Ferkat Jawdat, an Uighur American activist whose family was targeted for his continued advocacy against the prosecution of Turkic Muslims in China, spoke at AU on Jan. 28. Jawdat had not seen his mother in 14 years and said she spent time in one of China’s internment camps for Muslims in Xinjiang.
Jawdat began speaking out about the issue in 2018. Since then, he has been covered in the press, spoken at many events and met with U.S. government officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The Kennedy Political Union-sponsored event, moderated by Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin, occurred on international Holocaust Remembrance Day. Before the discussion, Rogin took a moment to acknowledge the many human rights atrocities that have taken place since the Holocaust, including what is currently taking place in China.
Jawdat’s family has faced repercussions as a result of him speaking out. His mother described being monitored, mistreated and pressured by the Chinese government. This story was documented by the New York Times podcast “The Daily.” Jawdat said that even when speaking at colleges like AU, the Chinese government will pressure his mother to tell him to stop speaking out.
He said that despite the personal risk to his family, his activism is essential.
“Every time Western people hear about or read about 3 million people locked up in concentration camps, it just becomes a statistic to them,” Jawdat said. “I realized that I can use my story to put a face on the number.”
Jawdat also pointed to the parallels of the rise of xenophobia in the U.S. and in China.
“China just borrowed the war against terror from the U.S. government and used it as a reason to suppress the Uighurs,” he said.
Jawdat said that college students can involve themselves in the issue by reaching out to their representatives and protesting goods made in China.
KPU Director Kevin Norton said that he wanted to give the Chinese government a chance to also share their perspective. He wrote to the Chinese ambassador prior to the event, inviting them to join the discussion, but did not receive a response.
“I told my team that if you want to travel to China, I suggest not working this event,” said Norton.