SCoJeC was delighted to join with Yet Again, a youth-led group aiming to raise awareness of modern atrocity, to hear from a panel of experts about the issues facing Uyghur people in China today.
The event was chaired by the Chief Executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, Olivia Marks-Woldman OBE, who herself has strong connections to the Jewish community in Glasgow. Olivia commented that “when we think of the ways the Holocaust has resonance today… perhaps one of the most stark resonances is the persecution of the Uyghur Muslims in China”.
The main speaker was Rahima Mahmut, a Uyghur singer, human rights activist and translator, who is the UK Project Director of the World Uyghur Congress, Director of Stop Uyghur Genocide UK, and an Advisor to the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC). Rahima spoke movingly about her own experience and her connections to the community still in Xingjiang. She said that the last time she spoke to her brother was in 2017, when he asked her to “Leave us in God’s hands and we will leave you in God’s hands.”
She also referred to evidence obtained from documentaries, drone footage, and witness testimony, which had led to members of the UK parliament declaring that China was committing a genocide against the Uyghur people in China. Inside so-called ‘re-education camps’, which are in many ways reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps, they face starvation, torture, murder, widespread rape, slave labour, forced sterilisation, abortion, and organ harvesting.
We were also privileged to be joined by Michael Polak, a barrister practising in human rights, criminal, and international law, and Chair of Lawyers for Uyghur Rights. He is also a member of the advisory committee of the London office of the World Uyghur Congress, and undertakes work for Uyghurs and their families who have disappeared or been subject to arbitrary detention. Michael spoke about the legal perspectives of the Uyghur genocide and how the recent Uyghur Tribunal can be used as a mechanism for justice.
Testimony obtained and shared at the recent Tribunal was not just that of victims. Rahima, who served as a translator for the Tribunal, told of an ex-Chinese police officer who gave evidence, confirming many details of details bravely told by witnesses. Reflecting on her time translating, Rahima said “His voice … I couldn’t get rid of it up until now. I was maybe the only person who heard his voice not distorted for me to translate.”
We were also pleased to welcome Kirsten Oswald, the MP for East Renfrewshire, who has frequently spoken out about the plight of the Uyghurs in Westminster. Kirsten said that forced labour was something that “if people were more aware of, they would be deeply concerned by. It brings it into a very personal space”. Responding to this, Rahima cited a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute which identifies over 80 well-known brands that may have Uyghur slave labour in their supply chains.
SCoJeC Projects and Community Development Manager, Kirsty Robson, who is also the Co-Executive Director of Yet Again, said: “We are grateful to the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities for partnering with us for this event to help spread information around the plight of the Uyghurs. By celebrating Uyghur culture and having these discussions, we can actively help those suffering persecution.”
For obvious reasons, matters of ethnic persecution and social justice such the treatment of the Uyghurs are of concern to many in the Jewish Community, and this is something on which the Board of Deputies have spoken out strongly. In the words of Olivia Marks-Woldman OBE, “we’re all driven by empathy … knowledge and empathy inspires action”.