By Takao Harakawa
The oppression of and human rights violations against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region by China’s Xi Jinping administration has cast a shadow over Uyghurs living in Japan. A senior member of a Uyghur group in Japan recently told the Sankei Shimbun that his elder brother was taken “hostage” in the region and Chinese authorities pressed the senior member to become a spy in Japan. The senior member has been unable to contact his brother. He is calling on Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to have the Japanese government “send a strong message condemning China’s oppression of Uyghurs.”
The senior member of the group, 46, who is from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, sat down with the Sankei Shimbun. He came to Japan in 2005 to study at a graduate school. He now runs a Uyghur restaurant in Chiba Prefecture and also serves on the board of the Japan Uyghur Association.
Hundreds of thousands of the Uyghur Muslim minority have been forcibly detained in the region since 2017, according to internal documents that describe China’s oppression of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which were leaked in November last year. Several relatives of the senior member were transported to concentration camps in 2018. The reason for the detention was a trip they made to Japan for sightseeing, the senior member said. His relatives were released in 2019, but he has refrained from contacting his family members in the region out of concern that his doing so might be used as an excuse for their transport to concentration camps.
But last December something unusual happened. Unexpectedly, his family contacted him. The family contacted him again in February this year. In May, his elder brother contacted and urged him to speak by video phone.
But the elder brother, who was sitting on a chair in an unfamiliar place and whose face was swollen, seemed to be physically restrained and constantly concerned about his surroundings.
Feeling that something was wrong, the senior family member started recording the video call with another mobile phone. Then a man who seemed to be a Han Chinese and said he was a member of the PRC’s state security service appeared from the side and asked the senior member about the activities of Uyghurs in Japan in detail.
“I want to know how Uyghurs staged protests when President Xi Jinping visited Japan,” said the security official. “Are you contacting Rebiya Kadeer (former president of the World Uyghur Congress)?” The official went on to say, “I’m willing to forget everything that happened in the past and I want to be your friend.”
At this point, the battery of the senior family member’s cellular phone ran out and he ended the call. In June, his elder brother contacted him and they spoke by video phone. The security official appeared again and urged the senior family member to provide information [on Uyghurs in Japan]. “If you cooperate with us, your brother and family will have no trouble,” said the official.
The senior member told the official that he would respond the next time his elder brother calls and ended the conversation. But he deleted the application and there has been no further contact since then. As a result, he has a very hard time trying to confirm the safety of his brother and family, which makes him uneasy and concerned about them.
“If I had provided information on the Uyghur Association, their demands would have escalated in exchange for my family’s safety,” said the senior member. As a member of the board of the Japan Uyghur Association, he has been asking the Japanese government to issue a statement denouncing the Chinese government and to protect him and other Uyghurs in Japan from the PRC government.