The Chinese state is committing monstrous crimes against the Uyghur minority. So monstrous are these crimes, it can be hard to take it all in. To focus the mind. The state has rounded up something like 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities and put them into internment camps, or reeducation camps, or concentration camps, or whatever you choose to call them. Many have been tortured to death.
I wrote a piece about the general issue last year (a piece that, while general, cites individual cases).
Here and now, I would like to call attention to one man. Stalin is reputed to have said, “The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic.” Sakharov disliked talking about human rights in general. (His widow, Yelena Bonner, told me this.) He needed to talk about individuals and their predicaments.
Consider Tashpolat Teyip. Amnesty International has issued an Urgent Action notice in his behalf. Apparently, his execution is imminent. Teyip is a prominent intellectual and educator — a geographer and a former president of Xinjiang University. In 2017, he was arrested and “disappeared.” The authorities do not disclose his whereabouts today. The charge against him was “separatism” or “splittism,” an old charge in the “People’s Republic.”
Radio Free Asia quoted Teyip’s brother, Nury, who is in exile. “All of the intellectuals and outstanding scholars are being charged with groundless crimes, and just one of them is my brother. I call on the international community to act and save not only my brother, but my people as a whole.”
It is harder for dictatorships to kill people when people elsewhere — governments, international organizations, civic organizations, the media — are paying attention. Of course, sometimes they go ahead regardless. Anyway, if one cannot grasp an entire, monstrous situation, it sometimes helps to know about a single, humble case.
In 2008, the Chinese government cracked down — hard — on Tibet. The world reacted with alarm and disgust. This interested many of us. The state was doing many monstrous things to others — to ethnic Chinese, mainly — but crimes against Tibetans caught attention. Today, the world is focused on Hong Kong, as well it should be. But in Xinjiang Province, or East Turkestan, as Uyghurs call it: Hell is truly in session.