Mar 11, 2021 • 1HR 19M

East Turkestan: from frontier to prison state - Mehmet Tohti and Ben Mauk (79 mins)

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Appears in this episode

Gelek Badheytsang
A Good Refugee Podcast is your source for news, opinions and questions from troubled (Tibetan) minds.
Episode details

This episode was recorded on March 4, 2021. Gelek and Tsering speak with Mehmet Tohti and Ben Mauk about the situation in East Turkestan, aka Xinjiang. They speak about Ben’s New Yorker article, Inside Xinjiang’s Prison State (10:00), learn about the current situation there from Mehmet (18:10), the parallels of War on Terror between China and America (34:00), Adrian Zenz and the matter of one million Uyghurs detained (41:00), how people are staying connected within East Turkestan (58:00), and more.

On February 22, Canada’s House of Commons passed a motion declaring China's treatment of its Uyghur and other Turkic minority populations as genocide. This was followed later in the week by the Dutch parliament passing a similar, non-binding motion. Canada and the Netherlands join the United States as three democratic countries that have now accused China of genocide vis-a-vis East Turkestan.


Mehmet Tohti is a prominent Uyghur Canadian activist, campaigning for the rights of Uyghurs over a decade. He is a co-founder of the World Uyghur Congress and has twice served as vice-president. He is executive director of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project, based in Ottawa. 


Ben Mauk is a journalist and writer based in Berlin. He has written for The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Harper's, and the London Review of Books, among other publications. He is writing a book for Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

He co-founded and directs the Berlin Writers' Workshop and is a contributing editor at The Ballot. He has taught English literature and writing at the University of Iowa. He is part of the mentorship collective PERIPLUS.


Ben’s New Yorker article, Inside Xinjiang’s Prison State, was published on February 26. It’s a meticulously and delicately compiled chronicle of individuals who have experienced detainment, surveillance and the crackdowns in East Turkestan. In addition to text, the article also features illustrations, animations and sound. It's very immersive and poignant at points. I highly recommend you read it, if you haven’t.

Episode notes

  • Ben Mauk: early career, settling in Berlin, medievalism, art heists. [02:40]

  • Overview of Ben’s article: “Inside Xinjiang’s Prison State” [10:00]

  • How Ben got connected with the people featured in the article [13:30]

  • Mehmet Tohti: situation update, Xinjiang vs. East Turkestan [18:10]

  • Modern history of repression in East Turkestan, including Sept 11, 2001, the two Michaels. [24:10]

  • The parallels of War on Terror, Islamophobia and state surveillance between China and America. [34:00]

  • Adrian Zenz and the matter of one million Uyghurs detained. [41:00]

  • Manufacturing a New Cold War against China? [48:55]

  • How people are staying connected within East Turkestan, Truth and Reconciliation Clubhouse. [58:00]

  • Babymaking Uyghur machines. [64:10]

  • How Canadians can help in Uyghur campaigns. [65:50]

  • Ben’s article and short film: how it came about, the collaborative process, etc. [69:00]

  • Article feedback. [74:30]

  • Erbaqyt Otarbai singing. [79:05]