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Uighurs are Posting TikTok Videos to Raise Awareness of Missing Relatives

Millions of China's Uighur ethnic minority have gone missing over the past five years.

by Gavin Butler
21 August 2019, 6:22am

Image via Facebook/Tahir Imin Uighurian

The United Nations estimates that, over the past five years, between one and two million members of China’s Uighur ethnic minority have gone missing. They are thought to be imprisoned in detention centres throughout the western Xinjiang province: detained for the purposes of re-education and indoctrination—or, as the Chinese Communist Party frames it, “vocational training”.

Now, people are using TikTok to raise campaign for information on those who have disappeared: posting videos of missing family members in a bid to raise awareness of the situation, The Guardian reports.

The videos, each between 15 and 60 seconds long and mostly set to eerie music, show images of missing persons with a photo or video cutout of the person posting the clip superimposed over the top. Since the social media platform groups together videos that use the same music clip, TikTok users are able to view many of these videos all in one place.

David Brophy, a senior lecturer in modern Chinese history at the University of Sydney, told The Guardian that the videos could indicate “a slight relaxing of security measures in Xinjiang”, and a strengthening of peoples’ resolve to call out the injustices taking place in the region and rally against the authoritarian powers that be.

“That may have given more Uighurs the confidence to go public with their situation,” he said. “They’re obviously desperate, and taking a big risk in doing this, but this could signal a turning point in the willingness of people inside Xinjiang to defy the party-state and express opposition to what’s going on.”

This isn’t the first time Chinese citizens have used social media to voice dissent and kick back against the party-state. When regional government chairman Shohrat Zakir claimed at the end of July that about 90 percent of Uighurs released from the detention camps had gone on to receive gainful employment and earn “considerable money”, people responded by sharing pictures of missing loved ones under the hashtag #ProveThe90.

Similarly, when Chinese state media released a video in February of famous Uighur musician Abdurehim Heyit—who disappeared in 2017—claiming that he was in good health and had “never been abused”, people called for videos that would prove their relatives were also alive and well, under the hashtag #MeTooUighur.

The spate of Uighur disappearances has been ongoing since 2014, when the Communist Party of China launched what it called the “Strike Hard Campaign Against Violent Terrorism”: a state-sanctioned attempt to combat religious extremism by effectively punishing and controlling Muslim Uighurs based on their faith.

Analysts and researchers recently compiled a list of “Forty-Eight Suspicious Signs of Extremist Tendencies”, based on interviews with ethnic Uighurs and Kazakhs who fled Xinjiang, to demonstrate the kinds of activities and behaviours that could get you thrown into a detention camp. These included abstaining from alcohol, eating breakfast before dawn, and acting sad when one’s parents died.

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This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.

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