Protesters assembled in front of the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. Photos courtesy of East Turkistan National Awakening Movement

“Act now America … Act now to stop China’s genocide …  Act now to save Uyghurs … Act now to free East Turkistan.” Protesters chanted in front of the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., as Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan prepared to meet with Chinese officials in Anchorage, Alaska on March 18. The protest was led by the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement and the East Turkistan Government in Exile.

“We are gathered here in front of the U.S. State Department on behalf of Uyghurs and other East Turkistanis worldwide to call on the U.S. government to act swiftly to end China’s genocide in East Turkistan,” said Salih Hudayar, prime minister of the East Turkistan Government in Exile and political refugee. 

“For decades since China occupied East Turkistan in late 1949, the Chinese government has executed a brutal persecution campaign against the Uyghur and other Turkic populations of East Turkistan. In recent years, China’s colonization and occupation in East Turkistan have exacerbated in what is now without (a) doubt genocide, as defined under international law,” he continued. “Since January 2021, the United States government and the parliaments of Canada and the Netherlands have officially designated China’s atrocities against Uyghur and other Turkic peoples in East Turkistan as genocide.”

Among the topics discussed during the two-day meeting between U.S. and Chinese officials was China’s actions against Uyghurs. According to NBC News, Secretary Blinken criticized China about its treatment of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in East Turkistan. Chinese Communist Party foreign affairs chief Yang Jiechi responded by listing America’s human rights violations against Black people.

Activists want the U.S. government to apply diplomatic and economic pressure on China to end the reported abuse and genocide of the Uyghurs and other East Turkistanis. Photo: Courtesy of East Turkistan National Awakening Movement

“China is firmly opposed to U.S. interference in China’s internal affairs. We have expressed our staunch opposition to such interference, and we will take firm actions in response of human rights. We hope that the United States will do better on human rights,” he said. “China has made steady progress in human rights,” added Mr. Yang.

In the past, China officials denied accusations of genocide, and instead, cast Uyghurs as a terrorist threat and the camps as re-education centers.

Uyghurs are a mostly Muslim population living in a region in northwest China, though they do not consider themselves Chinese. Rushan Abbas, the founder and executive director of Campaign for Uyghurs, told The Final Call that ethnically and linguistically, they are close to Central Asians such as Uzbeks and Kazakhs. In the 1800s, the Manchu empire of China incorporated East Turkistan as a colony and renamed it Xinjiang, the official name recognized by the Chinese government.

“The Chinese Communist Party occupied our homeland in 1949. And the name Xinjiang means new territory, and we don’t like to use that. It’s a derogatory term. We like to call our homeland East Turkistan, which has symbolic, geographical and the historical name as our ancestors,” Ms. Abbas said.

At the protest, Mr. Hudayar said that well over three million Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples are being held in concentration camps and prisons throughout occupied East Turkistan, and they are facing rape, sexual and physical violence, torture, organ harvesting, sterilization, forced indoctrination and summary execution. 

Activists say they want to call attention to the mistreatment of Uyghurs and other East Turkistanis worldwide.

“China has been forcibly (aborting) Uyghurs and other Turkic babies in an attempt to prevent the growth of our population and eradicate the future of our nation. Over the course of the last 40 years, the Chinese government, according to their statistics, aborted over four million babies in East Turkistan under the pretext of family planning,” said Amannissa Mukhlis, the women and family director of the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement.

“In recent years, the Chinese government has forcibly sterilized hundreds or thousands of Uyghurs and other Turkic women across East Turkistan, resulting in a decline of our population as women can no longer give birth.”

She added that over 850,000 Uyghur and other Turkic children have been forcibly separated from their families and sent to state-run orphanages and boarding schools to be assimilated and raised as loyal Chinese citizens.

“Children who even dare to speak in their native tongue are beaten into submission,” she said. “Our language, our culture, our history and our very physical existence is being eroded by the Chinese government. We humbly ask the U.S. government and all government organizations and people across the world to act now to end this genocide.”

The situation in East Turkistan isn’t new. Ms. Abbas accused the Chinese government of relentlessly trying to destroy Uyghur people and culture since the 1949 occupation. She said the first concentration camp was set up in 2014 after Chinese Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinpin introduced the Belt and Road Initiative, an infrastructure project stretching from East Asia to Europe and including Africa.

“That puts our homeland East Turkistan as the epicenter of this plan, and also our homeland is geopolitically important because it’s a gateway to Central Asia, to Europe, to the Middle East and Africa,” she explained. 

On Sept. 5, 2018, Ms. Abbas spoke on a panel at the Hudson Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C., about the situation in East Turkistan. She testified about her personal horrors, as she said her husband’s entire family—her mother and father in-law, her husband’s four siblings and their spouses and 14 nieces and nephews—disappeared into concentration camps. 

“Six days after I spoke, my sister and my aunt, both were abducted by the Chinese regime. I spoke on September 5, 2018. They disappeared on September 11 from two different cities about 1,400 kilometers away from each other,” she said. China has repeatedly denied the claims of abuse and genocide.

Mr. Hudayar asked the U.S. to take meaningful action to end the genocide of Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples by taking the East Turkistan issue to the agenda of the United Nations Security Council, by prosecuting Chinese diplomats, by increasing tariffs, by applying more sanctions, by boycotting the 2022 Beijing Olympics, by withdrawing the U.S. Olympic team, by acknowledging the root cause of the genocide and by recognizing East Turkistan as an occupied country. The Trump administration previously imposed sanctions on multiple Chinese officials for treatment of Uyghurs and in his first call with Chinese President Xi Jinping in mid-February, President Joe Biden brought up the issue but has been heavily criticized for not doing more.

Ms. Abbas said you don’t need to be Uyghur or a human rights activist to raise awareness about what’s happening. “All you need to be is to be a human, to be a human being, and to speak about it, share the information you hear and boycott Chinese goods,” she said.

At Final Call presstime, the Biden administration announced it leveled sanctions against two Chinese government officials for abuses against Uyghurs. The Department of the Treasury sanctions focus on Wang Junzheng, the secretary of the Party Committee of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, and Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, stating the two were connected to serious human rights abuses against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, reported NBC News.

“Chinese authorities will continue to face consequences as long as atrocities occur in Xinjiang,” which is home to detention camps that have held Uyghur Muslims, said Andrea M. Gacki, director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, noted