‘I’m Collecting These Videos Day And Night in an Attempt to Show The World’: Former Camp Detainee

Zumrat Dawut discusses how she is using China’s own propaganda to expose abuses in Xinjiang.
2021-03-19
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‘I’m Collecting These Videos Day And Night in an Attempt to Show The World’: Former Camp Detainee Uyghur internment camp survivor Zumrat Dawut attends an event on global religious freedom on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, Sept. 23, 2019.
RFA

Zumrat Dawut, a former internment camp detainee who has witnessed first-hand the Chinese government’s oppression of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), has been a vital source of testimony and other evidence for international governments and media. She has repeatedly testified and reported on the tragedies of the internment camp system, where up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are believed to have been detained since early 2017.

As more evidence has emerged about China’s policies in the XUAR, Beijing has faced increasing international scrutiny, including from the U.S. government, which in January designated them part of an orchestrated genocide. The parliaments of Canada and The Netherlands last month passed resolutions using similar language. Meanwhile, the Chinese government has been orchestrating a propaganda blitz in a bid to refute the claims.

Dawut, who now lives in Virginia with her family, spends much of her spare time searching for video and other evidence about the Uyghur situation on Chinese social media—often posted by state media outlets. She then uploads videos to other social media platforms that circulate more widely outside of China, particularly Facebook, where the videos are shared and viewed many times. RFA’s Uyghur Service spoke with Dawut about the videos she has found and her motivation in sharing them with the world.

Dawut: I have been benefiting greatly from apps and programs developed by the Chinese government, who believes in what they’re doing. Using these apps, I’m collecting videos day and night, looking for proof for the world. I’ve been collecting these videos because I think we have to tell the world about what’s going on, always with proof for all of our assertions.

People living outside the Uyghur Region can’t fully understand what’s going on, but we Uyghurs, all of us Uyghurs living abroad, we know. Hashar (corvee labor) has been around since we were all small. In the past, it was the cadres from village brigades and townships who would take people out into the fields to do hashar, to dig streams and till the fields. But if you watch the videos that are currently coming out, police are appearing in these settings. If you look at the videos, you can even see that the police are bringing them to and from the worksites by bus, systematically ... Looking at this, it’s not even possible to rule out the possibility that the laborers are people who have been brought from camps. If we tell non-Uyghurs about this, we can’t fully explain it to them. We’re Uyghur—all Uyghurs know about this, about hashar. We can’t fully explain it in words to non-Uyghurs, that they force Uyghurs to work, that they make us work for free. We can’t fully express this, and so I’m collecting these videos day and night in an attempt to show the world. I’m sharing them on Facebook and other channels.

All of the videos have a value we can take advantage of. Like the one … where a girl at school asked if her teachers were going to punish her if she spoke Uyghur. I made that the subject of my search and found it myself. I did the work and then I shared it. I knew I should put something out about it, and that I could not stop my work. I didn’t sleep the next night. I stayed up and searched for more videos similar to that one, and I found a video of a child in Kashgar saying that their school doesn’t allow them to speak Uyghur, that they have to speak Uyghur in secret since they’re not allowed otherwise. Each of my own children would be able to give interviews about the way children aren’t allowed to speak Uyghur in school right now, the way they’re punished if they do.

The shares have been very good. [They’ve] been shared a lot. The view count is really high. Many journalists have written news based on information they found on my Facebook wall. They’ve asked me questions about where and how I found the videos, and they’ve written some good news articles based on them.

Reported by Mihray Abdilim for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by the Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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