Muslim women’s network says return $2m donation from Chinese businessman to Uyghurs

Zhang Yikun with New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

A Muslim women’s network has called on a huge donation by a controversial Chinese businessman to be returned and given to the oppressed Uyghur Muslims of China.

Zhang Yikun, who was involved in a previous donation scandal, pledged $2.1 million at a function of Teochew delegates in Auckland last week.

Mayor of Auckland Phil Goff accepted an initial $500,000 cheque from the delegates at the event, and was asked to pass the donation onto Christchurch’s Muslim community.

The Khadija Leadership Network is calling for the money to be returned, and instead be spent on aiding the persecuted Uyghur Muslims in China.

The United Nations (UN) has said at least one million Uyghurs have been forcible detained in “re-education” concentration camps in the north-western region of Xinjiang.

China initially denied the existence of the camps, but later admitted to them, calling them “vocational training facilities” for minor criminals and those failing to integrate.

 Tayyaba Khan, the network’s founder, said: “We have raised enough, if we don’t want Islamophobia here we don’t want it elsewhere.

“It would be wonderful to see Chinese diaspora communities calling out and putting money into the problem in China.

“This is an opportunity for New Zealand Muslims to take leadership.”

In a letter to the Federation of Islamic Associations New Zealand (FIANZ), the Khadija Leadership Network said the donation from the Teochew delegates was “a deeply heartfelt gesture”, but asked the money to instead be “given to the ethnic cleansing and incarceration of Uighurs in China”.

The letter added: “Though we understand this generous donation isn’t money from the Chinese government, we still firmly believe that the best assistance from any community that Muslims could receive is to call out Islamophobia, and stop the persecution of those practising the Islamic faith around the world.”

The network is yet to receive a response from Auckland’s mayor or FIANZ.

FIANZ public relations officer, and former president, Anwar Ghani said the federation had not yet had a chance to read the letter.

The call to use the donation to assist Uyghur Muslims comes as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is set to visit China.

Last Monday, PM Ardern said in the wake of the Christchurch mosque attack, that her meeting with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang would last one day.

She has not confirmed whether she planned to discuss the human rights abuses and religious discrimination of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, but said she had raised the issue in the past.

In 2018, New Zealand did not put its name on a letter signed by 15 western diplomats.

The letter was spearheaded by Canada and signed by French, Australian and British representatives, among others. At the time, PM Ardern said New Zealand did not need to put its name on the letter because she had raised her concerns directly with Premier Li, in a bilateral meeting in Singapore.

Ms Khan said it was important to tackle Islamophobia globally and not just in New Zealand.

She added that whether or not the donation reaches the Uyghur community in Xinjiang would be a question for the Teochew International Federation if it decided to take the money back.

The network intends on publishing the open letter online, and would allow people to put their names on it like a petition.

Khadija Leadership Network is a Muslim women’s network, which was established in 2017, and currently has around 2,000 members across New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom.

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