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‘This persecution is a cultural genocide’: British Holocaust educator on rights abuses in Xinjiang

Holocaust Educational Trust Youth Ambassadors Abbie Rawlings and Jaya Pathak at the International Holocaust Remembrance Day event at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in London, 23 January 2019. (Foreign and Commonwealth Office/Flickr)
August 23, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Jaya Pathak, 22, is a British national of Indian descent who studies pharmacy at Brighton University in London, U.K. She is a regional Ambassador for the Holocaust Educational Trust in the U.K. and also a co-founder and deputy editor of a youth initiative called Yet Again. Using her social media, Pathak often speaks out against modern atrocities and posts on past Holocaust victims. One of her recent Twitter threads was entitled “How to help the Uyghur community from the U.K.,” which attracted nearly 1,000 retweets and some 1.6k likes. Jaya Pathak’s organization Yet Again is a youth lead initiative that on the day of its launch published an article about the Uyghurs and detailed China’s vast network of internment camps in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities since April 2017.

During a recent interview with RFA’s Uyghur Service, Pathak called the situation in the XUAR a “cultural genocide”—referring to severe restrictions on religion, language, appearance, and the destruction of sites like mosques and cemeteries—and likened it to the Holocaust. Her assessment follows a recent report about a dramatic increase in recent years in the number of forced sterilizations and abortions targeting Uyghurs in the region, which the author, German researcher Adrian Zenz, said may amount to a government-led campaign of genocide under United Nations definitions.

As a minority in the U.K., Pathak experienced prejudice and discrimination in the past that led her to realize the importance of education and in creating an environment where the public can place their trust in politics. Pathak noted that many Uyghurs in the U.K. are scared of speaking out against China’s abuses in the XUAR due to fear of reprisal from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and stressed the importance of speaking up on behalf of those who are unable to speak for themselves. Pathak also discussed concrete actions that others can take to assist the Uyghurs, including providing support for Uyghur activists by amplifying their message on social media, joining protests, and petitioning for change at the government level.


RFA: When did you first learn about China’s treatment of the Uyghur people?

Pathak: I first learned about what was happening to the Uyghur people about four years ago. There were a couple of news articles that were released, and I keep up with current affairs, and as I was reading it, I felt sick because I was like, this is 2016. How is this happening? Is this real? Is this actually happening? Then BBC News in the U.K. did an expose—they went undercover to one of the [internment] camps [inside the XUAR] and that was on our evening news. As I was watching it, it sent chills down my spine. I was shocked and I realized this is real and it’s not getting any better. It’s just getting worse.

RFA: What was your first impression after learning about what Uyghurs are going through?

Pathak: I just felt like I had to do something. We have to try our best to raise awareness as to what’s going on. At that time, I was involved in working in Holocaust education—I started when I was about 17. Using everything I had learned, I said to myself I’m going to really educate myself about what’s going on [with the Uyghurs]. I told as many people as I could about it. And at that time that was all there was that I could do because I was still at school.

Yet Again initiative

RFA: You’re co-founder and also a deputy editor at the Yet Again youth-led initiative that provides content on modern-day atrocities. On Aug. 1, Yet Again published an article introducing the Uyghurs and what is happening to them. What motivated Yet Again to publish this article?

Pathak: Yet Again … was set up to help people to understand how modern atrocities can happen, why they happen, and in the hope that this understanding allows us to prevent them from happening again in the future … And when we launched, we said that we have to address [the Uyghur issue] as soon we can. It’s a present issue. It’s current, and it’s something that we need to be trying to stop right now. Everybody needs to be involved in trying to stop this problem from going any further. And so, it was incredibly important that we released this article at the time we also launched.

RFA: Can you talk about reader feedback?

Pathak: It was really a great response, great feedback, because so many people wanted to learn more. We had people reading our article who either didn’t understand what went on before, because as we are all aware, the history of the Uyghur people in China is so extensive, it’s so long. It’s not just what has happened in the past four years. And so, they read this article that was so brilliantly written by one of our writers. They learned so much about what was going on. Then they were inspired to go and learn more in their own time. They went away and they were asking for resources, for books, documentaries, anything that they could find to help them. They were all wondering how they could show the support to the Uyghur community as well.

RFA: As a regional ambassador for the Holocaust Educational Trust—reading, studying, and then teaching about what happened to the survivors and victims of this tragic historic situation—in your opinion is the CCP committing genocide in the Uyghur region?

Pathak: From a U.N. prospective, they have very specific ways to define genocide. If it’s not and if it can’t be called genocide right now, it will be at some point because this persecution is a cultural genocide, at the very least. Trying to strip away the cultural rights and freedoms of this community. Because of this, it’s so important to understand that whether we can use the word genocide or not, what it is right now is as terrible as it. And I think that it’s such a complicated issue because of the way that the U.N. and the way that the international law looks at the term genocide. But in my view, personally, it’s a cultural genocide at the very least, and it’s definitely persecution if you don’t want to call it genocide. Now, it’s very much leading to that point. It has been going on for almost four years now. It’s terrifying.

‘Use our voice for them’

RFA: Why do you think it’s important to speak up for the Uyghurs?

Pathak: For a few reasons. In 2020, we’ve seen a lot going on. Well, we’ve learned that we are all responsible for one another’s happiness, positivity, quality of life. It’s not just one person who affects themselves. Everybody affects each other. Collective responsibility is a result of every individual’s effort to try and be accountable for their words and actions. But for us to see what’s going on right in front of our eyes and to not say something is to be complicit and to let it happen.

I think that personally from my experience as someone who’s been involved in Holocaust education for a little bit, you don’t draw comparisons, you don’t draw parallels, but you can definitely see there are echoes of the past. That’s what is quite chilling for a lot of us because we always said “never again. We will never let another genocide happen. We’ll never let another persecution of minorities happen.” In reality, it is happening. We all have a duty and a sense of responsibility to stand up for what’s right and to support the Uyghur community. Lot of Uyghurs here in the U.K. are speaking up, but there are many who are also not speaking, because they’re afraid of what will happen to their family in China, and we should be able to use our voice for them. That’s what it’s all about. And we can’t let something like this happen when we have the power to do more.

RFA: Have you seen any results of your activism so far?

Pathak: I have. I’ve seen it in different ways. So, I posted it on my social media. I had random people contacting me, asking either to learn more or what resources they can have to learn more or asking me more directly if they are able to contribute to the work that I do, which is at the moment posting information, infographics, online so people know what the truth is without any misinformation, without any false information. And I’ve had people inspired to join this cause of activism. And I think that in itself is such a big result because I never expected it. What I’m doing to reach so many people and to see that it has shown that it’s just one person that can do this. Imagine if so many of us came together to do it. We could reach so many people.