“Help! I'm in jail in China”: provocation, fake, or a cry from the heart of Uyghur people?

A note in a shoe from China divided the expert community in assessing the “educational camps” in the Syrian Arab Republic and the pressure on the Muslims

“Help! I'm in jail in China”: provocation, fake, or a cry from the heart of Uyghur people?
Photo: paperpaper.ru

This week, the news that a resident of St. Petersburg allegedly found the note in the purchased shoe: “Help. . . Uyghur.” This information, on the one hand, once again caused concern of human rights defenders and the Muslim Ummah for the fate of ethnic minorities in China, on the other hand, made skeptics doubt and ask questions. Is it fake or true? Are there “labour camps” in China? The correspondent of Realnoe Vremya investigated the situation.

“Help! I'm in jail in China”

The Telegram channel “Mash on Moyka”, followed by social networks and media, published a message that a resident of St. Petersburg, Arslan Gibadullin, bought a pair of shoes, inside which he found a note: “HELP I AM IN JAIL IN CHINA PLEASE HELP UYGHUR”. . . . The guy went to the store where he bought the shoes, wrote to the distributor, but did not find out anything. Therefore, I posted it online, attaching the corresponding photos.

The message spread across the Internet. Users again began to discuss the problems of the Turkic peoples of the PRC (in particular, the Uyghurs). The Muslim community is particularly concerned about the indigenous population of Xinjiang.

Some drew attention to the logo of the shoes, reminiscent of the brand The North Face. The manufacturer denied any involvement in the use of forced labour in China.

Fake news or a repressive machinery manifestation?

In the Western media, and occasionally in the Russian press, there are periodic publications about “labour camps” (or “re-education camps”), which contain Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kirghiz, Tatars and other ethnic minorities of the Celestial Empire. Human rights activists talk about prisons for Muslims. According to them, about a million people were subjected to repression. American politicians also actively exploit the “Uyghur issue”.

In the Western media, and occasionally in the Russian press, there are periodic publications about “labour camps” (or “re-education camps”), which contain Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kirghiz, Tatars and other ethnic minorities of the Celestial Empire. Photo: svoboda.org

Russian religious figures also do not stand aside. As reported by Realnoe Vremya, Chairman of the Muslim Spiritual Board of the Republic of Tatarstan Kamil Samigullin supported the oppressed Muslims in China. A picket in their defense was also held in Kazan. Ildar Alyautdinov, the mufti of Moscow, agreed with his Tatarstan counterpart, calling for “shaking the world community” to protect Chinese Muslims.

In turn, Beijing officially denies any pressure on the adherents of Islam and other religions. As for the information about the Uyghur's note in Moscow, the representative of China's diplomatic circles, in an informal conversation with the correspondent of Realnoe Vremya, said that this message is a “poorly made fake” and typical fake news against China, which has been exploited by Western propaganda for many years.

“It may be a provocation”

Sinologist Nikolay Vavilov, who was contacted by Realnoe Vremya, finds several contradictions in the case with the “parcel” in the shoe, in connection with which he assumes that it is a fake. However, the expert does not deny the tension between the Chinese authorities and the Uyghurs.

“First of all, the note is written in English, not in Uyghur or Chinese. Second, neither address nor manufacturer of these shoes are indicated, nor that the author is located in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. In this regard, there are many doubts, and perhaps, in this case we can talk about some kind of provocation. The story of forced labour re-education of Uyghurs regularly appears in the Western media, and the idea of punishing China for this is a key one in the rhetoric of both US presidential candidates. This is an extremely politicised and ideologically inflated campaign in the press," the expert believes.

According to him, China regularly provides information to the public about the growth of the population of Xinjiang (it has grown by a quarter in 10 years), its welfare, the employment of Uyghur migrant workers in other provinces, where they get more money for work, they get qualifications, etc. “But the talks that these are really 'labour camps' that are used for repression is still an unconfirmed myth of American propaganda. Twenty years ago, it was just ridiculous: for example, it was reported that Nike sneakers were made by Vietnamese prisoners. This is a standard technique of black PR against China or other states," Vavilov believes.

“But at the same time, this does not mean that from the point of view of religion and certain political freedoms, everything is quite safe in the XUAR. The situation there is very tense. In 2009, there was an uprising in Urumchi: large-scale pogroms were accompanied by the murder of police officers, officials, and ordinary citizens, and the victims were from both sides — Chinese and Uyghurs. After that, a curfew was imposed. In general, there are fewer problems and tensions have eased, but the region is still a problem area — the same as many parts of Central Asia, the Caucasus, etc. In other words, the region remains a zone of increased threat of extremism and terrorist activity," the interlocutor said.

The scientist stressed that it is necessary to understand that, first, the Chinese and Uyghurs are different ethnic groups, as different as possible from each other. So there is always some tension between them. “Second, support for the Uyghur movement has increased from abroad. For example, the United States removed the Islamic Movement of East Turkestan from the list of terrorist organisations. And in the future, propaganda in support of the Uyghurs will only increase, and the financing of black PR and provocations will also increase," he said.

Vavilov identified two phenomena that are indirectly related to each other. On the one hand, there is indeed tension between the Chinese and the Uyghurs. On the other hand, this information about notes in shoes or videos taken on the phone with the message: “I am a Uyghur prisoner” may indicate that we are dealing with fakes.

“But there is a certain pressure on religious freedom, and the Uyghur issue is not far-fetched. There are real tensions between the Chinese authorities and the ethnic minority that professes Islam (Uyghurs). And this problem will be difficult to solve, especially if it is fuelled from abroad," Vavilov comments to “Real time”.

“In China, these things happen on a larger scale”

However, Muslim blogger Rasul Tavdiryakov believes that such “message” from China can be quite real. He is sure that the oppression of the adherents of Islam in China really takes place.

“No state that infringes on the rights of citizens, especially ethnic or religious minorities, would ever admit this. On the contrary, they will express noble motives for their actions — the fight against terrorism and so on. There are thousands of evidences of this. Western journalists and Russian bloggers went there (to East Turkestan) and described all this, even though they did not end up in these institutions (“re-education camps”). I personally went to Kyrgyzstan and talked to Uyghurs: they are even afraid to talk about it out loud. These are few Uyghurs who were lucky enough to stay in Kyrgyzstan and get a new citizenship. I had an opportunity to talk only to one elderly Uyghur. During our conversation, he wept profusely, remembering what terrible things are happening in his homeland," Tavdiryakov told Realnoe Vremya.

The interlocutor of the publication admitted that listening to the Uyghur, remembered the stories of his grandmother: “In the Soviet years, they hid the Koran, prayed salah in cellars, imams were shot, and mosques were demolished. I heard the same thing from an aksakal. In the Soviet Union, these were radical Communists. In China, all this is repeated.”

“China not only persecutes Uyghurs inside its country, but also persecutes those who find themselves outside the PRC — Central Asia, Europe, Turkey, etc. China is a reborn empire that has various resources and is able to conduct such operations on the territory of foreign countries. As for assimilation, China is a Communist state, and their religion is communism. Accordingly, they are fighting against dissent in their country," the blogger said.

Rasul Tavdiryakov stressed that he has no doubt that China is oppressing Uyghurs and Muslims, and perhaps even “on a far larger scale than we can imagine”. According to him, the sent note with the request for help indicates that a person in this situation has not found any other way to convey his cry of the heart. “The country is closed, all social networks are strictly controlled, their WeChat is viewed, cameras are installed everywhere. There is no way to claim your rights in an authoritarian regime. It is quite difficult to find out anything in detail about the horror that is happening in the XUAR, and the world will find out about it through such notes, through leaking information," Tavdiryakov shares his opinion with our correspondent.

By Timur Rakhmatullin