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Omer Kanat Addresses the Crisis Plenary

Omer Kanat addressed the Crisis Plenary at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA.

Assalamu alaikum. Good afternoon, thank you so much for the honor of speaking today. My name is Omar Kanat, I am a Uyghurs from East Turkestan. Uyghurs are a Turkic Muslim people with a rich culture and history. Our homeland Turkestan is rich and strategically important. Uyghurs people adopted Islam more than a thousand years ago but China currently rules our homeland which they call our homeland Xinjiang which means new territory. The Chinese government is crushing our people, committing atrocities, and crimes based on our ethno-religious identity. Researchers say China’s atrocity against the Uyghurs people are the largest attack on a targeted ethnic religious group since World War II. 

The Chinese government’s persecution of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in East Turkestan has been going on since the communist China took over the control of our homeland in 1949. But in 2017 the Chinese government’s systematic assimilation policy turned into an all-out war against the Uyghurs people. Since 2017 the Chinese government has rounded up an estimated 1.8 to 3 million Uyghurs and other turkic people without charge or trial and put them in concentration camps. Thousands of intellectuals are in prison serving long sentences suddenly announced to them when they were already in prison. Inside the Concentration Camp I can tell you the words of a Uyghurs woman who managed to survive the camp. [She] spent two years in the camp. This is what she has said, “we were beaten if we prayed, we had to be careful not to put both hands on our mouth when we were eating because the guards said you are secretly praying. We could not close our eyes for even a few moments when we were in political indoctrination classes for 11 hours every day. If you closed our eyes the guards said we were praying and punished us severely.” 

Outside the camps our mosques and pilgrimage sites are often bulldozed.Research by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute estimates at least 16,000 mosques destroyed or desecrated since 2017. One mosque was made into a nightclub, another was made into a public toilet, the remaining are tourist sites. In 2021 the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), my organization and Justice for All issued a joint report on the mass detention of Uyghurs Imams. We compiled a list of 1046 Imams in East Turkestan who were detained since 2014. But it is a tip of the iceberg, the true number is certainly much larger in some cases the Imam’s entire family was also detained and taken into the camps. Not only their children but also their grandchildren but it’s not only Imams. Every Uyghurs family has had relatives taken away.

The leaked documents called Xinjiang Police Files which were published in May 2022 include police photos of people as young as 14 and as old as 82 taken into police custody. even children as young as six can be found in the files according to researchers. About 1 million Uyghurs children have been taken from their families and put into the custody of the state in these so-called boarding schools. They suffered the grief of losing all contact with their parents. The children are intensively trained to hate Islam or any other religion. But the government goes even further to make sure Uyghurs women will not have children at all in the future. Police have called in all women to have forced insertion of birth control or they are sterilized by force. Men and women are forced to work in factories far away from their homelands, from their villages so they cannot marry and form families. The birth rate dropped by 50 percent between 2017 and 2019. Truly it’s a plan to make the Uyghurs disappear.

That’s why we say it is a genocide because of this scale and scope of the atrocities being committed by the Chinese authorities. 11 Parliaments around the world have passed resolutions condemning the atrocities, the U.N High Commissioner on Human Rights issued a report on August 31st 2022 officially recognizing that horrific crimes are occurring. The reports confirmed evidence of torture, arbitrary detention and forced disapperances and other international human rights crimes. The report concluded that they may amount to crimes against humanity.

The U.S. has imposed 119 sanctions, targeted sanctions, against Chinese entities and individuals who are complicit in this genocide. Three times since January 2022 the international labor organization has made unprecedented statements of concern about China’s state-sponsored forced labor.

Of course the Chinese government says that any criticism of its actions is applauded by the West to prevent China’s rights. China floods the media in many countries especially Muslim majority countries with stories saying the suffering of Uyghurs is called the LIE of the century. In spite of all these condemnations little has changed on the ground because of lack of a internationally coordinated action and genocide is ongoing.

The bottom line is that China has succeeded in recruiting non-democratic governments to deny that it is carrying out genocide and islamophobia. Muslim voices of conscience are speaking out which gives us hope, Jewish and Christian voices are also speaking up. Uyghurs have been invited to give talks at mosques, messages from Florida to Northern Virginia at synagogues, from New York to Washington, and churches across the country. We take hope from this, from the support.

I end with an appeal. I ask all brothers and sisters here to take concrete actions. Please help us in raising awareness about atrocious crimes being committed by the Chinese government against Uyghurs people. Please contact your government and members of Parliament and Congress to ask them to take action to stop the legal genocide or sponsor the legislations already introduced. Please sponsor Uyghurs refugees to find safe haven. You can donate to our initiatives to bring 10,000 legal refugees to safe haven in Canada by using the PayPal button on the UHRP website. Please ask your imams, your pastors, your priests, or your rabbis to invite a Uyghurs speaker to a community to give personal testimony about our parents, about our sisters, our aunts, our uncles who are currently disappeared or died in state custody.

In conclusion, I’m sure we have your sympathy and your solidarity for this. Uyghurs are extremely grateful, we also need your action. Thank you.

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