Hundreds of people gathered in Washington on Saturday to protest China’s human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province, calling on U.S. government to take action against Beijing.
The crowd composed of mainly Uighurs, Americans, Canadians and Australians demanded an end to China's oppression against Muslim minority.
The Xinjiang region is home to 13 million Uighurs. The Turkic Muslim group, which makes up around 45 percent of Xinjiang’s population, has long accused authorities of cultural, religious and economic discrimination.
Around 1 million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in an expanding network of "political re-education" camps, according to U.S. officials and UN experts.
In opening speech, Omar Kanat, chairman of the Executive Committee of the World Uyghur Congress, hailed the event and thanked those who contributed to the gathering.
"We are united by our demand for an end to the genocide committed by the Chinese government against Uighur people and other Turkic muslims in East Turkestan," said Kanat, referring to the area, also known as Xinjiang.
He said the China's treatment is causing pain, devastation and agonizing death for Uighurs and others muslims in the country.
"We are here to mobilize the political support for American action. it is time for a concrete action," said Kanat.
Dolkun Isa, the president of World Uyghur Congress, told the crowd that when all Uighurs speak with "one united voice" they could not be silenced.
"We are sons and daughters who are no longer able to contact our parents. In my case my mother died in a camp" said Isa. "We are parents whose children are not able to grow up in their homeland and are not able to fully enjoy the Uighur culture and traditions."
In his remarks, the Uighur president highlighted the U.S. government needs to work with the EU and other "sympathetic governments to collectively demand that China stop this crime against humanity".
The U.S. should set an example by using the Global Magnitsky Act to sanction culpable officials, said Isa.
"We must move beyond the words to concrete action before it is too late," he added.
Kaukab Siddique, a Pakistani-born American professor at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, was one of the protestors who voiced solidarity with the Uighur people.
"I am here because I am horrified at what Chinese government is doing to the Uighur Muslim people who have not done any harm to China," said Siddique. "They just want to live like Muslims peacefully."
The professor praised "moral stand" of Turkey against the Chinese oppression and said every Muslims countries should at least call China's ambassadors and tell them what China is doing is wrong.
Esedullah, an Uighur man who lives in the U.S. and who declined to give his surname for safety concerns, said he has not heard his mother's voice for more than one year.
"My father is locked in a concentration camp. I lost contact with my family. I want to hear my parents' voice and have breakfast with them. I cannot tell you how much I missed them," he told Anadolu Agency.
Esedullah joined the rally to support his people and to be voice of the people who are currently locked into concentrations camps.
"The world does not know about what is happening inside the camps. By being here we want to tell American government and the world that they can stop the genocide in East Turkistan," he said.
"I hope this rally will help stop the concentration camps and release millions of people incarcerated at the camps. I hope all Uighurs can unite with their families soon," he concluded.
In a report last September, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused the Chinese government of a "systematic campaign of human rights violations" against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.
According to the 117-page report released by HRW, the government conducted "mass arbitrary detention, torture and mistreatment" of Uighur Turks in the region.