Skip to main content

Uighurs on Twitter

Brewing anger over detention of a famous singer and other Uighur minorities sparks a new social media campaign

Uighurs on Twitter

Kyrgyz men hold portraits of relatives they fear are being held in notorious ‘re-education camps’ in China’s Xinjiang region. (VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/Getty Images)

Most Muslim countries have remained silent since reports began circulating last year about the Chinese government’s detention of 1 million Muslim Uighur minorities in Xinjiang, China’s semi-autonomous region in the Northwest. Many of those same countries have close trade ties with China. 

Yet on Saturday, Turkey condemned China for holding hundreds of thousands of Uighurs in re-education camps, where they face “torture and political brainwashing.” The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the reintroduction of internment camps a “great shame for humanity.”

“We call on the international community and the Secretary General of the United Nations to take effective measures in order to bring to an end this human tragedy in Xinjiang,” spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a statement. 

Aksoy went on to claim that the agency had learned that famous Uighur singer Abdurehim Heyit, whom Chinese officials imprisoned over a controversial song, had died while serving his sentence. Heyit was well-known in China for his skill at playing the dutar, a two-stringed lute, and performed with national arts troupes. He was detained for a song he performed called “Fathers,” which took its lyrics from a Uighur poem about the sacrifices of ancestors, according to the BBC. The lyrics “martyrs of war” caused the Chinese government to view Heyit as a terrorist threat and sentence him to eight years in prison. 

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying responded Monday by calling Turkey’s accusations “vile.” China Radio International’s Turkish language service posted a 25-second video on Sunday that purportedly showed Heyit was still alive. In the video, Heyit is seen in front of a gray wall, speaking haltingly. “My name is Abdurehim Heyit. Today is February 10, 2019. I’m in the process of being investigated for allegedly violating the national laws. I’m now in good health and have never been abused.”

The Chinese government often forces dissidents to give televised confessions, and supporters of Heyit say the unverified video is very concerning. 

“He seemed distressed in the video as if he was having trouble finding his next words to say with trembling lips. That is not the Abdurehim Heyit we have known,” Alip Erkin, an Australia-based Uighur activist, toldHong Kong’s South China Morning Post. “[The] video itself should be evidence of his wrongful and secret detention for expressing Uighur values in his songs, not as some sort of diplomatic victory for China.”

One thing Turkey’s statement has proven is that Beijing will respond to pressure. So on Twitter, Uighur activists started a #MeTooUyghur campaign, with family members of the detained asking the Chinese government to also release video evidence that their parents, siblings, cousins, and husbands are alive and healthy.

One Twitter user named Yultuz Tashmemet tweeted a photo of her mother in a fuchsia dress standing next to a vase of flowers. “China! As you did with our famous singer Abdurehim Heyit, show my mother in video too! She [has] been taken for more than a year! Show me she is still alive!” she wrote.

Year of (Peppa) the PigA tear-jerking viral video (see below) depicts a rural grandfather’s quest to provide his city-dwelling grandson a “Peppa” toy gift despite not knowing what a Peppa is. (Peppa is a pig from a British TV cartoon.) The video is actually a clever advertisement for a movie called Peppa Pig Celebrates Chinese New Year, yet its focus on the importance of family resonated with many of its viewers during the family-centered Chinese New Year holiday.