WASHINGTON (WDVM) — Mustafa Aksu hasn’t seen or spoken to his family in more than four years.
“I wish I could have talked to them,” Aksu said. “But it’s very risky to even make a call. I just want to let them know that how much I miss them.”
Aksu lives in Washington, DC, and is a Uyghur. He was born and raised in Xinjiang in the Western region of China.
As China prepares to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing on the other side of the country, Aksu just wonders if his family is safe.
“I was told that I should not call them anymore because of the Chinese government’s policy. There are people who have relatives outside of China or people who have been contacted by people outside of China. They were taken to internment camps, or we call it concentration camps,” Aksu said. “I have missed my parents’ anniversary, my uncle’s funerals, my brother’s funeral, so many things.”
Aksu is currently a program manager for the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), based in Washington, DC. UHRP and other human rights organizations allege that the Chinese government has been carrying out human rights abuses against the Uyghur people in the region.
The human rights organizations say there’s been mass surveillance of Uyghurs, prohibiting them from practicing their religion, forced sterilization of women, forced labor, torture and rape. Some, including the United States government, have labeled the situation a genocide.
“I would say that the situation facing Uyghurs today is really one of the most horrendous human rights abuses happening in the world today,” UHRP senior program officer Peter Irwin said.
In November 2021, the U.S. Holocaust Museum in DC’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide released a 60-page report on alleged human rights crimes by China against Uyghurs.
“It’s hard to fathom the notion that a government that is potentially committing genocide, has been committing large scale crimes against humanity, has been allowed, has been selected to host something as significant as the Olympics,” Naomi Kikoler, the director of the U.S. Holocaust Museum Center for the Prevention of Genocide said. “Nazi Germany used the Olympics as a way to carry out propaganda. It was a propaganda victory for them. We really can’t let the Chinese government use the spectacle of the Olympic Games to obscure the persecution of the Uyghur communities.”
Nazi Germany hosted the 1936 Olympics just five years before the Holocaust started in Europe. Nazi flags sporting swastikas were displayed throughout the 1936 Olympic Games.
Today, Aksu says it’s not easy seeing the Olympics held in China while his family faces danger.
“As an Uyghur myself, I’m angry. I feel helpless. And I’m sad,” Aksu said. “It’s totally against the spirit of the Olympics. And such a country like the Chinese Communist Party of China should not have the right to hold Olympics and individuals, international organizations and countries should speak about this.”
In response to WDVM asking about Uyghurs’ situation in China, the International Olympic Committee mentioned Uyghurs. It said that “the Olympic Games are the only event that brings the entire world together in peaceful competition.” They also said that the IOC “must remain neutral on all global political issues. The IOC added that it recognizes and upholds human rights. The IOC also referenced the updated human rights section of its website.
The 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing will run from Feb. 4 through Feb. 20.
Correction: A previous version of this article referred to Mustafa Aksu as a Uyghur Muslim, Aksu is a Uyghur but is not a Muslim. Most Uyghurs are Muslim.