Thousands of protesters marched outside the Chinese Embassy in London and the Chinese Consulate in Manchester on Saturday as part of a weekend of protests around the world, demanding that the Chinese Communist Party end its genocidal policy against the Muslim Uyghurs of Xinjiang and closes a network of “re-education” which has welcomed up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Turkish minorities. The Stand4Uyghurs campaign was organized by a coalition of more than 50 British Muslim organizations with the aim of rallying a Muslim world largely reluctant to defend persecuted Uyghurs. Salman Butt, editor-in-chief of Islam21c, a digital Islamic news platform, was the event’s campaign coordinator in the UK. He spoke to journalist Nuriman Abdurashid of the RFA’s Uyghur service about the protests and messages the coalition wants to send to Muslims in East Turkestan, the Uyghur’s preferred name for Xinjiang, and to the Chinese government. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
RFA: What is the Stand4Uyghurs campaign?
Butt: The Stand4Uyghurs campaign is part of our impact element, and it’s a broad coalition of over 50 UK Muslim organizations. We want to develop as far as possible, and its aim is to channel people into effective action for the Uyghur cause in East Turkestan.
RFA: How did you decide to hold the [London and Manchester] events, and what sparked the great turnout?
Butt: Yesterday’s protests took place simultaneously in London and Manchester. In Manchester there were about 350 or more people, and in London there were thousands – some estimates range from 2,000 to 3,000 and over. People were there mainly to just stand by our Uyghur brothers and sisters to show that we are all part of one body, that any attack on Uyghurs is an attack on us, and if they are prevented from speaking , then we’re going to speak for them and give them a voice.
RFA: Could you further develop the slogan “Tell the Uyghurs who we are, la ilaha illal lah” [there is no God worthy of worship except Allah]?
Butt: So first of all, we know that this statement “Tell the Uyghurs who we are, la ilaha illal lahIs one of the main causes why the Chinese Communist Party wishes to persecute Uyghurs, because it makes Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities slaves to Allah first and foremost, rather than being slaves of the State Party, and it is a threat to them. And they want to assimilate them. One of the things the Chinese Communist Party does is try to eliminate Muslims, try to eliminate Islam and iman [faith] Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in East Turkestan. Part of their appeal is that you are not a Muslim, you are Chinese. This type of assimilation is an aggressive attempt at assimilation. We wanted to reaffirm that these brothers and sisters are indeed part of our larger collective. This is who we are. That is why we defend and support them. And that’s why the statement is the one they also need to hang on to. So it shows our union again Kalima [statement of faith] cause and a united word with Uyghur brothers and sisters around the world.
RFA: What message do you have for the Uyghur diaspora?
Butt: My message to Uyghurs in the diaspora is wherever you are, whatever happens, we want you to know that we are with you and, inchallah [God willing], uh [the Muslim world/community of believers] did not abandon you. the muslim uh is there, is present, and our leaders or our people who have been in charge of our institutions and our governments and so on may have programs, but the vast majority of the masses of Muslims the body of the uh is with you, inchallah, and we want to provide that moral support.
RFA: What is your message for the Chinese government?
Butt: Our message to the Chinese government is clear. This behavior must stop immediately. These are claims. We also read our requests the same day. We weren’t asking for anything unreasonable. These are basic things that every civilized human being would expect in order to stop the persecution and open the mosques, close the concentration camps and let the Uyghurs practice their din, their faith, with dignity.
RFA: Do you know why the Chinese flag was removed from the Chinese Embassy in London on the day of the demonstration?
Butt: I don’t know why the Chinese flag was taken down. We noticed that at the time of installation it was not there. My own suspicion is that they might have been afraid or ashamed of the protest that was about to happen, because their people were told much earlier when this protest was going to take place.
RFA: How did the British government react to the protests?
Butt: To my knowledge, we have had no reaction from the UK government so far.
Our campaign is longer term, and God willing, inchallah, to form an Islamic and Muslim platform, welcome to all who wish to join us on this point. But it is here to fill a void because most of the strongest voices against China and there is a critical absence of a popular Islamic voice that is genuinely critical of all types of oppression. This is what we want. We call on people to stand on this platform with Uyghur brothers and sisters. Our aim is to motivate people, to inform people about who Uyghurs are and what is happening to them, and then to channel them into effective action.
Edited by Roseanne Gerin.