Rahima Mahmut is the coordinator of the Writers in Prison Committee of Uighur PEN Centre –a PEN centre in exile. When we met in August this year, she could share with us many details about the so-called "re-education camps" where more than one million of her fellow Uighur citizens are detained in the appalling wave of repression of Chinese authorities. Rahima is both an extraordinary singer and a translator. She lives in London. English PEN, through its translation program, has supported her translation of The Land Drenched in Tears, by Soyungul Chanisheff. It is the autobiography of a woman from her student years to adulthood, suffering the devastating policies of the Chinese Communist Party and finally being imprisoned in a labour camp for nearly 20 years. The book was published a month ago in the UK and is a great read to understand the persecution of the Uighur people through a personal memoir.
When Rahima visited my office she saw I have in the wall the poster of Ilham Tohti with the signatures of the delegates at the 2014 PEN International Congress in Bishkek. Ilham Tohti who was the empty chair of the Congress and is still suffering his sentence to life imprisonment –and whose release PEN demands tirelessly: we campaigned for him on International Mother Language Day.
Rahima attended the Bishkek congress: we shared the good memories of the Uighur cultural celebration, with their music and dance, at the closing ceremony of that congress chaired by Ilham Tothti from his empty seat.
The resolution on The People's Republic of China aproved at the 84th PEN International Congress in Pune states, among other points:
"Crackdowns continue across the country’s provinces and administrative regions. Since Xi Jinping became President of China in 2013, the overall situation of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has rapidly deteriorated and has now reached crisis point; an estimated 11% of the 12 million Uyghur population are now detained in China’s so-called “re-education camps,” among them writers, journalists, translators, artists and academics held for their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression.
Uyghur writers and intellectuals, face harassment, arbitrary detention and flawed trials for publishing anything related to current political concerns in the region, including Uyghur ethnic identity, language, culture, beliefs, and history. The crackdown on Uyghur intellectuals has intensified; the number of sentences handed down to Uyghur intellectuals convicted of so-called “separatism” is alarming. Currently, at least a dozen Uyghur writers are reportedly detained in “re-education camps” or in prison, while others’ whereabouts remain unknown. Poet and academic, Abduqadir Jalalidin of Xinjiang Pedagogical University was arrested on 29 January 2018, and is thought to be administratively detained in a re-education camp.
The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International calls on the government of the People’s Republic of China to:
• Release all writers and journalists imprisoned or detained in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, including Nijat Azat, Gheyret Niyaz, Memetjan Abdulla, Gulmira Imin (f), Ilham Tohti, Abduqadir Jalalidin, Abdurehim Heyit, Ablajan Awut Ayup, Omerjan Hasan Bozqir, and Tursunjan Hezim;
• Stop targeting Uyghur intellectuals including writers, journalists, and web editors, and immediately close down all ‘re-education camps” which have been built on a large scale in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region."