The ‘Me Too’ moment has cast a shadow over the Uyghurs’ worldwide diaspora movement

The global movement of the Uyghurs (against the Chinese for a separate state of East Turkestan) has received a rude shock after sexual harassment charges were made on May 10, 2024, by two women, respectively, against two top leaders of the Uyghur diaspora, Dolkun Isa, who is currently the Executive President of the Uyhgur umbrella organisation based in Munich (Germany), World Uyghur Congress (WUC), and Nury Turkel, the Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom and one of the Board of Directors of the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP).

In an interview with NOTUS, a Washington-based publication from the Albritton Journalism Institute, Esma Gun, a 22-year-old Turkish-Belgian student, provided a screenshot message as evidence towards Dolkun Isa’s misdemeanour in 2021. Earlier, two unnamed Uyghur women had claimed in separate interviews with NOTUS regarding Dolkun’s ‘unprofessional sexual advances’ towards them.

Similarly, Julie Millsap, an American who worked as the Government Relations Manager for the Uyghur Human Rights Project, confessed before the NOTUS regarding a year-long ‘consensual sexual relationship’ with Nury Turkel that began in May 2021 and ended in September 2022 on a bitter note. According to Julie, Nury was using a pseudonym (Mitch Gasser) while interacting with her over social media to hide his identity. In the meantime, Dolkun Isa, in a message on the X (formerly Twitter), has ‘regretted’ and ‘apologized’ for ‘sending messages that caused discomfort and distress to those who received them’. However, Dolkun’s plea doesn’t help him anymore. Some Uyghurs, who initially thought it could have been a Chinese ploy (at least against Nury) because Julie’s husband was Chinese, now find it irrefutable, particularly after Dolkun’s confessions on social media. However, Nuri has not minced a single word about the accusations made by Julie Millsap.

There is a tremendous reaction from the Uyghurs, particularly the Uyghur women activists, to the sexual harassment allegations made against Dolkun and Nury. For instance, the Institut Oighour d’Europe, a Paris-based Uyghur organisation, expresses ‘complete support’ to both the women who had testified against the top leadership of the Uyghur diaspora.

Further, Nurgul Sawut, the first female president of another Uyghur diaspora organisation, East Turkistan Government in Exile (ETGE), condemned ‘all forms of sexual harassment and abuse towards women’, in addition to demanding ‘authorities in the Capitol Hill and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)’ to investigate allegations against Dolkun and Nury. Surprisingly, there is no response from one of the important female faces of the Uyghur diaspora in the US, Rushan Abbas, who is currently the founder and Executive Director of Uyghurs and is tipped to replace Dolkun Isa as the President of WUC in October this year. There is even no reaction from Louisa Greve, Director of Global Advocacy, National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and a key person coordinating with the WUC’s activism.

This whole state of affairs has serious repercussions for Uyghur diaspora activities across the globe. This has exposed the proverbial chinks in the Uyghur diaspora. It is important to note here that the WUC, which last month (April 2024) completed 20 years of its existence as the powerful voice of millions of Uyghurs, who have not only been oppressed and suppressed by the Chinese government, both inside and outside China, in the last seven decades or so but also denied basic human rights, has fallen from grace, and now young people, especially women, will look at the WUC leadership in dismay and disbelief.

The political careers of Dolkun and Nury, who have been instrumental in spearheading the Uyghur movement against the Chinese atrocities in the last couple of decades, will end with this. Dolkun’s utterances that he is in the ‘final few months as President of the World Uyghur Congress (until the next General Assembly of the WUC in October 2024)’ spell doom for Dolkun, who, from a pioneer of student protest and democracy movement against the Chinese atrocities in Xinjiang in the 1980s, rose to acme of success as the head of the World Uyghur Congress for over half a dozen years (since 2017 till date).

Similarly, Nury, the first US-educated Uyghur attorney, who became the president of the Washington-based Uyghur American Association in 2005 at the age of 25, will have a similar fate. It will be a bolt from the blue for the Uyghur diaspora as well. Besides, the efforts some Uyghur activists made 20 years ago to establish a global Uyghur umbrella organisation in the form of the WUC are crumbling, and this would be a fatal blow to the movement the WUC has been standing for.

Furthermore, the allegations against Dolkun and Nury will put the American patrons of the Uyghurs in a critical situation. The American society that had witnessed a serious uproar over the ‘Me Too’ movement six years ago will now hesitate to pledge any open support to the Uyghur diaspora organisations, especially the WUC. It is imperative to note that the National Endowment of Democracy (NED) has been the main sponsor of the diasporic activities of the WUC and other Uyghur organisations.

The Uyghurs’ loss will be China’s gain. The biggest beneficiary of this fiasco will indeed be the central government of China. Even though there has been no reaction from the Chinese so far, this situation has given the Chinese government ammo to continue their outbursts against the Uyghur diaspora leaders. It is a well-known fact that both Dolkun and Nury have been dubbed by the Chinese government as ’terrorists’.

Chinese authorities may go one step further and describe the Uyghurs as predators, characterless, proclaimed sexual offenders, confessed molesters, etc. Now the Chinese would not hesitate to settle scores with the human rights and women activists, who had earlier accused the Chinese government of violating human and women rights in Xinjiang, and even hard-press these activists to frame Dolkun Isa and Nury Turkel under the same charges. And China will leave no stone unturned to use this opportunity to let the world community know the real face of top Uyghur leaders. This is an example of how an entire community (Uyghurs) will be blamed by China for the follies of a couple of their community members or leaders. The Chinese central government still has considerable sway over two-thirds of the total Uyghur population across the globe, besides applying combative measures against the rest through the mobilisation of the international community.

The author teaches at the Centre for Inner Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Views expressed in the above piece are personal and solely those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect Firstpost’s views.






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