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Uyghur American Association Discusses Sanctions Against China

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union have all leveled sanctions on China due to their treatment of Uyghurs, which includes detention camps, forced labor, sterilizations and abortions, which a 2020 State Department report has called genocide. China denies the allegations, despite personal testimonies, extensive reporting and, indeed, satellite footage of Uyghur detention camps in China.

Kuzzat Altay is president of the Uyghur American Association, and many of his family members in China have experience in the prison camps. He joins us now from Northern Virginia. Mr. Altay, thanks so much for being with us.

KUZZAT ALTAY: Thank you so much for having me.

SIMON: And what's your reaction to the sanctions?

ALTAY: I remember it was in 2019, I started speaking up for my father and my family members. I had a panel in European Parliament, and I mentioned the word genocide concentration camp. And after the panel, a couple of people came to me, and they said, you're exaggerating, and you're delegitimizing your own cause by using the word genocide and concentration camp.

At that time, I did not know my family members were alive, and it was extremely heartbreaking that people do not want to listen. So, you know, three years after, United States, Canada, Netherland, many other countries start speaking up, recognizing it as a genocide, it is giving me hope. And I believe this is giving hope for Uyghurs around the world.

SIMON: What can you tell us about your family? What do you know and what can you share with us?

ALTAY: My goal was staying away from politics because we suffered a lot as a kid. In 2005, I left China, you know, because I was arrested by Chinese intelligence, threatening me to kill me. So I went to Turkey in 2005 and came to the United States in 2008 as a refugee. My goal was American dream. I want to build a life that - you know, I can just have a normal life, a normal person that would have - wake up in the morning, go to work and just hang out with your family. That was my life.

Unfortunately, China did not allow that. In 2018, my father sent me a message through WeChat saying, son, they're taking me. So he was just gone for two years. I did not know he was alive or not. And I started advocating. I spoke up for two years. After I was elected as the president of Uyghur American Association, in January 2020, the Global Times, the Chinese state media, somebody sent me a Twitter message that was a video of my father reading a script, denouncing me and saying that China - how China was treating him so well, that he was so happy under China. And if I don't stop what I'm doing against Chinese Communist Party, you know, he doesn't have a son like me.

So I was suffering for my father for two years, didn't know he was alive. Now, the first time I see him is on a state TV denouncing me. So after a few months, he started talking to me. His leg was broken because Chinese guardian was pushing him or something. And with the broken leg, the guardians force him to stand up with the broken leg. So he said, you know, I want to die. It was so painful.

So he told me that, you know, after two years of being in the prison, he was so-called graduated from the educational camp, and he got a tailor certificate when he was (unintelligible). The last time I was talking to him, he was crying on the phone, and he said, son, I just want to die outside. I don't want to die inside the camp. And that was the last word I heard from him. And it is just heartbreaking.

SIMON: Yeah. Mr. Altay, we - may we ask how recently you've been able to speak with your father?

ALTAY: So the message from the Chinese authority told my father that, three months ago, that he cannot talk to me again, so that was one time.

SIMON: Yeah.

ALTAY: So it was three months ago. And my father, he want to talk to me a lot. My brother, he is not an activist. He lives in United States. My father told my brother to come to my house. And he called my brother and - to say, give it to your brother. And it was a week ago. So he saw me on the video. Immediately, he started crying. He said, I miss you so much. I said, I miss you, too. And then he hung up.

SIMON: Are you concerned that by speaking to us and to others, you might - well, you might be creating more risk for family members in China?

ALTAY: I don't know any other way. If I don't speak, I think it's riskier. I also remember my classmates, my teachers. I don't know what happened to them. I still remember them. So I think it's not about my father. It's about Uyghur people.

SIMON: You think sanctions from Western countries can help?

ALTAY: Absolutely it will help because China was doing everything - committing crimes against humanity, killing, torturing the religious minorities - Uyghurs, Christians, Muslims - for many years. And the world was just - didn't do anything. China thought they could get away with everything they do. Now, I think, this is the first time the world is doing something that is tangible, measurable, will have a measurable impact for the Chinese economy.

SIMON: Is there anything individual American citizens can do?

ALTAY: I think stopping the genocide starts with creating awareness. The second thing is, there is a bill called Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in the Congress right now. This is a legal way to protect Uyghurs from slavery. It's going to have more restriction on the Chinese imports. The third thing I want to say is American people should hold their companies accountable. I think they need to start asking questions to the corporates and the businesses as well.

SIMON: Kuzzat Altay is president of the Uyghur American Association. Thank you so much for being with us, sir.

ALTAY: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.