Today, March 21st, while celebrating World Poetry Day, please do not forget hundreds of innocent imprisoned Uyghur poets lying in Chinese prisons. Their only crime was writing poems in their God-given mother language, Uyghur.

World Poetry Day is celebrated on 21 March, and it was designated by UNESCO in 1999 “with the aim of supporting linguistic diversity through poetic expression and increasing the opportunity for endangered languages to be heard”.

Since 2017, China has arrested and persecuted more than 500 Uyghur poets, giving them lengthy prison sentences for their “crime” of writing poems. These poets, including prominent figures such as Abduqadir Jalalidin, Perhat Tursun, Ablet Abdureshid Berqi , Rahim Yasin Qaynami, Adil Tunyaz, and Gulnisa Imin Gulkhan, now find themselves behind bars, their only offence being the courageous act of sharing their voices through verse.

The subsequent examples serve to illuminate the severe extrajudicial persecution endured by Uyghur poets at the hands of the Chinese government. Below, you will find excerpts from their poignant works:

Abduqadir Jalalidin is a renowned Uyghur poet, scholar, and literature professor at Xinjiang “Normal” University. He was detained without reason in 2018 and since then his whereabouts are unknown. News that he was sentenced to 13 years in prison has sickened the Uyghur world, says Elkun.

His poem, No Road Back Home, composed from his cell, was memorized by cellmates who, upon their release, recited it to prove to his family that he was still alive. An excerpt, translated by Munawwar Abdulla, was a rare glimpse of life behind bars in China, talking of a “broken heart, aching and longing” to be with his love, “tormented with no strength to move,” “watching the seasons change through cracks and crevices.”

“I have no lover’s touch in this solitary corner, I have no amulet for each night that brings me terror, I have no thirst for anything but life, With anguished thoughts in crushing silence, I am bereft of hope,” he wrote.

Perhat Tursun, one of the most celebrated contemporary Uyghur poets and writers, was detained around January 2018. In February 2020 reports emerged that the Chinese authorities had sentenced him to sixteen years in prison. His current situation is unknown.

“Let’s not blame life for being meaningless,” he writes in this excerpt from “The Heart” translated by Aziz Isa Elkun. “One day loneliness will reach its peak, Even if we can’t see how to achieve our desire, We can still shed silent tears.”

Gulnisa Imin Gulkhan, a renewed female poet, worked at the Chira high School as a Uyghur Literature teacher, was sentenced for 17 years prison sentences for her poems; an excerpt from “The Tenth Night: The Sunless Sky”, translated by Aziz Isa Elkun.

“They don’t want to shed their tears

They just want to lift their heads

They just want to gaze at the sunless sky.

Their troubles, their yearning

Their nightmares and sleepless nights

They want to talk about it with someone on the outside.”

Ablet Abdurishit Berqi is a prominent poet and academic. He was an associate professor, and later conducted postdoctoral research at Haifa University (2014–16). After his return home he was arrested and sentenced to thirteen years’ imprisonment. This excerpt from “The Confession of a poem” was also translated from Elkun.

“It would not be a poem if it were detained

It would not be a poem if it were killed

It is not a poem for blind people

It is only for those with quick eyes.”

The global community bears a critical responsibility to safeguard the Uyghur population and halt the atrocities perpetrated by China, tantamount to genocide. The prolonged impunity enjoyed by China for its egregious violations of human rights poses an alarming threat to global stability.

It is imperative that we unite to defend the fundamental principle of freedom of expression, for none should face persecution merely for expressing themselves through poetry or any form of creative expression. Our collective aspiration for a world characterized by peace and universal happiness transcends boundaries of race, faith, color, and culture. Consequently, the international community must hold China unequivocally accountable for its genocidal campaign against the Uyghur people.

Aziz Isa Elkun
Uyghur Poet and academic
Director for Uyghur PEN Centre Online Revitalisation Project


Tags: , ,