Manga artist documents Uyghur woman’s experiences in Xinjiang ‘re-education’ camp
A famous writer and illustrator in Japan has produced a new manga booklet portraying the experiences of an ethnic Uzbek woman forced to teach Mandarin to mostly Uyghur detainees in ‘re-education’ camps in northwest China’s Xinjiang region.
Shimizu Tomomi’s latest work builds on her success with her previous booklets on female detainees in Xinjiang, released in Japan to draw attention to the repression of the mostly Muslim Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples in northwest China.
The Japan Uyghur Association in collaboration with the Japan Too’i Educational Film Producing Center has made a short film based on the new booklet to use as course material in classrooms and in the Japanese government to educate students and employees about human rights.
Tomomi has portrayed the experiences of female survivors of the vast network of detention camps in Xinjiang that are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in recent years, in a purported effort to prevent terrorism and religious extremism by members of the predominantly Muslim group.
Her latest work focuses on Qelbinur Sidiq, 53, also known as Kalbinur Sidik, who taught at an elementary school in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi for nearly three decades, and was forced by authorities in 2017 to teach Mandarin in Xinjiang’s “re-education” camp system.
Sidiq also underwent a forced sterilization when she was 50 as part of a government campaign to suppress birth rates of Muslim women in Xinjiang.
Tomomi, who has published six other manga books detailing the persecution Uyghur women face in Xinjiang, including everyday repression and abuses in the camps, released her latest work in December 2022 based on Sidiq’s testimony at an independent people’s tribunal in London in 2021. The tribunal reviewed evidence of China’s human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities to evaluate whether they constituted genocide under the Genocide Convention.
“I was shocked when I learned of the Uyghurs’ situation and thought it was important to let many people know of their situation to rescue the people in the [internment] camps,” she said. “I also thought that if I illustrated their harsh experiences with easy-to-understand manga, the world would understand it better.’
Tomomi said she initially hoped that increased global attention to the situation in Xinjiang would make her work unnecessary.
“But after drawing this piece, I felt that the testimonies of these women’s souls needed to be drawn further,” she told RFA.
Sidiq, who now lives in the Netherlands, testified before the tribunal in June 2021 about the abuses she regularly witnessed at the two camps, including torture and rape, contradicting Beijing’s claims that the facilities were voluntary “vocational centers” in which “students” were treated humanely.
In December 2021, the tribunal announced its findings that China committed genocide against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.
Tomomi read Sidiq’s testimony at the time, and said she was shocked by it. She knew she wanted to draw it, but was busy at the time.
But when Sidiq visited Japan in 2022, Tomomi spoke with her about her plan to create a manga story detailing her experiences.
“She was the only one of the witnesses who saw the inside of the concentration camps whom I met and spoke to in person,” Tomomi said. “The others were scheduled to come to Japan, but canceled due to the coronavirus disaster.”
All of Tomomi’s published works have received positive responses in Japan, though there is demand for more because major media rarely covers the Uyghur crisis, she said.
“It is necessary to disseminate an English version of the manga booklet and, if possible, publish it as a book,” she said, adding that she publishes her works free of charge and allows them to be used for educational purposes.
Interest in the Uyghur genocide has grown in Japan since parliament adopted a resolution in 2022 expressing concern over human rights violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Tibet and Inner Mongolia, and calling on the Japanese government to work with other countries to monitor the situations.
About 500 primary and secondary schools in Japan have added manga comics about the Uyghurs’ plight based on the testimony of Mihrigul Tursun, a 33-year-old Uyghur former detainee from Xinjiang, said Ahmatjan Litip, secretary-general of the Japanese Uyghur Association.
“Manga comics are a media tool that play a significant role in Japanese society because readers of all ages, from children to elderly men and women, love to read them,” Litip said.
“The Japanese people have received these manga comics well, and they went viral on social media,” he said. “We believe the manga comics have achieved a result that we can’t get even if we spend millions of dollars promoting our cause.”
Translated by RFA Uyghur. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin. Edited by Joshua Lipes.