Young Uygurs look to sue Australian think tank over report on 'forced labor' in Xinjiang
Published: Jun 20, 2021 01:59 PM
Nuradli Wublikas is at work. Photo: Courtesy to Nuradli Wublikas

Nuradli Wublikas is at work. Photo: Courtesy to Nuradli Wublikas

Nuradli Wublikas, a young Uygur man from Kashi of Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, is seeking to sue Australian think tank Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) for its report on the so-called forced labor in China's Xinjiang, as the ASPI report has hurt the image of the Uygur group and undermines their employment opportunities.

"We want them to stop slandering my hometown and to apologize for having defamed us," said Nuradli.

In April, led by the 26-year-old Nuradli, a group of young Uygur people living in Changsha, capital of Central China's Hunan Province, co-authored a joint letter and called on more Uygur people whose interests have been hurt by ASPI's report on the so-called forced labor in China to join their activities to sue the Australian think tank.

In February 2020, ASPI released a report claiming that the Chinese government "forced" the massive labor transfer of Uygur people from Xinjiang region to factories in other cities in China. The report was cited by many Western media outlets, which turned a blind eye to the fact that the report had been refuted by China for its loopholes and slander. 

In November 2020, the US Commerce Department announced sanctions on Chinese companies over allegations of "forced labor."  

"I noticed my hometown Xinjiang has long been slandered. After hearing the news on ASPI's report, I found it and read through it with the help of a translator," Nuradli told the Global Times.

Nuradli was filled with anger and indignation after reading the report. "The report is full of lies! I was born and grew up in Xinjiang and know so many Uygurs living and working in other cities across the country, and no one is 'forced' to work outside! It really made me angry that we Uygurs are portrayed by the Australian think tank report as lazy people who need to be 'forced' to work," the young man said. 

"Those who wrote the report know little about Xinjiang's real situation…" said Nuradli, "There is a lot of surplus labor in villages and people are willing to work outside. A friend of mine worked in other cities outside Xinjiang for a year and earned enough money to build a new house. And after another year of working, he had the money to marry his girlfriend.".

He noted that in sharp contrast to the ASPI report's allegations of "forced labor," people from Xinjiang who choose to work in other Chinese cities are making their own decisions as to where they go to work and what kind of jobs they do. Those who want to start their own businesses in other cities also enjoy many favorable policies.  

"Take myself as an example. After graduating from Jishou University in 2018, I started my own e-commerce business named Haobalang selling Xinjiang food. Since I began trying to start my business when I was in university, my teachers, the university and local government of Zhangjiajie [where Jishou Univerisity is located in Central China's Hunan Province] have helped me a lot," Nuradli said.

Haobalang literally means 'good boy' as "balang" is boy in the Uygur language.

In addition to damaging the Uygurs' image and dignity, the ASPI's slander also undermines Uygurs' rights, Nuradli pointed out

"One senior student who graduated from my university told me that he was sacked from a foreign trade corporation, as the US purchasing agent asked this company and other partners to look into the 'forced labor' of Uygurs. Although these companies hired Uygur employees in accordance with laws and regulations, they decided to sack them to avoid possible risks or sanctions from the US. We Uygurs' rights for development and employment have been undermined," said Nuradli.

Apart from ASPI, recently, some think tanks and individuals from the West and the US have actively joined the campaign to slander China over the so-called forced labor in its Xinjiang region, and have cited the untenable allegation to ban products, especially cotton, from the region.

In April, a court in Kashi Prefecture of Xinjiang accepted the lawsuit of a local yarning company named Xiongying to sue the infamous anti-China German "scholar" Adrian Zenz for his reports on the so-called forced labor, as Zenz's reports have severely damaged the company's reputation and caused economic losses.

The Global Times also learned from sources that more companies and individuals that have been affected by the "forced labor" hype and the ensuing sanctions, including labor services companies, are preparing to use the law to protect their interests. 

Working together 

Kudlik Kadir volunteered to be a teacher in a village school in Xiangxi of Human Province in summer vocation in 2018. Photo: Courtesy to Kudlik Kadir

Kudlik Kadir volunteered to be a teacher in a village school in Xiangxi of Human Province in summer vocation in 2018. Photo: Courtesy to Kudlik Kadir

The irresponsible slander on "forced labor" has angered not only Nuradli but also other people from Xinjiang. In April, when having dinner with a friend from Kashi who also worked in Zhangjiajie, Nuradli talked about his dissatisfaction toward ASPI and Western media reports.

"I told him that I wanted to do something and he said the same. We talked for a long time. That night, I wrote a letter of nearly 2,000 words in both Chinese and Uygur language, calling for more people to join us to sue ASPI. After jointly polishing it for more than a week, we posted it on WeChat," said Nuradli.

The letter was soon reposted and shared by many people, with more than 1 million people having read it and many friends calling to ask if they could join them. Kudlik Kadir, who graduated from Jishou University two years before Nuradli, is one of them. 

"After reading Nuradli's letter, I felt touched and excited and felt we Uygurs are obliged to stand up to voice our dissatisfaction with slander from the West. I want to do this with Nuradli," Kudlik told the Global Times.

In order to draw more attention, they also organized some offline activities in a restaurant - all the waiters and waitresses wore T-shirts with the words "Support China-made products and support Xinjiang region" printed on them and customers at the restaurant were sent gifts decorated with Xinjiang cotton.

The T-shirt Nuradli Wublikas and Kudlik Kadir design for an offline activities to support the use of cotton produced in Xinjiang. Photo: Courtesy to Kudlik Kadir

The T-shirt Nuradli Wublikas and Kudlik Kadir design for an offline activities to support the use of cotton produced in Xinjiang. Photo: Courtesy to Kudlik Kadir

 Kudlik and Nuradli are now collecting facts and evidence on Uygurs who were subjected to damages brought by the ASPI report and seeking legal assistance. 

"I learned that a company in Xinjiang and local residents are working to sue the infamous German individual Adrian Zenz, asking him to make an apology and compensate them for their losses. We also want to sue ASPI for having damaged the Uygurs' reputation," Kudlik said.

However, lawyers suggested that it will be hard to file the case since Nuradli and Kudlik are not directly affected by ASIP and the law cannot support a lawsuit against an infringement that has not yet happened. As for those who have lost their jobs due to the ASPI report, it is also hard to prove the link between their sacking and the impact of the report.

"Although we are facing many difficulties, we will not give up. We are encouraged that the local court in Kashi accepted the case against Adrian Zenz. We will do our best to make ASPI apologize for having hurt us!" Nuradli said.

On April 2, the Intermediate People's Court in Kashi of Xinjiang accepted the lawsuit brought by Xiongying Yarning Company against Adrian Zenz. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a press conference on April 14 that it showed Chinese people's increasing awareness of using the law to protect their interests.

"We support this much-applauded move… As the case progresses, we believe the Chinese people and the international community will get to know more about the contemptible moves by Zenz to concoct rumors, and the attempt of Zenz and the malicious anti-China forces behind him to disrupt Xinjiang's security and stability and impede China's development will fall apart even faster," Zhao said.