Activist appeals to Malaysian prime minister to support the Uyghur cause

Anwar Ibrahim expresses sympathy for Uyghurs, but also has called it a Chinese 'internal matter.'
By Ekrem Hezim for RFA Uyghur
Activist appeals to Malaysian prime minister to support the Uyghur cause Abdulhakim Idris (C), director of the Center for Uyghur Studies in Washington, D.C., meets with Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim (L) at an iftar gathering in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, April 19, 2023.
Ekrem for RFA

A prominent Uyghur activist has appealed to Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim to support the persecuted mostly Muslim ethnic group in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region.

Abdulhakim Idris, director of the Center for Uyghur Studies in Washington D.C., met with Anwar last Wednesday during an iftar gathering at an Islamic center in Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur. Iftar is the meal eaten after sunset during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ended on April 20.

“We learned earlier that Anwar Ibrahim, the prime minister of Malaysia, would attend this iftar, so I prepared a letter to give him which describes the current situation of the Uyghur people,” Idris told Radio Free Asia.

During the gathering, Anwar gave a speech in which he said he would protect all oppressed Muslims around the world, and expressed sympathy for Uyghurs, Idris said. In 2018, Anwar demanded that the Chinese government allow Uyghurs religious freedom and freedom of movement.

However, during a visit to China three weeks ago, Ibrahim took a more hands-off approach, saying the Uyghur issue was “the internal matter of the Chinese government.” 

Calls to the Malaysian prime minister’s office on Tuesday were not returned.

The governments of many Muslim-majority states have not spoken out about the Uyghur out of fear of angering China, with which many have significant trade and infrastructure projects under the Belt and Road Initiative. 

Idris stressed the precarious situation of Uyghurs in East Turkistan, the Uyghurs’ preferred name for Xinjiang, and asked the prime minister for help.

At the end of the meeting, he presented Anwar with a doppa, a traditional Uyghur skullcap, along with the letter and a copy of his book, Menace: China’s Colonization of the Islamic World & Uyghur Genocide.

Playing both sides?

Erkin Ekrem, vice president of the World Uyghur Congress and an associate professor of history at Hacettepe University in Turkey, said Anwar, as a seasoned politician, is likely playing both sides of the coin — one side with the Chinese and the other with the Uyghurs.

“He did not mention the Uyghur issue during his visit to China three weeks ago,” Ekrem told RFA. “He returned to Malaysia after expressing his desire to strengthen the relationship between the two countries.”

“The words he conveyed to the Uyghur delegation are nothing but a political tactic,” he said. “If they don’t do anything, then they could say, ‘We could not do much.’” 

China has said that the camps were vocation training centers meant to prevent religious extremism and terrorism in the restive region, and that they now are all closed. 

But Uyghurs held in the camps have presented credible evidence of torture, sexual assaults and forced labor, prompting the U.S. government and some Western parliaments to declare the abuse amounted to genocide and crimes against humanity.

Translated by RFA Uyghur. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.