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22 Feb 2019 14:56
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  •   Home > News > International

    'Dead' Uyghur poet Abdurehim Heyit appears on Chinese state media, says he's 'never been abused'

    Chinese state media releases a video purportedly showing Uyghur poet Abdurehim Heyit alive and insisting he's "in good health", following claims he had died in prison.

    Chinese state media have released a video purportedly showing Uyghur poet Abdurehim Heyit alive and insisting he's "in good health" following claims he had died in prison.

    The video was released following condemnation from Turkey, which described China's internment camps as "concentration camps", saying they were "a great cause of shame for humanity".

    An estimated one million Muslim Uyghurs are believed to be detained in these camps in Xinjiang province.

    Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy, breaking Turkey's silence on the treatment of the Muslim minority, said the country learned of the death of Mr Heyit in prison, but reports of his death could not be independently verified.

    But in a video that appeared today, a man — purported to be Mr Heyit — is seen rocking slightly from side to side, wearing a white and black sweater and delivering a short statement against a drab grey background.

    "Today is February 10, 2019," the subtitles read in English and Turkish.

    "I'm in the process of being investigated for allegedly violating the national laws.

    "I'm now in good health," he says, and after a pause, adds: "and have never been abused".

    The Chinese embassy and consulate in Australia and China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs were also approached for comment.

    But a spokesman from China's embassy in Turkey said the idea China was violating human rights was "totally inconsistent with the facts and are totally unacceptable to China".

    He said the "vocational centres" were designed to give Uyghurs language and professional skills in order to combat poverty and "breeding grounds for extreme ideas".

    "It is an indisputable fact that the Chinese Government attaches great importance to safeguarding basic rights of the people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang," the spokesperson said.

    "To sum up, those who accuse the Chinese Government of trying to 'wipe out' the ethnic, religious and cultural identities of Uyghurs and other Muslim groups are totally untenable."

    Patrick Poon, a China researcher with Amnesty International, told the ABC that it was "really bizarre to see Abdurehim Heyit's video after hearing various sources about his death".

    "The way the video was presented is similar to other cases of video-recorded confessions, like the cases of Peter Dahlin and Gui Minhai.

    "I really hope that the video is real. The only way the Chinese authorities can prove his safety is to let him to talk to his friends, family and journalists without any interference."

    The news comes amid new reports that some 17 Australian residents are believed to be detained in China's crackdown on the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.

    In October, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) confirmed three Australians were detained and released from China's political re-education camps in the past year.

    A DFAT spokesperson told the ABC they were not aware of any Australian citizens currently being detained in Xinjiang.

    "We are aware of a number of cases where family and friends in Australia are unable to contact individuals who have travelled to Xinjiang," they said in a statement.

    "In some cases, those individuals have Australian connections such as permanent residency or a spouse visa.

    "Where Australian family members request us to do so, we have been making enquiries with the Chinese authorities regarding the whereabouts of these individuals."

    Observers allege video looks 'suspicious'

    The famed poet and musician is a master of the dutar, a two-stringed instrument from Iran and Central Asia, and was reportedly sentenced to eight years in prison due to one of his songs.

    Some have taken to social media to call the video "suspicious", but Sydney-based Uyghur activist Alip Erkin said it appeared genuine to the untrained eye, and appeared to be uploaded quickly to counter Turkey's claims.

    "Many observed, including myself, that the lips and the audio do not properly sync," he told the ABC.

    "But even if it is the case, the lips seem to say the things he said in the video."

    Academic Elise Anderson, who studies Uyghur music, noted on Twitter that "his skin is pale and sickly looking".

    She tweeted that the video showed international outcry "can force China to respond".

    "We should see it as remarkable that they have circulated this video when, for example, they have been deafeningly silent about the whereabouts of so many of the disappeared," she said.

    Magnus Fiskesjo, associate professor of anthropology at Cornell University, said the "manipulative" video appeared to have been released in a panic and bore a striking similarity to China's televised "confessions".

    The video was not a guarantee that Mr Heyit was in fact alive, he said, adding that the tone, ambiance, undisclosed location and soundproof walls were all hallmarks of coerced and scripted confessions in which the subjects were subjected to threats and even torture.

    "I immediately noticed that he looked uncomfortable and uneasy, and that he looked as if he was paying attention to directions," he told the ABC.

    "Even if it is the case that he is alive and that China seems to be scoring a point [by] calling out Turkey … then that should not obscure the fact that he's being held incommunicado, which itself encourages these kind of rumours flying around."

    Such productions are designed to debase those accused by "putting words in people's mouths and use them as pawns … to silence them".

    The mass arrests of intellectuals and artists was a kind of cultural "genocide", he said.

    "It's to blunt the voice of people who develop some kind of voice of their own in China — that is what the regime cannot tolerate."

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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