NBA star Enes Kanter on Friday last week called for an end to the Uighur genocide in East Turkestan [Xinjiang].
“Heartless dictator of China, Xi Jinping [習近平], and the Communist Party of China, I’m calling you out right now in front of the whole world. Close down the slave labor camps and free the Uighur people. Stop the genocide now,” Kanter said in a video on social media.
Kanter continued his statement by offering more details that were extremely impactful.
“Right now, as I speak this message, torture, rape, forced abortions, sterilizations, family separations, arbitrary detentions, concentration camps, political re-education, forced labor ... this is all happening right now to more than 1.8 million Uighurs in the Xinjiang region in northwestern China,” he said.
Previously, former NBA star Royce White, Turkish-born German soccer player Mesut Ozil, French NBA star Rudy Gobert-Bourgarel and French soccer player Antoine Griezmann have also spoken out on the issue.
“Two million ethnic minorities in East Turkestan, China, are in concentration camps. It’s something we got to talk about, you know? I’m always going to talk about the real thing,” Royce White said.
Some Uighurs have reported on their situation on social media platforms, such as TikTok, using secret codes, such as posting photographs with their missing relatives in the background and showing the number of missing family members by holding up their fingers.
Other Uighurs have tried to expose the tragedy of their disintegrated family using emojis and graphics of the year of their marriage, the years their children were born and their date of separation.
Only a few months ago, a Uighur teenager who lost her father posted a video of her shouting: “Daddy. Daddy. Daddy.” With one word, she shared the grief of so many.
All these messages were deleted by state censorship within hours and the account holders did not post online again. This implies that they were taken to the camps to “study.”
A report published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said that 19-year-old Anayet Abliz of Urumchi was sentenced to three years in prison for using a file-sharing app called Zapya.
The police monitored his family members’ emotions, which might have been affected by the verdict. The family was even recorded during the arrest, along with items in their home.
Clearly, Uighurs are being punished not only for their actions and statements, but also because their emotions and actions do not meet the expectations of officials.
Enes Kanter rightly stated: “The Chinese government has been taking sweeping measures to crack down on the Uighur people simply because they embrace their own religion, their own culture, language, history and identity. The Uighur region has become an open-air prison and surveillance state, where freedoms are non-existent for the Uighur people. The Chinese government has sent Uighurs along with Kazakhs, Tajiks and other Muslim groups to concentration camps for simply applying for a passport, for texting someone overseas or for believing in anything that does not align with the Chinese Communist Party’s agenda.”
If voicing opinions on the Palestinian issue, the George Floyd case, or the tragedy of the Syrian and Rohingya refugees is valuable, then the voices of a people who are silently being killed by one of the world superpowers and the most brutal state in the world should have value beyond measure.
More vigilance, courage and dedication is required.
Royce White clearly made this point on Twitter: “When it doesn’t suit anybody to talk about justice and freedom, that’s when you should talk about it.”
The NBA’s Chinese broadcast partner erased all highlights and livestreams of Celtics games after Kanter attacked Chinese government policy in Tibet. That video prompted a rebuke from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which accused him of “clout chasing.”
Ozil’s price for his stance was higher.
“Qurans are being burnt. Mosques are being shut down. Muslim schools are being banned. Religious scholars are being killed. Brothers are forcefully being sent to camps,” the then-Arsenal player wrote on Twitter and Instagram on a background of a blue field with a white crescent moon, the flag of East Turkestan.
Arsenal released a statement distancing the club from Ozil’s comments, and Chinese broadcasters responded two days later by removing the match between Arsenal and Manchester City from their schedules.
The Chinese Football Association said Ozil’s comments were “unacceptable.”
Some have suggested that Ozil’s eventual release by Arsenal was related to the criticism.
US wrestling superstar and actor John Cena apologized to China for unknowingly referring to Taiwan as a country. He tried to repeat his apology in Mandarin, which he does not speak, due to the demands of the “Chinese people.”
He should understand that there is no chance to speak for the “Chinese people.” The angry online postings do not represents the “Chinese people,” they are beneficiaries and supporters of the Chinese Communist Party.
His eagerness to promote the film F9 in the Chinese market made him appear spineless and it greatly damaged his image as an American hero, which is the basis of his entire career.
The Uighur genocide is no secret. The 380 concentration camps, which have detained 3 million innocent people, are being watched by satellites, there have been many leaked documents and camp survivors are telling their stories.
With all this information available, why has there not been widespread, strong opposition to Beijing hosting the Winter Olympics next year?
The reason is clear — among celebrities, there are more John Cenas than Enes Kanters and Royce Whites.
It is difficult for some to choose between money and the truth. The poor need money to feed their stomachs, while the rich need more money to satisfy their greed and desire for more fame. A person’s actions are often left to the discretion of their ego.
The choice between standing against the Uighur genocide and participating in the Beijing Winter Olympics is a striking example of this dilemma, which is as old as humanity itself. World peace and the happiness of future generations require there to be more celebrities with honor and integrity than those who simply worship money.
Sports stars and celebrities might not able to stop a genocide, but they can accelerate it by distracting the world’s attention and, as in the Uighur case, by encouraging the killers by participating in their national events, such as the Winter Olympics.
Athletes who attend the Beijing Olympics might make various excuses to placate themselves, but they should not forget who is involved. They will have the blood of the Uighurs on their hands because of their participation in an event that gives the Chinese government more economic power, legitimacy and encouragement.
Uighur leader Rabiye Qadeer expressed her gratitude for the sports stars who spoke out about the Uighur genocide: “China is preparing for the Olympics on the one hand, and on the other hand, committing genocide against the Uighurs. Some are turning a blind eye to the Uighur genocide just because they are afraid of losing money and glory from the Olympics, and some are afraid of displeasing China. It’s up to the conscience of the people not to take it, but [to] stars like Royce White ... [who] has done his job as a star and a human being in the face of a human tragedy, today I congratulate them.”
Kok Bayraq is a Uighur American.
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