By Umar Farooq
WASHINGTON (AA) – Hundreds of protesters took to the streets Tuesday to participate in a rally for Uyghurs and raise awareness about the occupation of East Turkestan.
Demonstrators wearing prison jumpsuits to resemble Uyghurs imprisoned by Chinese authorities marched in the front, chanting “free our brothers, free our sisters. ”
At the U.S. Capitol building, crowds waved their U.S. and East Turkestan flags as they held signs calling for “freedom and independence for East Turkestan. ”
“I come from China, but the name of my country is East Turkestan. I am not Chinese, but I am a Muslim, ” said protester Mihirgul Tursun.
Tursun told Anadolu Agency she was imprisoned in China after returning home from her studies in Egypt in 2015.
At the airport in China, she said she was asked what she did in Egypt, why she wore a hijab and whether she was an Islamist.
“East Turkestan is not a part of China. China is occupying our country, our Muslims just because we pray, because we say 'Salaam Alaykum,'” said Tursun, “They outlaw going to the masjid, reading Quran, wearing hijab and eating anything that is halal.
“Our country is facing a lot of oppression. May the rest of the Muslims help us their prayers, ” Tursun added.
While the demonstration was comprised of mostly Uyghurs, some American Muslims also joined in support.
Prominent Islamic scholar and head of the non-profit Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, Omar Suleiman, urged support for the Uyghur cause.
“To those who have your relatives that are still over there, just know that your brothers and sisters here also are for you [God willing], ” Suleiman told the crowd.
“And we'll make sure that every single person in this building who talks about religious freedom, who talks about dignity, who talks about safety, does not get away with omitting your cause, ” Suleiman added, referring to Congress. “They know that the cause of the Uyghurs is the greatest violation of religious freedom in the entire world. ”
Many refer to China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region — home to many ethnic minorities, including the Turkic Uyghur people — as East Turkestan.
They believe Uyghurs are among a number of Turkic tribes that inhabit the region, and consider it to be a part of Central Asia, not China.
Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnic group that make up 45 percent of the population of Xinjiang, accuse China of carrying out repressive policies that restrain their religious, commercial and cultural activities.