it’s fantastic to see a high level of engagement with that. But, sadly, I still get messages about what’s going on. It’s just keeping that communication and dialogue open and making things shareable and just educating everyone.

RFA: Are you worried about any retaliation from the Chinese government for speaking out for the Uyghurs?

Morgan: Naturally, there is going to be a bit of worry that they have a long reach, as we’ve seen, but my fear is nothing compared to what Uyghurs are going through in East Turkistan or even in other parts of the world. I am so lucky to be in the UK and be safe, to have that sense of safety. But to be honest, if more people started speaking up in the face of fear, it would invalidate what the Chinese government is trying to do. It’s important that we all stand together.

RFA: What kind of actions have you seen international communities or the UK government take to hold China accountable for its atrocities against the Uyghurs?

Morgan: There have been good positive improvements this year. Independently of the UK government, the Uyghur Tribunal [held in London in June with a second session in September] has obviously started, which is fantastic. We were able to hear about the atrocities. The UK government has happily and successfully agreed to diplomatically boycott the 2022 Beijing Olympics, as has the European Parliament. Hopefully, more governments will follow. The U.S. has passed a law banning products from East Turkistan, which is great. Hopefully, we will see far more. It will just take countries to do things, and then people from other countries will follow. There’s not enough being done, but there has been a significant improvement in the last few months that we have seen [with] countries declaring it genocide which, goes without saying, but it’s still important.

RFA: What should governments do and what should be done to governments to make them take action?

Morgan: Trade bans. Countries need to support their own companies to facilitate them and impose restrictions on them for using production lines in East Turkistan and using slave labor. It goes against international law. It’s so frustrating, but it is literally as simple as that. It’s tricky with trade, but that is important. Also, the Belt and Road Initiative needs to be addressed. The UK and U.S. governments are coming together on this strategic competition, which is great but more needs to be done. Countries that are already involved in the Belt and Road Initiative need to be approached. Stricter rules for companies would help. The trade issue needs to be addressed. And as individuals, we can email our employees or governors around the world and mobilize.

RFA: Have you seen any results from your activism? What kind of results are you expecting?

Morgan: I held a webinar a few months ago, which was great. I held it jointly with my university, which is fantastic. We had a great response. I'm trying to organize another one. I’ve had a wonderful response especially recently, and it’s been fantastic. It’s crucial that we get to know the people who are standing up and supporting what’s going on and supporting them. That is so important. I’ve seen a positive impact, which is really good. I called it “Why the Uyghur Genocide Will Shape the World's Future” because it will.

RFA: What can you and activists like yourself do to help the Uyghurs and force China to stop its atrocities against Uyghurs?

Morgan: I think you must use your voice. I say this quite frequently that we are so lucky to be safe and to be able to speak up and not have any repercussions. As I said before, I felt if I didn't speak up, then I would be complicit because I would be silent. I think silence is complicity, so I would say that people should engage with the issue on social media. Social media is so easy now. Don't shy away from it. Don't turn away [because you think] that it’s uncomfortable. Look at it and say, ‘What can I do?’ Follow social media pages, sign petitions, and talk to your friends, colleagues, and family about it, because I guarantee some people will know what’s going on. The more people who talk about it, the more this is going to have an impact, and things will change. With the Holocaust, we didn’t have an opportunity to stop it, [but] we have an opportunity to stop this genocide. I really hope that other people [engage in] activism and show their support. I really like this quote from Martin Luther King: “Our lives begin to end the day we decide to become silent about the things that matter.” That says it all, really.

Reported and translated by Shahrezad Ghayrat for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Edited by Roseanne Gerin.

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