The grim reality of being a ‘model Uighur’January 08, 2022
Uighurs are a liability for employers and landlords. Mine were summoned to police stations to report on me on a weekly basis, and eventually I was asked to leave. At this point my parents said to me: ‘We want you to leave when there is still a slight chance.’ That’s why I made the decision to go to Sweden on a student visa and thereafter adopt Swedish citizenship. Yet my story pales in comparison to what my family — left behind in our homeland — have had to endure.
By 2017 it became difficult to find information about them. I called my mother repeatedly, but every time I tried to raise the possibility of going home for a visit, she became evasive or silent. Eventually, on a video-call, she held up a piece of paper on which was written: ‘Do not come back.’
In October that year, she was told by the cadres, the public officials, to delete me from WeChat, the Chinese version of WhatsApp. She obeyed for fear of being sent to a camp. During the following months she only sent me the occasional secret message — ‘we are safe don’t worry’ — but we were both extremely careful. It was nearly a year before we were in regular contact again.
On International Women’s Day in 2018, the CCP’s propaganda department in the city of Ghulja held a ceremony in my cousin Mayila’s house. Journalists, street cadres and neighbours streamed into her living room to sing, dance and play games in front of a state media camera crew. My mother, surrounded by officials, convincingly smiled at the cameras as she sang of her love for the party and Xi Jinping. She was photographed exchanging gifts with a CCP official and she proclaimed her gratitude for the party’s lenient treatment of her people in dealing with what the state calls the ‘three evil forces’: terrorism, separatism and religious extremism. My cousin Mayila was not there, though. Five days earlier, she had been taken to a re-education camp, accused of harbouring the ‘three evil forces’.
It’s not easy work, being a model Uighur worker. On 1 July last year — the CCP’s anniversary — I spent hours trying to reach my mother, but there was no answer. Later that evening, I learned that she had been busy leading a choir singing ‘red songs’ under the scorching sun for six hours. When I looked online at the state media, I saw government representatives sitting in the first row and the entire audience, no doubt threatened into attendance, waving national flags like fans at a rock concert.
In the evening, once my mother had returned home, we had a short, illicit video call, but she was so exhausted that she was unable to utter a single sentence. We sat in silence, until eventually she hung up. She was due to sing again the next day.