By Matt Majendie
When London passengers step into the back seat of Enver Tohti’s Mitsubishi hybrid, none know about the back story of the former oncology surgeon.
Forced to harvest organs from fellow Uyghurs at gunpoint, he later exposed that to the world. But for six years he has been driving around London going from one Uber pick-up to the next.
Global political pressure is growing on China over its treatment of its 12million Uyghur population, with evidence of internments, deaths, rapes and sterilisations exposed despite the secrecy of its regime.
But China, with the international spotlight increasing ahead of hosting this month’s Winter Olympics, insists the camps are needed to combat terrorism.
For Tohti, the Games going ahead equates to the International Olympic Committee having “blood on its hands”.
Drawing comparisons to the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin, he said: “We made a huge mistake to allow Nazi Germany to host it, which surely misled the world opinion towards the Nazis. Unfortunately, history is repeating itself. Now we are allowing Beijing to host it, we are making the same mistake.”
His own life-changing moment dates to a hospital shift on a Wednesday in 1995 when asked if he “wanted to do something wild?” As a young surgeon, his reaction was one of excitement in being told to appear at the hospital gates.
Driven well out of town, he recalls: “There was a small hut and two surgeons there waiting. They said, ‘wait here and come around when you hear gun shots’. Time passed and I started to hear the noise of people shouting, chanting, whistles, blowing, trucks running, then gun shots, many rifles shooting at the same time.
“So, we got in the van and came around the mountain to find 10 corpses in prisoners’ clothes with shaved heads on the left side slope of the mountains.”
He was called away from the corpses to the body of another man in civilian clothes and was told “that is yours”, and ordered to remove the liver and kidneys. The man was not dead. “I had no choice but to harvest the organs, ” he said.
Tohti was central to setting up the Uyghur Tribunal in Westminster, which finished in June. The tribunal, chaired by Geoffrey Nice QC who prosecuted former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes, found that China had detained in excess of a million Uyghurs “without any remotely sufficient reason and subjected them to acts of unconscionable cruelty, depravity and inhumanity”.
That included torture, rape, enforced sterilisation, persecution, enforced disappearance and “other inhumane acts”. Its judgment was that the torture of Uyghurs was “attributable to the Peoples’ Republic of China beyond reasonable doubt”.
China called such reports “machine-producing lies”. And the Chinese ambassador to the UK, Zheng Zeguang, said the tribunal was “nothing but a farce carried out by a small number of anti-China elements”, dismissing claims of genocide as “absurd”.
Human rights groups, including International Tibet Network, Hong Kong Watch and the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) pushed for a global boycott of what it called the “Genocide Games” and are pressing athletes to boycott the opening ceremony and speak up for human rights abuses. The WUC estimate there are now 1,000 camps for Uyghurs in China. One of those detention centres is believed to be where Rahima Mahmut went to school before she relocated to London, where she works for the WUC. But she still has relatives in China, the last contact she had with them coming at the start of 2017.
Of Beijing 2022, she said: “The scale of the abuse and genocide is huge. The IOC has a responsibility to investigate the countries that are hosting the Games are not involved in genocide or crimes against humanity.
“The Olympics shouldn’t have been given to China. But we can use the Olympics as a platform to voice people’s awareness. The only way to stop China being an evil power, you need countries to unite.”
The IOC met human rights groups in October but insisted they must “remain neutral on all global political issues”.
In a statement, they added: “The IOC has neither the mandate nor the capability to change the laws or the political system of a sovereign country. This must rightfully remain the legitimate role of governments and respective intergovernmental organisations. We believe the Olympic Games can serve as a platform for cooperation and constructive engagement.” Sanctions have been imposed on Chinese officials by the UK, US, European Union and Canada over its human rights abuses and among the nations to impose a diplomatic boycott of the Games are Britain, the US, Canada, Australia and Japan.
Previously in the House of Commons, MPs declared for the first time that genocide was taking place towards the Uyghur people. But the Chinese embassy in London responded by saying, “The unwarranted accusation by a handful of British MPs that there is ‘genocide’ in Xinjiang is the most preposterous lie of the century, an outrageous insult to the Chinese people. China strongly opposes the UK’s blatant interference in China’s internal affairs.”
Another Uyghur activist is Zumretay Arkin — her contact with family in China began to fade from 2016. As she describes it, “things started getting weird”, with calls to relatives not answered and eventually blocked. She fears the worst.
“I’ve maybe 60 relatives on my dad’s side missing or detained in the camps,” she said. “I don’t know the treatment they’re facing. You read of the sexual abuse cases as reported by the BBC, and worse.”
She wants the athlete objection to be louder, saying: “People say ‘what about the athletes, isn’t that unfair to them, they train their entire life for this competition?’ But what about the people living through a genocide?
“People tend to forget that athletes have a voice and can think on their own — they have their own brains. No athlete wants to be confronted with the dilemma of choosing to compete for their career or to not help a genocidal regime. It’s not a pleasant choice for an athlete and the IOC has a responsibility to not put athletes in these situations.”