No Escape, by the Uighur American lawyer and activist Nury Turkel, is a grim yet vital read about the Chinese government’s horrendously relentless repression of his countrymen and women in East Turkestan, or Xinjiang, the Chinese name by which it is better known.
This westernmost region of China is home to the Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim people, who have long had an uneasy relationship with Beijing, notably for the past two decades, as the communist government has clamped down on what it sees as local separatism and Islamism.
Turkel gives a summary account of his own life, from his birth in a detention centre in Kashgar during the Cultural Revolution – both his parents were incarcerated – but for the most part he recounts the experiences of other Uighur men and women. All suffered imprisonment and/or physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the authorities, some for no reason other than being married to Muslim foreigners.
The accounts are all from Uighurs who managed to later flee China. Though Beijing routinely calls such refugees liars, the substance and scale of the repression, with up to a million people incarcerated, is backed up by extensive research and leaked Chinese government documents.
A number of countries, including the United States, have characterised China’s actions in Xinjiang as genocide, something Beijing has dismissed as “the lie of the century”. As Turkel points out, people tend to think of genocide as involving mass murder, such as the Holocaust or Rwanda. But there is a strong argument that many of China’s documented actions, such as forced sterilisation of women, separation of children from their parents and the active suppression of language, religion and culture, meet the United Nations’ definition of genocide.
Turkel is smart enough to contextualise his account with references to egregious human rights abuses of western powers, no doubt mindful of the resistance of many in the West to the notion that authoritarian states such as China are unique offenders in this respect.
Sadly, while the situation in Xinjiang has gained more attention in recent years thanks to the efforts of Turkel and others, the lack of serious leverage to be wielded against Beijing makes the plight of the Uighurs a particularly desperate one. Nonetheless, No Escape is an important testimony to one of the greatest humanitarian outrages of our time.