WORLDPOST

Is There Anybody Out There?

07/06/2010 11:21 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Once upon a time in a far away land there were beatings, arrests, extra judicial executions, murder and oppression. The story went on and on and the whole world kept quiet.

This land is called East Turkestan, also known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China. But beware! If you utter the words "East Turkestan" there you might join the hundreds of Uyghurs who have disappeared. Apparently that's what it is like to live in Xinjiang right now.

Rebiya Kadeer a political activist and the President of the World Uyghur Congress who is living in exile in the US, is rightfully upset about the worsening situation of Uyghur people, the Turkic Muslim minority in China.

Since the 5th of July last year when Chinese police violently cracked down on a peaceful Uyghur protest in the capital Urumchi with hundreds dead and thousands wounded, there has been no improvement for them but, instead, more oppression.

Kadeer told me that Chinese security forces continued to arrest people even after the events and claimed that Chinese official reports on the number of dead, wounded and disappeared people are misleading. She estimates that two thousand people are dead, at least ten thousand people have been arrested or "disappeared" and 34 are on death row.

She adds that Chinese police came to Uyghur houses and picked up boys between 8 and 13 years old. Nobody knows where the arrested people are and nobody dares to speak up. She said if anyone talks or looks for the relatives, the next day they are also taken by the police. According to eye witnesses some of the arrested people are being kept in secret prisons; sometimes a whole family is sent there.

Kadeer says that her group receives information from Uyghurs who managed to flee the country and that also, against all odds, continue to communicate with the community there.

The Chinese government's strict policies threaten the survival of the Uyghur people. Beijing is systematically trying to assimilate the Uyghurs by acting to ban their language, history, culture and religion. Right now, the region is brimming with Chinese paramilitary forces who watch Uyghurs like Big Brother.

"What is happening in East Turkestan is grave. Thousands of people are being killed, arrested, lost and people are living under threat, trauma and fear" Kadeer says. "If 40-50 people die in Palestine or Iraq the whole world stands up. But who is going to be our voice?" she asks.

There should be an independent international investigation into the events of July 5 and the aftermath. Countries and human rights groups that talk about China's human rights records should pay more attention to the Uyghurs. So should the media.

I believe it is well past the time for the world to do something about the suffering of the Uyghurs. Seriously, is there nobody out there?