The Chinese Communist Party has released a video purportedly showing a musician who was believed to have died in a Xinjiang detention camp.
In a piece-to-camera video posted overnight, popular Uighur musician Abdurehim Heyit states that he is in “good health”.
“I’m in the process of being investigated for allegedly violating the national laws,” he says in the video. “I’m now in good health and have never been abused.”
The footage was released by China Radio International’s Turkish-language service, a government-owned international radio broadcaster, after Turkey called on China to close the detention camps following reports of the musician’s death.
But some have cast doubt on the authenticity of the video.
Nury Turkel, chairman of the US-based Uyghur Human Rights Project, described aspects of the video as “suspicious” in a BBC interview.
He called on the Chinese government to certify the video’s authenticity, stating: “The ball is in the Chinese government’s court. They detained Heyit. They detained 10 per cent of the Uighur population. They are trying to tell the world there is no abuse and these are just so-called vocational training centres. It’s their responsibility to prove the video is authentic.
“With today’s technology it is possible to create a video presentation. It’s not that difficult,” he added.
Similarly, Netherlands-based Otkur Arslan from advocacy group Uighur Aid suggested he may have been forced to give the statement by officials.
“(Heyit) said he is being investigated, but he was reported to be sentenced to 8 years in prison,” he wrote on Twitter.
“He paused before stating the date and strokes can be heard from background.”
Earlier, the Turkish government released a statement condemning the government’s camps as a “great embarrassment for humanity”, and claiming detained Uighurs were being subjected to “torture” in “concentration camps”.
“The systematic assimilation policy of Chinese authorities towards Uighur Turks is a great embarrassment for humanity,” Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said.
“It is no longer a secret that more than one million Uighur Turks incurring arbitrary arrests are subjected to torture and political brainwashing in internment camps and prisons. Uighurs who are not detained in these camps are under heavy pressure.”
He went on: “In such an environment, we have learned with deep sorrow the passing away in his second year of imprisonment of the distinguished folk poet Abdurehim Heyit, who was sentenced to eight years in prison for one of his songs.
“This tragedy has further reinforced the reaction of the Turkish public opinion towards serious human rights violations committed in the Xinjiang region. We expect this legitimate response to be taken into account by the Chinese authorities.”
The Chinese government hit back, describing the comments as “completely unacceptable”.
To date, the Communist Party continues to deny allegations of torture taking place inside the Xinjiang camps.
XINJIANG’S MUSLIM INTERNMENT CAMPS
Xinjiang is a large autonomous region in the country’s northwest bordering the former Soviet Central Asian republics, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
Estimated hundreds of thousands of Muslim Uighurs — a Turkic ethnic group primarily based in Xinjiang — have been subjected to arbitrary detention and torture here for years.
Chinese authorities have been accused of intensifying its crackdown on the minorities in the region since the 1990s.
Over the past decade, the region has transformed into an occupied surveillance state, where the people, including their movements and beliefs, are controlled by the government.
In 2009, following massive protests in the region, the Chinese government introduced a
Black Mirror-style system, in which every resident of the region was given a label: “Safe”, “Normal” or “Unsafe”, which was determined by their age, faith, religion, foreign contacts and overseas travel. Those in the “Unsafe” category were sent to internment camps.
According to US officials, they installed facial recognition cameras, mobile phone scans, conducted DNA collections, and increased an intrusive police presence.
The Chinese government does not deny the existence of the camps, but it claims the institutions are just re-education facilities that teach Chinese language and Chinese laws on Islam and political activity.
But accounts of those who have lived through them beg to differ.
Mass detentions of Uighurs are reported to have started in early 2017 — around the time Heyit was reportedly first arrested.
Citizens might simply disappear in the middle of the night, or upon disembarking a returning flight to the region.
It’s unknown how many prisoners may be held in the camps, but a Human Rights Watch report estimates that up to 800,000 of the region’s 22 million population may have been in them.
Even outside of the camps, all aspects of life are controlled for the minority residents.
Women are reportedly banned from wearing burqas and veils in Xinjiang. Residents are no longer allowed to fast. And as of 2016, millions of residents were made to surrender their passports and seek permission from the government in order to leave China.
The city is rife with checkpoints, where authority figures can go through your phone for any evidence of religious language in text messages, overseas phone calls or banned social media apps like Facebook and Twitter.
Originally published as Eerie footage of ‘dead’ celebrity