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In search of a ray of hope and optimism, I picked up a pen two months ago and shared with The Crimson the Chinese government’s brutal treatment of my brother Ekpar Asat, a Uighur tech entrepreneur and philanthropist. My op-ed sparked conversations among the Harvard community, even grabbing the attention of human rights champion Ambassador and Professor Samantha J. Power. My brother’s forced disappearance of over four years by the Chinese government prompted a global outcry within the Harvard legal community. Led by Diogo Santana Lopes and Kristin Zornada, more than 80 Harvard-educated lawyers from more than 50 countries rallied around me and issued letters demanding that the Chinese government unconditionally release my brother.
Despite carrying the “Veritas” motto with me as a Harvard Law School graduate, I feared that by speaking out, I’d be doing my brother harm. Ekpar was targeted for participating in a prestigious State Department program as the founder and CEO of a multifaceted social media platform. I worried that any additional American connections would further jeopardize his well-being. Shining a light on the truth can be a matter of life and death when it comes to an authoritarian country like China. So I was deeply moved by the love and support of the Harvard community in response to my article.
Many people questioned, however, why it seems Chinese Harvard affiliates are not speaking out for my brother, Ekpar. A few Chinese alumni and students did contact me to offer sympathy for my brother’s situation. However, there could be many reasons why more have not. The Chinese education system discourages students from engaging in political discourse. Unfortunately, that deeply rooted belief is not easily erased, regardless of exposure to Western ideology and values. Chinese people may also fear that by speaking out, they’d be engaging in politics and therefore subject to potential harassment from the Chinese government.
After the tragic death of George Floyd, many of us in America promised ourselves to be a part of the world where we choose speaking up over silence, action over inaction, love over hate, care over indifference, decency over discrimination. To truly achieve racial justice, we have to carry out the promise today, tomorrow, and onward.
Racial injustice also exists in China, where over 1 million people are locked up in internment camps because of their ethnicities or religions. Without the support of the Chinese and Chinese Americans, it will be difficult to end this unspeakable repression and state terror. These groups can change the course of the Chinese government’s crimes against humanity. Perhaps deliberately, the Chinese government singled out minority ethnic groups so that the majority would turn a blind eye on its oppression. Yet, as William Wilberforce, a campaigner who fought tirelessly against the slave trade in the U.K. so aptly put it: “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say you did not know.”
In a recent op-ed published in The Crimson, Harvard undergraduates wrote: “We chose Harvard not just because it has the best education in the world, but also because it has the best people.” China too, as a vast country, has some of the brightest people in the world. So, I appeal to the conscience of Chinese Harvard students, if you are one of these best people chosen by Harvard to carry its brand and legacy. Please speak out against your government’s atrocities. If the entire Harvard Chinese community acts in solidarity, the Chinese government cannot punish them collectively. For a social movement to last longer than a fluttering moment and lead to success, the majority has to lend unyielding support.
I call on Harvard’s Chinese community to stand in solidarity with the Uighurs. Carry the “Veritas” torches of Harvard to shed light on racial injustice and fight against the unfolding genocide in China.
Rayhan Asat is a graduate of Harvard Law School.
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