'My family might be destroyed like my home': Uyghurs speak out after giving evidence at UK tribunal

ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward hears from two women who have given evidence at UK tribunal

A farce, with no credibility, starting with the presumption of guilt, hearing from witnesses who are merely actors and so-called experts who are notorious rumourmongers.

That is a summary of how the Chinese authorities have described the Uyghur Tribunal which began its second and final series of hearings in London on Friday.

At a press conference to condemn the process, the Chinese Ambassador to the UK spoke for the first time with a thinly veiled threat that conducting these hearings would further undermine UK-China relations which he said were already at "a critical juncture".

Ambassador Zheng Zeguang described the allegation of genocide in Xinjiang as absurd, giving the latest population statistics for the region, he stated that a rise in population proved there was no evidence of genocide. 

He went on to accuse the UK and other Western Governments of attempting to tarnish Chinas image and mislead their citizens with baseless accusations.

Ambassador Zheng Zeguang described the allegation of genocide in Xinjiang as absurd. Credit: AP

He said there were absolutely no concentration camps in the country and the de-radicalisation programme in Xinjiang was the equivalent of similar anti-extremist measures in the UK and France.

What we hear from the Chinese authorities and on this occasion from the Ambassador to the UK is completely at odds with what we’ve been told by the many Uyghurs we have spoken to who are now living in exile around the world.

Ahead of the final Uyghur Tribunal in London, we travelled to Xinjiang following the stories of two women who have given evidence to the UK Uyghur Tribunal.

We first went to Kashgar in search of the family of Nursimangul Abdurashid. She is a Uyghur living in exile in Turkey.

Locals in Kashgar recognise pictures of Nursimangul Abdurashid's family. Credit: ITV News

She went there to study in 2015 and has lost contact with her family as one by one they were taken into detention.

She had told us her family was well known in her village and so it proved. The first people we spoke to recognised the pictures we showed them of her relatives.

But quickly a group of men appeared on the scene and those who were inclined to help us backed off.

We then followed Nurs' directions to her house and a young girl confirmed we were in the right place; we’d found her neighbours.

Next door we discovered her house derelict and abandoned.

I called her and showed her what we’d found, it was clearly very upsetting. Nurs said if her home was unrecognisable and destroyed, perhaps the same had become of her family.

'It's the red line and they cross it by arresting my mother,' Nurs says

Records show her father, mother and two brothers have all been given prison sentences.

Their charges vary slightly but are related to "terrorism". It is the imprisonment of her mother which hurts Nurs the most. 

Ms Abdurashid said the "Red line was crossed by arresting my mother, she can’t be any threat, by this I can say the Chinese Government really wants to erase all the Uyghurs."

In the capital Urumqi we were followed more intensely that we had been in Kashgar. These were mostly men, deployed by the local authorities to monitor where we went and who we talked to.

At one point there were eight different cars following us as we retraced the story of Qelbinur Sidik.

She testified at the Tribunal to being a former teacher in two re-education camps and given a horrifying report of what happened at her local clinic.

In 2017, she and hundreds of women aged 18 to 50 were ordered to report there for anti- fertility treatment.

Qelbinur Sidik, who testified at the tribunal, speaks to ITV News. Credit: ITV News

She showed us phone messages where the women were warned not to gamble with their lives or those or their relatives if they failed to turn up for their appointments.

A makeshift clinic was set up in the basement of the building and hundreds were left traumatised and in agony after having a contraceptive device forcefully inserted into their womb.

The Chinese Government refutes this version of events and Qelbinurs estranged husband has appeared on State Television video describing her as a liar. She has watched the report and believes he was forced to denounce her.

We found prayers were taking place in Urumqi on Friday. Credit: ITV News

We have been told that Uyghurs are not free to practice their religion but in Urumqi on the Friday when we were there we found prayers were taking place.

It is notable because other Islamic practices – wearing headscarves, owning a Qu’ran, even calling your son Mohammed have been prohibited.

As they were leaving, one man gave us an insight into being a Muslim in China.

He told us: "If the party says you can go in, we go in, if the party says you can't go in, then we just go home."