Daughter of imprisoned Uyghur scholar concerned China using Olympics as a propaganda tool

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Daughter of imprisoned Uyghur scholar concerned China using Olympics as a propaganda tool

A Uyghur refugee and human rights advocate said she’s worried the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics will benefit the communist regime’s credibility.

“I know that the Chinese government wants zero discussion on human rights during this Olympics,” Jewher Ilham told Fox News.

The Games kicked off in Beijing on Friday morning, marking the first time China has hosted the Winter Olympics. The Biden administration announced a diplomatic boycott against the Games in December over human rights abuses against the Uyghur population in the Xinjiang region.

“I’m afraid China’s government will use the Olympics as a propaganda tool,” Ilham said. “It’s very concerning.”

“I’m afraid this Olympics, it will be another tool for the Chinese government to use to justify their actions and … to claim that people are indeed living in a happy place and they’re financially stable and there are no human rights abuses happening,” she continued.

Sakharov Prize ceremony at the European Parliament.
Jewher Ilham said that the Chinese government may use it as a tool to portray life in China as something better than it actually is.
AP / Jeean-Francois Badias

While discussing the boycott, White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the Chinese government’s “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses.”

“U.S. diplomatic or official representation would treat these Games as business as usual in the face of [China’s] egregious human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang,” Psaki said. “And we simply can’t do that.”

Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom joined the U.S. in its diplomatic boycott to protest the human rights violations. Athletes from those countries will still participate.

“Hopefully these diplomatic boycotts will give dozens more athletes the courage to speak out about these abuses and also to call on corporate sponsors to end their complicity in Uyghur forced labor,” Ilham told Fox News.

Still, she’s concerned China will benefit.

Gao Tingyu and Zhao Dan, of China, carry their national flag into the stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Gao Tingyu and Zhao Dan, of China, carry their national flag into the stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics.
AP / Jae C. Hong

With the 2008 Olympics, the Chinese government had attracted lots of business opportunities and also showed the world that China is indeed a nice place to live,” Ilham told Fox News. 

The advocate’s father, Ilham Tohti, was a Uyghur scholar dedicated to bridging the gap between the Uyghur people and the Han Chinese. Authorities apprehended Tohti in 2013 at a Beijing airport as the father and daughter attempted to travel to Indiana University so Tohti could pursue a fellowship.

That was the last time Ilham saw her father.

“Because I was a teenager, I appeared as no threat to the Chinese government,” she told Fox News. “They allowed me to leave, and that was my last goodbye to my father.” 

Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng lights the torch before the start of the torch relay for the 2022 Winter Olympics at the Olympic Forest Park in Beijing.
Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng lights the torch before the start of the torch relay for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
AP / Sam McNeil

Ilham flew to the U.S. and has not been able to return to her home in China since.

Tohti was sentenced to life in prison the next year on charges of “separatism” for his writings promoting peace between Uyghurs and Han Chinese.

“The Chinese government claims that my father is a separatist, someone who advocates for violence and someone that promotes extremism, but these are all completely nonsense accusations,” Ilham said. 

No one from her family has seen her father since 2017. 

Jewher Ilham, daughter of imprisoned Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti holds a photo of her father during the Sakharov Prize ceremony at the European Parliament.
Jewher Ilham, daughter of imprisoned Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti holds a photo of her father during the Sakharov Prize ceremony at the European Parliament.
AP / Jean-Francois

“We don’t know if he has been transferred to another prison, a camp, or if he’s even alive,” Ilham said. 

Her cousin was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being was caught with a photo of Tohti. 

“The Uyghurs have been oppressed since decades ago,” Ilham said. “It’s nothing new to us.”

“I grew up in a system that does not grant the freedom of speech, freedom to press,” she continued, noting “all the censorship and surveillance.”

“We grew up to it, we are used to it,” Ilham told Fox News. “But the level of surveillance and repression is just rising year by year and day by day.”

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