November 13, 2019

Jewish World Watch Rallies for Uighurs

Protesters outside the Federal Building. Photo by Ryan Torok

A protest by Jewish World Watch (JWW) spotlighted China’s targeting of its Uighur population — a Muslim ethnic minority that reportedly is being held in detention centers by China’s Communist government.

Approximately 70 protesters, including members of the Uighur diaspora community, JWW leaders and local Christian and Muslim activists, turned out to the Sept. 8 rally outside the Federal Building in Westwood. They carried signs, some using an alternate spelling for the ethnic group, that read “Missing, 2 Million Uyghurs,” “Where Are They?” and “#SaveUyghurs.” Marching along Wilshire Boulevard, they chanted: “Close the concentration camps,” “Fascist China” and “Freedom for Uighurs.”

Ann Strimov Durbin, JWW director of advocacy and grantmaking, told attendees, “This is a human tragedy of epic proportions.” 

“As with anything with Jewish World Watch, when we hear about something that approximates genocides or reminds us of what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust, we try to do what we can,” JWW Executive Director Susan Freudenheim told the Journal at the rally.

Vaughan Meyer, chair of JWW’s advocacy committee, said the treatment of the Uighurs was not just reminiscent of the persecution Jews faced during the Holocaust but how Jews have been persecuted throughout history. “I think that advocacy is critical,” she said.

According to JWW, of the 11 million Uighurs currently living in China, mainly in the country’s northwestern Xinjiang region, more than 2 million are in Chinese detention camps. While China’s ruling Communist government has referred to them as “re-education camps,” JWW says they violate international law. 

The JWW website states, “While the Chinese government argues that the recent crackdown is a necessary security measure, its arbitrary detention of the Uyghurs, reported use of torture and other human rights violations against detainees.” 

According to the Los Angeles Times, there are an estimated 1,000 Uighurs living in Southern California. One of those who attended the rally (along with others who came from San Francisco and San Diego) was M.T., a 37-year-old Uighur. An information technology engineer who has been living in the United States for 10 years, he declined to give his full name in order to protect his family’s safety back home in China. He said his parents’ passports have been confiscated and the Uighur population in China at large is facing “cultural genocide,” with the Chinese government attempting to erase the group’s language, religion and way of life. 

“They want to make every single person think the same, speak the same,” he said. “They want to manufacture human thoughts. The biggest thing we need to do is make awareness of what China is trying to hide. They are minimizing the number [of people detained].” 

Ann Lau, an activist and member of China’s Han majority ethnic group, also attended the rally. “I think all Chinese here should support the right of people of China,” she said. “I think it’s important we stand up for other people’s rights.” 

Freudenheim said the Jewish community was called to speak out at the rally just as it always is obligated to speak out for those facing injustice.