Uyghur Student in Turkey Speaks up After 3 Years of Forced Silence

Rabia Gul arrived in Turkey 4 years ago and Chinese regime imprisoned her family in internment camps while denying her new passport.

Ethnic Uyghur Rabia Gul was awarded postgraduate scholarship by Turkey after completing her graduate program at a university in Beijing. She was called into a police station just a day before her departure to face 4 hours long interrogation during which she was sternly warned about how she is supposed live her life Turkey. “If you care about the safety of your family, watch what you talk and what you write,” she was told. She did exactly what she was told but that did not keep her family back home safe.

Rabia had no problem contacting her family back home in East Turkestan known as Xinjiang in Chinese for about a year. “On March 25th of 2017, my parents and brother were gone. I could not reach anyone. Later I learned that they were placed in internment camps,” Rabia Gul said during a Youtube interview. She could not reach her family for months and later she was informed by a WeChat message that they were placed in “education camp” and would be back home in a couple of months. The Uyghur student kept her quite to make sure no further harm was inflicted on her family. More than a year later her father and brother were released. “My perfectly healthy 55 years old father came back on crutches,” Rabia said. But whereabouts of her mother was a mystery. After a few months, she found out that her mother was in prison pending trial with no further information on why.

Chinese government spies on dissidents abroad through several channels including the United Nations’ officials. Beijing also takes advantage of the technology to crack down even on people in other countries. Rabia Gul says she was several times contacted by local officials from China through unknown numbers on Wechat, popular Chinese messaging application. Chinese diaspora members have to keep Wechat on their smartphones because it is one of the few ways to contact people back home since applications like Whatsapp are banned there.

Rabia was once contacted by Chinese police through WeChat to allow her to talk to her father. Her demand for video conversation was denied by a corresponding police. “What you hear about your mother on social media are not true. Do not ever talk against our beloved state,” said her father to Rabia during the conversation. Rabia Gul says she is certain that her father was being threatened to make those statements over the phone. She is aware that she may never freely speak to her father again.

Chinese government has denied issuing new passport for Rabia Gul. While it take only two weeks to renew passports through Chinese missions, Rabia has been denied renewal for 1,5 years. “I am stateless now. I don’t know what I will do after I complete my study,” she says. Turkish government has granted hundreds of Uyghurs citizenship, Rabia reminds but she has yet to get the chance. Returning home, on the other hand, is not an option as one of her closest friends did after completing her study in Turkey. “She was hired by a government agency briefly and placed in camps where she died at the age of 32,” Rabia recalled  

Thousands of Uyghurs in other countries as well as Turkey have been trying to build a new and safer life for themselves while trying to raise awareness globally to save relatives home. Rabia Gul says she does not care about her postgraduate dissertation. “All I want is to see my family safe and sound,” she says.

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