As It Happens

'Where's our family?' Uighurs ask after China releases video of detained musician

When Chinese state media released a video purporting to show Uighur musician Abdurehim Heyit alive and well, Bahram Sintash immediately wondered about the fate of his own imprisoned father.

China posts clip of Uighur musician Abdurehim Heyit after Turkey said he died in a Chinese detention camp

Bahram Sintash holds up a photo of his father Qurban Mamut, a Uighur writer and editor detained in China. (Submitted by Bahram Sintash)

When Chinese state media released a video purporting to show Uighur musician Abdurehim Heyit alive and well, Bahram Sintash immediately wondered about the fate of his own imprisoned father.

Beijing released the clip of Heyit on Monday to counter reports from Turkey that the celebrated musician had died in a Chinese detention camp. 

In the video, Heyit gave the date as Feb. 10, 2019, and said he was being investigated for criminal activity, but was in good health and had "never been abused." CBC has not independently verified the authenticity of the footage.

Sintash's father Qurban Mamut, a friend of Heyit's, is one of an estimated one million Uighur Muslims locked up in massive Chinese detention or "re-education" camps. 

He spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off from his home in Chantilly, Va. Here is part of their conversation: 

First there were these rumours of his death and then this video that purports to show Abdurehim Heyit alive. So what has this been like for you in the past days as you watch this unfold?

Recently, we received the news about his death, so the Uighur diaspora around the world, we are shocked about the news.

We see the video, and it makes us even more angry.

In two days we got two kinds of emotion, and the second one is even worse. 

My father is in detention camps right now. Actually, we call it concentration camps. 

We all speak up: "Where's our family? If you can show Abdurehim Heyit's video, show our family members' video right now." 

So another wave of emotion is that, first of all, this beloved signer, first you're told he's dead and now you see a video. And this raises now questions as to why Chinese authorities can't confirm or give videos of all the other Uighurs who they have detained, including your father.

We are demanding: "You have to show all of our Uighurs, including not the famous people. Like somebody's mother or son or anyone."

[Heyit] says in the video that he is there because of having violated Chinese law. Why do you think that they have detained Mr. Heyit?

This is so funny. No one will believe in that because Mr. Heyit is one of the most well-known and most respected Uighur artists.

He did nothing against China's law, China's politics. He's just — he's an artist.

China arrested him only because of his fame.

There are hundreds of Uighur famous people — professors at universities, artists, writers — a lot of people are in the camps. 

Writer Qurban Mamut is pictured here with his friend, musician Abdurehim Heyit. Both men belong to the Uighur ethic minority in China and have been detained in what are believed to be massive 're-education' camps. (Submitted by Bahram Sintash)

People who are reporting on this say that the Communist Party of China is doing this, arresting Uighurs, because it has some kind of a social engineering plan — that it wants to, well, eliminate that Uighur identity. Why would it be so important to have a man who's a singer arrested? 

They're doing social engineering by starting the arrests of famous Uighurs like my father and Abdurehim Heyit. 

That means that one step [is] to destroy our culture. The other step [is] to stop [us] experiencing our own culture and the language, also religion.

Then, who knows what will happen to the next generation of Uighurs?

When was the last time you had any contact, any word, with your father?

I lost connection with my family members since February 2018.

Even before that time, I ask my mother to let my father pick [up] the phone. She said, "Your father's not here."

At the time, I didn't realize he's in a detention camp. 

Is it dangerous, then, to ask your family what's going on and have those conversations on the phone?

It's dangerous to call to them right now. ... If I call to them, this will be a reason they are taken to camps.

From left to right, Qurban Mamut, his wife and their son Bahram Sintash in 2017. Qurban Mamut is one of a an estimated one million Uighurs detained in Chinese camps. (Submitted by Bahram Sintash)

There's been so little international condemnation or outcry about what's happened to the Uighurs. But we've just seen Turkey has issued a very forceful statement calling on China to close these camps. ... What does that mean for Uighurs?

We are so happy with Turkey's action. ... [If] Western countries and Islamic countries join together and do some kind of political pressure to China, then we can save those Uighurs.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Associated Press. Interview produced by Allie Jaynes. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.