Tahir Imin has been hearing from his family for years.
However, the Uighur activist and academic also remembers the last conversation he had with his daughter in February 2018.
“My daughter’s last word was,‘ Dad, you’re a bad person, ’” she recalled in an interview with The Post.
“The Chinese police are with the people, and you are against our country and our Communist Party. So do not contact us,” he recalled of the 7-year-old girl, saying by phone.
Imin and his parents are Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority located mainly in the northwestern region of Xinjiang in China.
Experts estimate that between one and three million Uighurs and other minorities are detained in internment camps, which the Chinese government calls “re-education centers.”
According to reports, the reasons for being detained can range from harmless things like having a long beard, wearing a headscarf, traveling overseas or installing encrypted messaging apps.
“We believe that the Uighurs are facing the most terrible atrocities since World War II,” Imin said.
“They are subjected to torture,” he continued. “It is a genocide. “
Known as a local cultural activist and entrepreneur, Imin left his home in February 2017, after warning that it was time to flee amid the incoming repression.
Officers had “begun to arrest all influential figures, including intellectuals, business leaders, activists,” Imin said.
So he traveled to Israel to study at the University of Haifa, before coming to the United States in August 2017.
While in Israel, Imin said that police in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, “contacted me and asked me to return to the region” – but he refused.
His desire not to bow to Beijing would have serious consequences.
When the crackdown began in 2017, Imin was already known to Chinese authorities.
He was sent to prison and a labor camp for two years in 2005 after writing an article entitled “Uighur Culture in Danger,” he told The Post.
“It was pretty horrible,” Imin recalled, adding that “he will never forget the Chinese police and the Chinese system and how they treat me and other fellow Ugandans in these camps.”
He lived through, “torture and humiliation and discrimination,” and even beatings, “labor and indoctrination.”
“I can’t forget a moment in my life,” she said.
The camp he was in was before mass detention centers, and, Imin said, “it’s more horrible now.”
“The measures they have put in place against the people, as we know, according to witnesses and media reports, is more horrible than what I have suffered,” Imin said.
Detainees, human rights organizations and news reports have described indoctrination techniques including waterboarding, brainwashing and others. forms of torture.
A reported last year it also found that China has subjected minority women to pregnancy controls and forced birth control, sterilization and even abortion.
Imin said he has nightmares about Chinese police almost every night.
“I have a dream like a mob of police arrest me, put me in prison, torture me, and force me to work 14 hours a day and force me to recite the patriotic songs of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Since her release, Imin has focused on building a successful business – but she has always lived by walking on eggshells.
“We have a very sensitive mind,” about the government, Imin said.
“We are becoming very careful [about] what we talk about, what kind of people we meet, the kind of social activities we can participate in, and what kind of people we engage in – everything becomes very sensitive ”.
Between 2010 and 2016, he said, the Chinese government had religious restrictions on Uyghurs – so Imin told The Post that he chose instead to promote cultural pride.
“I know that if I get involved in the political thing, religious thing, I will be in prison,” he said.
So he took that as “a chance to defend our culture” instead, even launching a Uighur National Day.
“We are not Chinese Han, we are not Chinese,” he explained. “We are Uyghurs, we must maintain our identity.”
“Only by being united around our identity can we be powerful, can we develop our existence,” Imin continued, adding, “It was my goal.”
However, after 2017, “people couldn’t do anything like that.”
“Even you – they couldn’t say ‘Uyghur,’ they can say they’re Chinese,” Imin said. “There is no way to refer to someone as a‘ Uighur ’scholar or intellectual. His son [a] forbidden word “.
Imin did not tell his family that he intended to leave.
The day before he left to go to Israel for graduate school, he said he had organized a party for family and friends – and that’s when he revealed his departure.
“I said,‘ I’m going to Israel to study here. Now, I don’t know what time I will be back. But this is a moment of farewell, ”he recalled.
“And everyone, say goodbye and my wife wants to go with me.” I also want to take my family with me. ”
However, at the time, his wife was a government employee and had been banned from obtaining a passport, he said.
“And then it all happened one by one.”
After receiving threats from police in Xinjiang but refusing to go home, Imin said he applied for a visa for the United States.
His wife decided to divorce him as a protective measure, for fear that she would be taken by the Chinese government in revenge for her activism.
When he started talking about China’s treatment of the Uyghurs, “the Chinese Communist Party started revenge against my activism,” he said.
At least 28 of her parents, including her mother, brother, sister-in-law and grandson, have been jailed or sent to camps, Imin said.
“The thing that made me most frustrated and very upset and that put me in a very strong distress was the fate of my family,” he said.
“Whatever the Chinese Communist Party says about me … I know who I am. But when it comes to my family members, it was my most painful thing.”
Then came February’s devastating phone call from her daughter, who she called her “most loved person” in the world.
He is not sure where she or his ex-wife are now, but he has heard that they still live in the Xinjiang capital under close surveillance.
“I’m from people who have told me that they suffer, as interrogators,” Imin said. “Sometimes they take her to jail in the detention house for a week and then let her back.”
Now based out of Washington DC, Imin continues his activism work and talks to news organizations about the treatment from China to the Uyghurs.
He said Beijing “forced me to act on behalf of my people.”
However, he questioned whether talking was the right choice, saying he considered beforehand that suicide might be a better way to end his family’s situation.
“I tried to do something for my people for my family, but … I typically punished them only for my activism,” Imin said. “Then I feel very guilty every day.”
Keeping him on the road is the hope that one day he will see his daughter again and that his family members will be released.
“My family and my people without my help,” he said, “need my voice. I have to do something for them.”