'We can't just turn a blind eye to this genocide': Kiwi Uighur says Government is 'letting it happen'

A Kiwi Uighur says the Government isn't doing enough to help families whose loved ones have disappeared into one of China's detention camps. 

China has detained more than a million people in camps in the country's northwest, according to international estimates, in what it claims is for reduction and combating terorrism. Some Western nations, including Canada and the US, have labelled it a genocide. New Zealand is not yet amongst them. 

Rizwangul Nurmuhammad, from Xinjian, is a Fulbright scholar and a New Zealand citizen. She's lived in New Zealand since 2010. Her brother Maulan Nurmuhammad, a fibre network engineer, was detained in early 2017. 

She told Newshub Nation while she's never been told why her youngest brother was arrested, she suspects it was on charges of secession. 

"I have no clue about his current situation. The last time I spoke to him directly was January 2017," she told Newshub Nation on Saturday. "I haven't had any chance to speak to him... As far as I know there has been no trial, there has been no due process."

She fears like many other Uighurs, according to documents that have been smuggled out and testimony from former detainees, her brother is being subjected to "merciless, inhuman treatment... sleep deprivation, malnutrition, inhuman treatment in any form".

"Even me here, living in the free world, I have been experiencing depression and anxiety. I can't imagine how my family back home are coping with this." 

In 2019 she went to the New Zealand Government for help. They tried to find out the whereabouts of her brother, she says, but since March 2020 she's heard almost nothing. 

"Several [of] my emails have been left unanswered... I appreciate the New Zealand Government approached the Chinese embassy, but there is a lot to do. A lot we can do. And we have to do it. This is the reality - we have to do it. We can't just turn a blind eye to this genocide."

Rizwangul Nurmuhammed
Rizwangul Nurmuhammad. Photo credit: Newshub Nation

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said as a Chinese citizen, there's only so much the New Zealand Government can do for Nurmuhammad's brother. 

"Riz's brother is a Chinese citizen. She's a New Zealand citizen advocating on behalf of her brother and we hear that, and her brother is a Chinese citizen," she told Newshub Nation. "We are working within the context that we can... The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been working with [Nurmuhammad] to get information. 

"We're one part of the solution. We are doing what we can within this context and with the Chinese embassy - because this is a Chinese citizen - to try and find out more information." 

Nurmuhammad says it's not good enough.

"When the Chinese embassy said to the New Zealand Government 'this is our domestic matter' they're literally saying 'you have nothing to do with this'. The New Zealand Government is buying that. It's just letting it happen and letting the Chinese government just get their way... 

"This [has] emboldened the Chinese government to do whatever they want to do, as a consequence putting both me and my family in danger."

Mahuta said the Government has made joint statements with other countries condemning China's treatment of the Uighurs, and has called for independent observers to go in and take a look.

Unlike the US, Canada and the British House of Commons, New Zealand is yet to recognise it as a genocide.

"At a Prime Ministerial level, the Prime Minister has raised it with the [Chinese] President and I've recently made a joint statement with Australia. It's important to remember that these are people and I think anyone listening to [Nurmuhammad] would absolutely hear the concern in her voice. 

"That's why... we've called for an independent observer to get information from Xinjiang so we know exactly what's happening."