Lehigh’s Political Science Department hosted a virtual panel discussion on Feb. 17 titled “Never Again and Again: Why Genocide Occurs Today.”
The panelists discussed the Ugyhur genocide in China. Uyghurs are a Muslim minority group residing in Xinjiang, a region in north-west China. China has recently been accused of committing genocide against the Uyghur population.
Panelists included NBA player Enes Freedom, human rights activist Jewher Ilham, genocide researcher Samantha Lakin and Secretary General of the Uyghur American Association Elfidar Iltebir.
The Political Science Department hosted this event in conjunction with Student Senate, the Department of Religion Studies, Africana Studies and the Berman Center.
As a Muslim, Freedom has garnered attention recently for his outspoken views against the Chinese government and advocacy for the Ugyhur people.
Throughout the event, multiple panelists said the Chinese government is committing acts of enslavement, imprisonment, persecution and sexual violence against the Ugyhur people.
Freedom said he does not know how any human being can stay silent during this ongoing genocide.
Freedom said he immersed himself in this topic ever since a parent at a kids’ basketball camp he was teaching at questioned how Freedom could justify calling himself a human rights activist when his fellow Muslims were being mistreated in China.
“I was shocked,” Freedom said. “I told the parent, ‘I promise I’m going to get back to you,’ and that day I canceled the rest of my schedule and went back to my hotel and started to study what is going on.”
At the Lehigh event, the panelists discussed how the Uyghur people are being targeted by the Chinese government for primarily economic and religious reasons.
Ilham said the Uyghur region is rich with minerals and is China’s main source of cotton.
She said over 84 percent of China’s total cotton output comes from the Uyghur region, which ends up being nearly 22 percent of all global cotton output.
“That means that one out of five cotton garments entering the market could be tainted by Uyghur forced labor,” Ilham said.
The panelists also discussed how the Chinese media is government controlled, which has prevented the spread of awareness about this genocide.
Freedom said former NBA player Yao Ming recently offered Freedom a chance to visit China with him and give him a personal tour of the country.
Freedom said he was excited to accept Ming’s offer under the condition that Ming show him the atrocities going on in the country.
“I want to go visit the concentration camps,” Freedom said. “I want to go visit the people in Hong Kong, I want to go visit what Tibetans are going through, and once we are done with China, we can travel together to Taiwan and see what people are going through there, and see what democracy is.”
After saying this publicly in January, Freedom said Ming blocked him on all social media the next day.
Associate Professor of political science Vera Fennell said that it is unlikely for change to occur in China soon because of the current Chinese administration under Xi-Jinping.
“If change comes to China it’s not going to come from the outside,” Fennel said. “Xi-Jinping seems to harken back to the kind of Maoist era, power centralized in one person, without any kind of temporal boundary.”
Freedom said he reached out to numerous NBA players, NFL players, rappers and actors to try to get other people with platforms to join his mission.
Freedom said each person he reached out to did not want to join him because of the fear of backlash.
Will Rothpletz, ‘23, attended the event and said he was disheartened, but not surprised that other NBA players did not want to join Freedom.
“It’s so sad, but it’s also the world we live in,” Rothpletz said. “At the end of the day you want to do the right thing, but how tough is that when it involves sacrificing everything you worked the past 20 years to do.”