Year: 2021

The Elephant in the XUAR: III. “In accordance with the law”

An excerpt from the appeal letter of Kazakh student Bagdat Akin, written after over two years in custody. (Drawing by @YetteSu.) Gene A. Bunin This is the third in a series of three articles highlighting the massive expansion of the prison system in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region that has taken place in recent years. The prisons have been running in parallel with the much-covered concentration camps (“vocational training centers”) and possess many of the same traits, interning hundreds of thousands without real due process and engaging in labor exploitation. However, while international action has led to many, if not most, detainees being let out from the camps, those in prisons have been given sentences that often range from 10 to 20 years, and have yet to see any real concessions. The world remains passive on the issue. (Click here to read Part II.) Download the PDF version of this essay here (3.19MB) In using the legal system to sentence hundreds of thousands, the Xinjiang authorities have effectively performed the notorious act of mass incarceration …

‘Truth and reconciliation’: Excerpts from the Xinjiang Clubhouse

On Saturday, February 6, two days before it would be banned across China, the social media app Clubhouse had a defining moment. As numerous news outlets have reported, a room called “Is there a concentration camp in Xinjiang?” attracted a brief flourishing of speech and free discussion among Chinese people in the era of state censorship. As noted in an episode of the Sinica Podcast with several of the room’s hosts, one of the features of the Mandarin-language conversation was unique: Uyghurs were placed in moderator positions and invited to share their stories of family separation and disappearance. There was civility and respect in the room, which swelled to as many as 4,000 participants. Crucially, there was largely an absence of what one participant termed “Hansplaining”: Chinese-language discussions of Xinjiang which privilege Han perspectives. The room attempted to center discussions of the Xinjiang camps not on geopolitics or the security concerns of protected citizens, but from the standpoint of those who are most harmed by systems of state violence. The participant said that critiquing Hansplaining is important because it is so …

‘Only when you, your children, and your grandchildren become Chinese’: Life after Xinjiang detainment

In early 2020, just as COVID-19 was beginning to sweep across China, I traveled to Kazakhstan to interview Kazakhs and Uyghurs who had recently fled across the border. In a cold second-floor office building, I met dozens of China-born Kazakhs who came to talk to researchers about their family members who were lost in detention facilities in Xinjiang. I also spoke to nearly a dozen former detainees about their experience, and how they were struggling to recover their sense of self. I was not the only researcher there. Journalists and filmmakers from around the world gathered in Almaty. A pair of filmmakers I met, Yadikar Ibraimov and Jack Wolf, agreed to share with me a film project they were producing — parts of which are featured in this essay. The film conveys the urgency of the ongoing trauma that is palpable in Uyghur and Kazakh exile communities, particularly in Kazakhstan, where the stories of new arrivals and regular outpourings of collective grief have begun to shape daily life. An interview Ibraimov and Wolf conducted with Nurlan …

An Interview with Gene Bunin of the Xinjiang Victim Database & Uyghur Pulse

This interview between Gene Bunin and Matt Dagher-Margosian first appeared on the website Asia Art Tours. It is reprinted here with permission. Asia Art Tours and The Arts of Travel podcast hosts print and audio conversations, centered on creative voices in Asia. For more conversations on Japan, Thailand , Indonesia, Taiwan and elsewhere, come visit their platforms, or get in touch at matt@asiaarttours.com As Armenian and Jewish founders of Asia Art Tours,  we are keenly aware of the pain and suffering of genocide. Right now, the genocide in Xinjiang is one of the most urgent crises the world must face. To shine light on this mass atrocity, I spoke to the founder of the Xinjiang Victim Database, and Uyghur Pulse – Gene Bunin. Asia Art Tours: For people who are unfamiliar with your work, could you discuss Uyghur Pulse, the Xinjiang Victims Database and Shabit.biz? What are the objectives of these projects? And what obstacles have you faced in trying to continue to bring attention to these issues? Gene Bunin: The Xinjiang Victims Database is a multi-purpose web platform based at shahit.biz. Like …