Night Images Reveal Many New Detention Sites in China’s Xinjiang Region

Seems like every week if not more, new details regarding Chinese government repression emerge:

As China faced rising international censure last year over its mass internment of Muslim minorities, officials asserted that the indoctrination camps in the western region of Xinjiang had shrunk as former camp inmates rejoined society as reformed citizens.

Researchers at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute on Thursday challenged those claims with an investigation that found that the Xinjiang authorities had been expanding a variety of detention sites since last year.

Rather than being released, many detainees were likely being sent to prisons and perhaps other facilities, the investigation found, citing satellite images of new and expanded incarceration sites.

Nathan Ruser, a researcher who led the project at the institute, also called ASPI, said the findings undercut Chinese officials’ claims that inmates from the camps — which the government calls vocational training centers — had “graduated.”

“Evidence suggests that many extrajudicial detainees in Xinjiang’s vast ‘re-education’ network are now being formally charged and locked up in higher security facilities, including newly built or expanded prisons,” Mr. Ruser wrote in the report.

The Chinese government has created formidable barriers to investigating conditions in Xinjiang. Officials tail and harass foreign journalists, making it impossible to safely conduct interviews. Access to camps is limited to selected visitors, who are taken on choreographed tours where inmates are shown singing and dancing.

The researchers for the new report overcame those barriers with long-distance sleuthing. They pored over satellite images of Xinjiang at night to find telltale clusters of new lights, especially in barely habited areas, which often proved to be new detention sites. A closer examination of such images sometimes revealed hulking buildings, surrounded by high walls, watchtowers and barbed-wire internal fencing — features that distinguished detention facilities from other large public compounds like schools or hospitals.

“I don’t believe this timing is merely coincidental,” Timothy Grose, an associate professor of China studies at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, who was not involved in the ASPI project, said of the accumulating evidence of expanding incarceration sites.

“In my opinion, we are witnessing a new stage in the crisis,” he said. “Some detainees have been released, others have been placed in factories, while others still have been sentenced.”

China has repeatedly refused to disclose the number of detention sites and detainees in Xinjiang and elsewhere. The ASPI researchers found and examined some 380 suspected detention sites in Xinjiang. At least 61 of them had expanded in area between July 2019 and July of this year, and of those, 14 were still growing, according to the latest-available satellite images.

The researchers divided the sites into four security levels, and they said that about half of the expanding sites were higher-security facilities.

The researchers found signs that some re-education camps were being rolled back, partially confirming government claims of a shift. At least 70 sites had seen the removal of security infrastructure such as internal fencing or perimeter walls, and eight camps appeared to be undergoing decommissioning, they wrote. The facilities apparently being scaled back were largely lower-security camps, they said.

Under Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, the authorities have carried out a sweeping crackdown in Xinjiang, with as many as one million or more people incarcerated in recent years, according to scholars’ estimates. The ASPI report was issued one day after the sixth anniversary of a key moment in the increasingly harsh campaign, the sentencing of Ilham Tohti, a prominent Uighur scholar, to life in prison.

Late last year, Shohrat Zakir, the chairman of the Xinjiang government, told reporters in Beijing that the re-education sites were now housing only people who were there voluntarily, and that others who had been in the facilities had “graduated.” Where to, he did not say.

The ASPI report builds on previous investigations that also pointed to explosive growth in the prison population in Xinjiang over recent years, even as the building of indoctrination camps appeared to peak.

Last month, BuzzFeed News found 268 detention compounds in Xinjiang built since 2017. The news organization identified the compounds with the help of spots blanked out of the online mapping service from Baidu, the Chinese technology company.

An investigation by The New York Times last year found that courts in Xinjiang — where Uighurs and other largely Muslim minorities make up more than half of the population of 25 million — sentenced 230,000 people to prison or other punishments in 2017 and 2018, far more than in any other period on record for the region.

Official sentencing statistics for 2019 have not been released. But a report released by the authorities in Xinjiang early this year said that prosecutors indicted 96,596 people for criminal trial in 2019, suggesting that the flow of trials — which almost always lead to convictions — was lower than in the previous two years, but still much higher than in the years before the crackdown took off.

“Even though the internment camps are obviously the most headline-grabbing aspect of what’s happening, there’s been a much broader effort from the beginning that has also included significant incarceration” in prisons, said Sean R. Roberts, an associate professor at George Washington University and author of “The War on the Uyghurs: China’s Campaign Against Xinjiang’s Muslims.” (Uyghur is another spelling for Uighur.)

Uighurs who have left China often struggle to find out what has happened to family members who were detained, and possibly tried and imprisoned.

Still, growing numbers of Uighurs abroad report having learned of relatives being sentenced to prison terms of five, 10 or even 15 years on sweeping charges like “separatism,” said Elise Anderson, a senior program officer for research and advocacy with the Uyghur Human Rights Project, a group based in Washington, who is involved in an unfinished study of incarceration in Xinjiang.

“In some cases, people don’t even know what’s happened and have to guess,” Ms. Anderson said.

Sayyara Arkin, a Uighur woman living in the United States, said she waited years for news of her brother, Hursan Hasan, a well-known actor in Xinjiang who was taken into a re-education camp in 2018. Earlier this month, her family in Xinjiang told her that Mr. Hasan had been sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of separatism, Ms. Arkin said by telephone.

“I felt shocked,” Ms. Arkin said. “He’s an actor who focused on his work, an intellectual who had the acceptance of the government, and I never imagined this would happen.”

The United States has begun to take a more confrontational stance toward China over the repression in Xinjiang. This year, the Trump administration has imposed sanctions on officials responsible for policy in the region, as well as the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, which is both a farm conglomerate and a quasi-military security institution. It has also imposed restrictions on imports of clothing, hair products and technological goods from Xinjiang, but stopped short of banning all cotton and tomatoes, two of the region’s key exports.

This week, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would bar any imports from Xinjiang unless they were proven not to have been produced using forced labor.

The Chinese government initially denied reports of mass detention in Xinjiang, and later defended the indoctrination camps, describing them as benign places that provide job training and counter religious extremism and terrorism. In a white paper released last week, Beijing defended its labor policies in the region, saying that it observed international labor and human rights standards and that its work was a successful example of governance in “underdeveloped areas with large populations of ethnic minorities.”

The Chinese authorities have also sharply criticized the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called its earlier report on forced labora “fabricated and biased accusation.” Mr. Zhao also attacked the institute’s backers, which include the State Department. ASPI says that its research is independent and not influenced by its funding sources.

Some Uighur exiles have argued that the Chinese government’s crackdown in their homeland amounts to genocide. Earlier this month, a group of watchdog groups and experts issued a joint letter that said China’s policies in Xinjiang “meet the threshold of acts constitutive of genocide,” a crime brought into international law after World War II, as well as other possible crimes against humanity.

The Chinese government has angrily rejected such claims. And the continued growth of detention sites across Xinjiang suggests that the authorities are determined to transform and subdue Uighur society for generations to come.

“The Chinese government potentially could keep up this regime of intense repression for a significant amount of time,” said Professor Roberts of George Washington University. “It could essentially destroy the Uighur identity as we know it inside China.”

Source: nytimes.com/2020/09/24/wor…

Glavin: Don’t show up at Black Lives Matter rallies in clothes made by slaves

While much of Glavin’s commentary is appropriate, he overstates IMO the contrast between the USA and Canada, given that all the big companies he lists as being complicit, have a large American retail presence with comparable sourcing issues. Not too mention Disney’s Mulan shot in Xinjiang.

So while American laws may be better, is the reality?

It’s positively uplifting, you could say, that owing to the protests and riots and presidential election-year shouting about systemic racism and police violence in the United States, quite a few Canadians seem to have developed an acutely attentive awareness of the history of Black slavery in America and its enduring legacy. Perhaps not so heartwarming is that the throngs of earnest protesters turning out for all those Black Lives Matter rallies across Canada are wearing clothes made by slaves.

That Canadians of even the most advanced progressive sophistication give every appearance of being completely oblivious to this ugly irony is even less uplifting. An entire summer of American-style protests about the wickedness of racism and capitalism has come and gone without any obvious notice that Tommy Hilfiger, Nike, Adidas, Esprit, Calvin Klein, Nike, UNIQLO, H&M, Lacoste and quite a few other globe-spanning corporations are demonstrably implicated in slavery, child labour, and forced-labour production in prisons and detention centres and sweatshops from Dhaka to Urumqi.

In July, the International Confederation of Trade Unions joined with 180 human rights and Uyghur advocacy organizations to launch an ambitious campaign to bring all this to light and to bring forced Uyghur labour to an end. It’s hard to say whether the campaign has gained much traction. Perhaps they should pull down some statues.

At least the U.S. Congress has been doing its bit. The bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act would build on existing U.S. prohibitions on the import of slave-made goods, and the proposed Slave-Free Business Certification Act is an even tougher law, promising penalties of up to $500 million.

Canadians, however – for all our boasts about being unstained by the original American sin of slavery – have long been global laggards in the cause of slavery’s abolition. Unlike the United States, Britain, Australia, France, Italy, Germany, Norway and so on, Canada has no specific legislation aimed at banning the import of goods produced by forced labour. World Vision Canada reckons that forced labour or child labour is implicated in $34 billion in products imported into Canada annually.

It is doubly embarrassing – maybe this is why it’s been the subject of nearly no public notice at all – that it’s taking the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the deal that replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement, to drag Canada into the world’s anti-slavery camp. Effective July 1, USMCA requires Canada to amend the Customs tariff laws to impose prohibitions on the importation of goods produced wholly or in part by forced labour.The USMCA’s forced-labour provisions should be expected to put wind in the sails of an effort by Liberal MP John McKay and Quebec Sen. Julie Miville-Dechêne that has been marooned in a procedural tidepool of committee hearings and on-again, off-again consultations for two years. Their proposed law, the Modern Slavery Act, would force corporations to show that their supply chains are free of forced labour, on pain of fines of up to $250,000.

Because the Americans were already in compliance with the UMSCA’s forced-labour provisions, on July 1 they hit the ground running. U.S. law already allows for the seizure of goods and criminal charges for violators, and just this week, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency was preparing to block imports of cotton from Xinjiang, where almost all of China’s cotton fields are located. One in five garments worldwide contains cotton from Xinjiang.

The U.S. import bans are expected to also include tomato products and human hair, and computer parts from Hefei Bitland Information Technology. Products from the Lop County Industrial Park and Lop County No. 4 Vocational Skills Education and Training Center are headed for banned list, following the July 1 seizure of several tons of hair extensions shipped to the U.S. believed to have been “harvested” from Uyghur women by the Lop County Meixin Hair Products Company. The U.S. State Department has also warned Walmart, Amazon and the Apple corporation that they face severe legal risks over their supply chains associated with Xinjiang.

According to the Walk Free Foundation’s 2018 Global Slavery Index, Canada is vulnerable to slave-labour contamination in supply chains involving nearly $10 billion worth of laptop computers and mobile phones annually imported from China and Malaysia, and $6 billion worth of apparel imports. Several other supply chains are suspect, including gold from Peru and sugarcane from Brazil.

While Canada has been noticeably absent in the global struggle against slavery, there is one Canadian bright spot, involving a particularly grotesque Canadian embarrassment.

The bright spot: Last March, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that three Eritrean refugees could sue the Vancouver-based mining company Nevsun Resources for engaging in slavery and committing crimes against humanity at the notorious Bisha gold, copper and zinc mine in Eritrea, co-owned by Nevsun and the Eritrean dictatorship. The three plaintiffs in the case say they were conscripted into the military and forced to work at the mine for 11, 14 and 17 years respectively, and that they were tortured and made to put in 12-hour days, sometimes seven days a week.

The embarrassment: Four years ago, when a UN commission of inquiry confirmed reports of abuse at the mine so grotesque as to amount to crimes against humanity, it turned out that the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board owned 1.5 million shares of Bevsun Resources. In 2018, Nevsun’s shareholders agreed to sell the company for $1.86 billion to China’s Zijin Mining Group.

Perhaps Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should take a knee.

Source: Glavin: Don’t show up at Black Lives Matter rallies in clothes made by slaves

In China’s Xinjiang, Forced Medication Accompanies Coronavirus Lockdown

News from China and the Uighurs gets worse and worse:

When police arrested the middle-aged Uighur woman at the height of China’s coronavirus outbreak, she was crammed into a cell with dozens of other women in a detention center.

There, she said, she was forced to drink a medicine that made her feel weak and nauseous, guards watching as she gulped. She and the others also had to strip naked once a week and cover their faces as guards hosed them and their cells down with disinfectant “like firemen,” she said.

“It was scalding,” recounted the woman by phone from Xinjiang, declining to be named out of fear of retribution. “My hands were ruined, my skin was peeling.”

The government in China’s far northwest Xinjiang region is resorting to draconian measures to combat the coronavirus, including physically locking residents in homes, imposing quarantines of more than 40 days and arresting those who do not comply. Furthermore, in what experts call a breach of medical ethics, some residents are being coerced into swallowing traditional Chinese medicine, according to government notices, social media posts and interviews with three people in quarantine in Xinjiang.

There is a lack of rigorous clinical data showing traditional Chinese medicine works against the virus, and one of the herbal remedies used in Xinjiang, Qingfei Paidu, includes ingredients banned in Germany, Switzerland, the U.S. and other countries for high levels of toxins and carcinogens.

The latest grueling lockdown, now in its 45th day, comes in response to 826 cases reported in Xinjiang since mid-July, China’s largest caseload since the initial outbreak. But the Xinjiang lockdown is especially striking because of its severity, and because there hasn’t been a single new case of local transmission in over a week.

Harsh lockdowns have been imposed elsewhere in China, most notably in Wuhan in Hubei province, where the virus was first detected. But though Wuhan grappled with over 50,000 cases and Hubei with 68,000 in all, many more than in Xinjiang, residents there weren’t forced to take traditional medicine and were generally allowed outdoors within their compounds for exercise or grocery deliveries.

The response to an outbreak of more than 300 cases in Beijing in early June was milder still, with a few select neighborhoods locked down for a few weeks. In contrast, more than half of Xinjiang’s 25 million people are under a lockdown that extends hundreds of miles from the center of the outbreak in the capital, Urumqi, according to an AP review of government notices and state media reports.

Even as Wuhan and the rest of China has mostly returned to ordinary life, Xinjiang’s lockdown is backed by a vast surveillance apparatus that has turned the region into a digital police state. Over the past three years, Xinjiang authorities have swept a million or more Uighurs, Kazakhs and other ethnic minorities into various forms of detention, including extrajudicial internment camps, under a widespread security crackdown.

After being detained for over a month, the Uighur woman was released and locked into her home. Conditions are now better, she told the AP, but she is still under lockdown, despite regular tests showing she is free of the virus.

Once a day, she says, community workers force traditional medicine in white unmarked bottles on her, saying she’ll be detained if she doesn’t drink them. The AP saw photos of the bottles, which match those in images from another Xinjiang resident and others circulating on Chinese social media.

Authorities say the measures taken are for the well-being of all residents, though they haven’t commented on why they are harsher than those taken elsewhere. The Chinese government has struggled for decades to control Xinjiang, at times clashing violently with many of the region’s native Uighurs, who resent Beijing’s heavy-handed rule.

“The Xinjiang Autonomous Region upheld the principle of people and life first….and guaranteed the safety and health of local people of all ethnic groups,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a press briefing Friday.

Xinjiang authorities can carry out the harsh measures, experts say, because of its lavishly funded security apparatus, which by some estimates deploys the most police per capita of anywhere on the planet.

“Xinjiang is a police state, so it’s basically martial law,” says Darren Byler, a researcher on the Uighurs at the University of Colorado. “They think Uighurs can’t really police themselves, they have to be forced to comply in order for a quarantine to be effective.”

Not all the recent outbreak measures in Xinjiang are targeted at the Uighurs and other largely Muslim minorities. Some are being enforced on China’s majority Han residents in Xinjiang as well, though they are generally spared the extrajudicial detention used against minorities. This month, thousands of Xinjiang residents took to social media to complain about what they called excessive measures against the virus in posts that are often censored, some with images of residents handcuffed to railings and front doors sealed with metal bars.

One Han Chinese woman with the last name of Wang posted photos of herself drinking traditional Chinese medicine in front of a medical worker in full protective gear.

“Why are you forcing us to drink medicine when we’re not sick!” she asked in a Aug. 18 post that was swiftly deleted. “Who will take responsibility if there’s problems after drinking so much medicine? Why don’t we even have the right to protect our own health?”

A few days later she simply wrote: “I’ve lost all hope. I cry when I think about it.”

After the heavy criticism, the authorities eased some restrictions last week, now allowing some residents to walk in their compounds, and a limited few to leave the region after a bureaucratic approval process.

Wang did not respond to a request for interviews. But her account is in line with many others posted on social media, as well as those interviewed by the AP.

One Han businessman working between Urumqi and Beijing told the AP he was put in quarantine in mid-July. Despite having taken coronavirus tests five times and testing negative each time, he said, the authorities still haven’t let him out – not for so much as a walk. When he’s complained about his condition online, he said, he’s had his posts deleted and been told to stay silent.

“The most terrible thing is silence,” he wrote on Chinese social media site Weibo in mid-August. “After a long silence, you will fall into the abyss of hopelessness.”

“I’ve been in this room for so long, I don’t remember how long. I just want to forget,” he wrote again, days later. “I’m writing out my feelings to reassure myself I still exist. I fear I’ll be forgotten by the world.”

“I’m falling apart,” he told the AP more recently, declining to be named out of fear of retribution.

He, too, is being forced to take Chinese traditional medicine, he said, including liquid from the same unmarked white bottles as the Uighur woman. He is also forced to take Lianhua Qingwen, a herbal remedy seized regularly by U.S. Customs and Border patrol for violating FDA laws by falsely claiming to be effective against COVID-19.

Since the start of the outbreak, the Chinese government has pushed traditional medicine on its population. The remedies are touted by President Xi Jinping, China’s nationalist, authoritarian leader, who has advocated a revival of traditional Chinese culture. Although some state-backed doctors say they have conducted trials showing the medicine works against the virus, no rigorous clinical data supporting that claim has been published in international scientific journals.

“None of these medicines have been scientifically proven to be effective and safe,” said Fang Shimin, a former biochemist and writer known for his investigations of scientific fraud in China who now lives in the United States. “It’s unethical to force people, sick or healthy, to take unproven medicines.”

When the virus first started spreading, thousands flooded pharmacies in Hubei province searching for traditional remedies after state media promoted their effectiveness against the virus. Packs of pills were tucked into care packages sent to Chinese workers and students overseas, some emblazoned with the Chinese flag, others reading: “The motherland will forever firmly back you up”.

But the new measures in Xinjiang forcing some residents to take the medicine is unprecedented, experts say. The government says that the participation rate in traditional Chinese medicine treatment in the region has “reached 100%”, according to a state media report. When asked about resident complaints that they were being forced to take Chinese medicine, one local official said it was being done “according to expert opinion.”

“We’re helping resolve the problems of ordinary people,” said Liu Haijiang, the head of Dabancheng district in Urumqi, “like getting their children to school, delivering them medicine or getting them a doctor.”

With Xi’s ascent, critics of Chinese traditional medicine have fallen silent. In April, an influential Hubei doctor, Yu Xiangdong, was removed from a hospital management position for questioning the efficacy of the remedies, an acquittance confirmed. A government notice online said Yu “openly published inappropriate remarks slandering the nation’s epidemic prevention policy and traditional Chinese medicine.”

In March, the World Health Organization removed guidance on its site saying that herbal remedies were not effective against the virus and could be harmful, saying it was “too broad”. And in May, the Beijing city government announced a draft law that would criminalize speech “defaming or slandering” traditional Chinese medicine. Now, the government is pushing traditional Chinese remedies as a treatment for COVID-19 overseas, sending pills and specialists to countries such as Iran, Italy, and the Philippines.

Other leaders have also spearheaded unproven and potentially risky remedies – notably U.S. President Donald Trump, who stumped for the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which can cause heart rhythm problems, despite no evidence that it’s effective against COVID-19. But China appears to be the first to force citizens – at least in Xinjiang – to take them.

The Chinese government’s push for traditional medicine is bolstering the fortunes of billionaires and padding state coffers. The family of Wu Yiling, the founder of the company that makes Lianhua Qingwen, has seen the value of their stake more than double in the past six months, netting them over a billion dollars. Also profiting: the Guangdong government, which owns a stake in Wu’s company.

“It’s a huge waste of money, these companies are making millions,” said a public health expert who works closely with the Chinese government, declining to be identified out of fear of retribution. “But then again – why not take it? There’s a placebo effect, it’s not that harmful. Why bother? There’s no point in fighting on this.”

Measures vary widely by city and neighborhood, and not all residents are taking the medication. The Uighur woman says that despite the threats against her, she’s flushing the liquid and pills down the toilet. A Han man whose parents are in Xinjiang told the AP that for them, the remedies are voluntary.

Though the measures are “extreme,” he says, they’re understandable.

“There’s no other way if the government wants to control this epidemic,” he said, declining to be named to avoid retribution. “We don’t want our outbreak to become like Europe or America.”

Source: In China’s Xinjiang, Forced Medication Accompanies Coronavirus Lockdown

China’s Muslim Uighurs Are Stuck in U.S. Immigration Limbo

Yet another consequence of Trump administration immigration policies and practices:

Kalbinur Awut came to the U.S. in 2015 from China’s far west for graduate study. Soon after arriving at the University of Rhode Island, she applied for political asylum. A member of the mostly Muslim Uighur minority, she had been harassed in China for wearing headscarves and was briefly detained after she applied to study overseas.

When she signed into a website run by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services this month to check her status, the same old message greeted her, with her wait time the only update: “Your case has been pending with USCIS for 1,796 days, not including delays,” it said.

China’s treatment of Uighurs exploded into the American consciousness around two years ago with reports that China was rounding up around a million Uighurs in what appeared to be concentration camps in the western region of Xinjiang.

Roughly around the same time, changes in U.S. asylum policies slowed the process for many of those claiming risk in their home countries. As a result, while the Trump administration is targeting China with various Xinjiang-related sanctions, hundreds of Uighurs like Ms. Awut are in U.S. immigration limbo with asylum bids hung up for years.

Applicants say that they are grateful the U.S. lets them work while awaiting a decision, but that their options are limited as prospective employers or landlords can be wary about their legal status. Lawyer charges and fees to renew work permits and temporary legal documents like driver’s licenses are a constant worry. Their quasi-legal status also leaves them at risk of deportation.

USCIS said its backlog for those seeking asylum, which provides a path to permanent residence and citizenship, was about 340,000 as of last September, the latest figures available, which equates to several years worth of cases. A few hundred Uighurs are in that queue, among Syrians fleeing civil war, Rohingya forced out of Myanmar and Hondurans fearing gang violence, according to lawyers.

Lawyers say the holdup is most acute in USCIS’s center in Arlington, Va., near where the majority of Uighurs in the U.S. have settled. Rights groups put the number of Uighurs in the country at less than 8,000.

Many Uighurs whose applications have been held up came to the U.S. to study or for work or holiday, then filed for asylum as Chinese authorities tightened control in Xinjiang and it became clear that having international ties was cause enough to get locked up.

Among those in limbo is Tahir Hamut, a poet and filmmaker who applied in late 2017 and has spoken to The Wall Street Journal about the detention camps and his family’s harrowing escape from China. Shortly after one article was published, Mr. Hamut said, his younger brother disappeared in Xinjiang and two female relatives got called in for police interrogation.

“Since the situation in our homeland is so hard right now, the Uighur people in the United States are facing a huge psychological stress,” he said by telephone from Fairfax, Va., as his 18-year-old daughter Asena translated. Mr. Hamut said he used an appearance two years ago at a religious-freedom event chaired by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to request faster application processing, but hasn’t seen results.

His daughter said the family’s uncertain legal status makes her ineligible to join the U.S. Air Force, despite spending two years in a high-school Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program. She is giving up hopes of affording her dream schools, George Mason University or Virginia Tech.

“I’m thinking of changing my plans, going to a community college,” she said.

President Trump last month signed a law aiming to punish top Chinese policy makers and companies associated with repression of Islamic minority groups, including Uighurs. The State Department has targeted Chinese officials, including Chen Quanguo, China’s top appointee to Xinjiang and a member of the Communisty Party’s 25-member Politburo.

The U.S. has also blocked certain imports from Xinjiang and placed goods on watch that might be produced with forced labor.

Uighurs overseas applaud such actions as long overdue. But unprecedented political recognition has done little to get asylum applicants out of their immigration logjam.

The Trump administration has rarely made exceptions for applicants from any particular country, including Cubans or Venezuelans, whose governments are the target of tough U.S. policies. U.S. congressional efforts to welcome some Hong Kong residents after China enacted a national-security law in the territory would run on a separate track from the asylum process.

Beijing has defended stepped-up policing and what it calls vocational training centers in Xinjiang as necessary to combat extremism. It denounces sanctions by the U.S. as interference in China’s domestic affairs.

Lawyers say Uighurs have traditionally had very little problem winning asylum in the U.S. “Uighur cases have an astonishingly high approval rate,” said Rockville, Md., lawyer Brian Mezger. Nearly 100% of the Uighurs he has represented over more than two decades have obtained asylum.

In a pivotal change to the asylum system, U.S. immigration authorities in early 2018 adopted a type of last-in, first-out system to prioritize interviews with the newest applicants. The idea was to weed out those the administration said had in past years mainly sought ways to work legally in the U.S. and didn’t have a clear claim to asylum.

The effect was to push existing applicants to the back of the line. A 32-year-old Uighur woman in Boston said she and her husband have been waiting for an interview since 2014—and have had a son in the meantime—while an application by her younger sister after the policy changed in 2018 was approved in three months.

USCIS said that its broader efforts to control frivolous and fraudulent asylum claims are paying dividends and that the most recent numbers show its backlog is growing less quickly.

Like other Uighurs interviewed, the woman in Boston said she and her sister didn’t come to the U.S. intending to stay but both grew anxious as friends and family members back in China were increasingly harassed and sometimes detained, making their own returns to China all but impossible. “We do not have a country, and our life is jeopardized if we go back,” she said, fearing problems for her parents in Xinjiang if she speaks out.

Ms. Awut, who lost teaching jobs during the pandemic, is for now living with her son at the home of a friend near San Francisco. She said Chinese police sometimes attempt to question her via the social-messaging platform WeChat but that she has been unable to connect with her mother, brother or sister since 2016.

“I don’t know if they are alive,” she said.

Source: China’s Muslim Uighurs Are Stuck in U.S. Immigration Limbo

Parliament should label Uyghur persecution as genocide to foster global support against China’s human rights abuses, says former Liberal justice minister

Needed debate and action:

Parliamentarians heard from activists during hours-long committee meetings last week who were calling for the Chinese government’s oppression of Uyghur Muslims to be acknowledged as genocide, and a former justice minister says Parliament is uniquely positioned to have a “distinguishable role” in condemning Beijing’s alleged behaviour to build an international partnership to counter China’s bullying.

The House Subcommittee on International Human Rights heard from more than 20 witnesses over 14 hours on July 20 and July 21 about the persecution of the Uyghurs. Many said the mistreatment and abuse of Uyghurs was tantamount to genocide and called for Canada to take a stand.

“Genocide obliges us all—internationally, domestically, governments, Parliaments, civil societies—and here the Canadian Parliament has a distinguishable role to call out genocide,” said Irwin Cotler, a former Liberal justice minister and now founding chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights. He told The Hill Times that Parliament has set a precedent of playing a leading role in calling out human rights abuses and acts of genocide.

“I think it’s very important that governments act in concert, that Parliaments act in concert, as well as civil society acting in concert in calling out China,” said Mr. Cotler, who was a Liberal MP from 1999 to 2015. “If we want to protect the rules-based international order—and justice for the victims in China and accountability for the violators—we’re going to have to do so in concert governmentally and in Parliament.”

“Canada can play a leading role in this,” he said, citing the work that Parliamentarians have previously done raising the issue of genocide prevention, and raising awareness of the Rohingya genocide, among other targeted mass killings.

“China has been assaulting the rules-based international order and committing these international crimes with impunity thus far,” Mr. Cotler said. “They’ve been able to do so with impunity because they have been leveraging their economic and political power, and targeting countries one by one if those countries dare stand up to them.”

“What is needed now is an inter-governmental alliance, an alliance of democracies, so China doesn’t leverage its power and bully countries one by one.”

Some witnesses told the subcommittee that it is necessary for Canada to place sanctions on top Chinese Communist Party officials in Xinjiang where there are reports of mass detentions and forced sterilization of the Uyghur population.

The Associated Press reported on a systematic program to reduce the Muslim population in China, with the government enacting population control measures, which included IUDs and sterilization.

Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow in China studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, told the subcommittee that in 2018, 80 per cent of new IUDs in China were placed in Xinjiang, which only makes up 1.8 per cent of China’s population.

The Chinese government has long held that human rights abuses aren’t taking place in Xinjiang and have called the alleged detention facilities “vocational education and training centres” that are being used to combat terrorism.

University of Ottawa international law professor Errol Mendes, who appeared virtually before the subcommittee, said Canada should apply Magnitsky sanctions on the “chief planners of the detention.” He said that should be Xinjiang regional government chairman Shohrat Zakir and Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, a member of the politburo.

Prof. Mendes told The Hill Times that imposing sanctions would prove that Canada is not staying silent and is upholding its commitment as a party to the United Nations Genocide Convention.

He added that the sanctions will “probably not” have tangible results in the short run. In spite of that, Prof. Mendes said when countries have “sufficient proof” that a genocide is taking place, “they must act.”

Magnitsky sanctions have already been applied on Chinese Communist Party officials in Xinjiang by the U.S., including on Mr. Chen.

Prof. Mendes said other levers can also be used, such as stopping companies from purchasing products in their supply lines from Xinjiang, which have reportedly been through forced labour.

He said that a motion of Parliament labelling the actions of the Chinese government as acts of genocide might not have impact for Beijing.

“Sending a direct signal to one of the main politburo members sends a message to President Xi [Jinping],” Prof. Mendes said.

Mr. Cotler said a parliamentary condemnation of the Chinese government’s mistreatment should include sanctions as well.

“Under the Genocide Convention, there is an obligation to act pursuant to that determination and an obligation to hold a country—that is engaged in acts that constitute genocide—accountable,” he said.

It is the responsibility of Canada and the international community to bring justice to the victims and hold criminals accountable, Mr. Cotler said.

University of Ottawa professor John Packer, director of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre, said that it is clear that China has been committing genocide based on the Genocide Convention.

According to the convention, an act of genocide is taking place if any of the five conditions are met: killing members of a group; causing “serious bodily harm or mental harm” to member of a group; intentionally “inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”; “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group”; and “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Prof. Packer said it looks “quite clear” that there have been breaches of the convention, adding that “it is very difficult not to draw the negative inference that this is purposeful state policy.”

“That would mean that it is genocide,” he said. “This is not by accident.”

“If China really believes this is all mistaken, they should be entirely open to exposing to international scrutiny what is going on,” he said, adding that if there is a dispute, the convention states it should be referred to the International Court of Justice.

Prof. Packer also noted a party to the Genocide Convention has a duty to prevent acts of genocide.

“If we see something happening and we are silent then there are fundamental issues about how seriously we consider this fundamental norm of international relations,” he said.

“Where such cases [of genocide] are quite clear in terms of international exposure, such as the Rohingya, such as the Uyghurs, it strikes me as extraordinary that we would demure—that we would shuffle our feet and look the other way,” Prof. Packer said.

He added that a motion of Parliament acknowledging a genocide is taking place would set a “very big international symbol.”

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.), his party’s critic of Canada-China relations, said the subcommittee heard “clear-cut” evidence of genocide.

“We should recognize that the Chinese state is guilty of genocide in Xinjiang,” he said, adding that Canada should respond with Magnitsky sanctions and by addressing the possible complicity of investment in Chinese companies that are involved in the oppression in Xinjiang, as well as imported products that are produced through forced labour.

“All of that flows from recognition” that a genocide has taken place, Mr. Genuis said, adding that both the Canadian government and the House of Commons should make that acknowledgement.

Echoing Mr. Cotler, he said there is a need for principled multilateralism of likeminded countries that follow their own obligations in concert with each other.

“What we’ve seen from the government is occasional words but no actions,” Mr. Genuis said. “The government has acknowledged the issue of abuses of human rights involving Uyghurs. They have not used the word ‘genocide,’ they have not used the words ‘crimes against humanity.’ In other words, they haven’t used words that carry international legal significance.”

In a brief to the International Human Rights Subcommittee, Global Affairs noted that Canada is “deeply concerned” about human rights abuses against Uyghurs by Chinese officials.

Canada is urging that Beijing release “Uyghurs and other Muslims who have been detained arbitrarily—based on their ethnicity and religion.”

“Publicly and privately, in multilateral fora as well as in bilateral dialogues, Canada has consistently called the Chinese government to address repression in Xinjiang,” the brief notes.

Mr. Genuis said the government hasn’t addressed the issue in areas that have “legal weight.”

NDP MP Heather McPherson (Edmonton Strathcona, Alta.), her party’s representative on the International Human Rights Subcommittee, said the committee will release a statement on the meetings in early August.

“I think what we pretty universally agreed upon is that there needs to be more done,” she said. “We need to take a stronger stance to ensure that we are protecting human rights around the world. It doesn’t matter where it happens, the rule of law and the protection of human rights is vital.”

Ms. McPherson wouldn’t say whether the subcommittee meetings will lead to a recognition by Parliament that acts of genocide have taken place.

“I will say that the testimony that we heard—the very credible witnesses that we heard from, the survivors that we heard from—there’s pretty strong proof and testimony that there have been acts of genocide perpetrated against the Uyghur people,” she said.

She added that it is vital to figure out a strategy to re-engage on the world stage to jointly address China’s human rights record.

“We’re not ever going to want to do this alone. … We’re never going to want to take giant steps by ourselves. I think we want to work with our multilateral partners and we want to work with our likeminded allies and use those tools at our disposal to put some pressure on China to come back to the side of international law, to come back to the side of protection of human rights.”

Source: Parliament should label Uyghur persecution as genocide to foster global support against China’s human rights abuses, says former Liberal justice minister

Terry Glavin: Will Canada stand with Uyghurs—and against ‘modern slavery?’

Valid questions:

While the Trudeau government is coming under increasing pressure to extricate Canada from commercial supply chains compromised by slave labour in China, a frustrated senior Liberal MP says the Prime Minister’s Office appears to be ignoring mounting evidence that China’s persecuted Uyghur minority, after being rounded up into re-education camps in the northwestern province if Xinjiang, is now being corralled into industrial gulags to satisfy the needs of global corporations.

“We simply cannot be a nation that professes what we purport to profess and continue to turn a wilful or negligent blind eye to the evidence of what is clear is going on,” says John McKay, chair of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. “But sometimes, governments don’t see what’s blindingly obvious.”

For two years, McKay has been attempting to push Parliament to adopt a new law, the Modern Slavery Act, which would require corporations doing business in Canada to ensure their supply chains are uncontaminated by forced labour and child labour. The law would provide for fines of up to $250,000 for violators and amend the Customs Tariff to allow the Canadian Border Services Agency to ban slave-labour goods from entering Canada.

McKay first introduced a private members’ bill proposing the law in 2018. Last year, before Parliament was dissolved for the October election, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development proposed such a law, and Marie-Claude Bibeau, who was International Development minister at the time, agreed to stakeholder consultations. That effort has now been passed on to Anthony Housefather, parliamentary secretary to Labour Minister Filomena Tassi. In an effort to move things along, earlier this year, Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne introduced McKay’s bill in the Senate.

And there it sits.

“If I were looking at royal assent by this time next year, I’d be dancing in the streets, presuming the government survives,” McKay told me. “It’s tough.”

The absence of an effective anti-slavery law in Canada was brought into dramatic relief last week when Bill Matthews, the deputy minister of public works, told the Commons government operations committee that Ottawa has no way of knowingwhether suppliers relying on Uyghur slave labour are benefitting from the $2 billion in new spending on personal protective equipment required to cope with the COVID-19 crisis. Most of new money is being spent in China. Liberal and Conservative MPs said they were shocked to learn that Ottawa expects Chinese suppliers to “self-certify” that no forced labour is involved in PPE production.

“It is distressing that the Government of Canada can’t assure a committee that there’s no element of slavery in the products that it purchases from its various suppliers,” McKay told me. “That, it seems to me, is something the Government of Canada should lead in, rather than relying on the blandishments of Chinese suppliers.”

But the slavery issue doesn’t arise only in government purchases of PPEs, McKay said. It arises across the board in trade with China. “We are in effect cutting our own throats,” McKay said. “There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that we can manufacture products at a price point that is competitive with the price point that China has to offer. We’re actually working against our own economy. It is ultimately not in Canada’s best interests, our moral best interests, or our interests writ large, or from a national security standpoint, an economic standpoint, or from a health standpoint, or an overall societal standpoint.”

Last week, nearly 200 human rights and labour organizations from 36 countries launched a campaign to secure formal commitments from the world’s major clothing brands to sever contracts with suppliers implicated in Uyghur slave labour. Beijing’s archipelago of “labour transfer” operations arise from the detention centres and re-education camps where the Chinese Communist Party has interned more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in their homelands in Xinjiang, purportedly to suppress religious and separatist militancy.

Campaigners estimate that 90 per cent of China’s cotton comes from Xinjiang, and one fifth of all cotton garments sold worldwide contain cotton or yarn from Xinjiang. But the corporations implicated in Uyghur forced labour are not just major garment brands and retailers like Adidas, Abercrombie & Fitch, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein. Earlier this year, in a major investigative report titled “Uyghurs for Sale,” the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) found that at least 80,000 Uyghurs have been forced from Xinjiang and conscripted into factories across China where they are made to work in production for 83 international corporations, including Samsung, Apple, BMW, Sony, and Volkswagen.

Mehmet Tohti, the Canadian representative for the World Uyghur Congress, said he appreciates McKay’s efforts to bring Canada in line with modern anti-slavery laws already in force in the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Germany, Italy and Brazil. McKay is not like most Liberals, Tohti said: “Their response is standard. They all stick to talking points. They repeat like parrots whatever the government says. It’s really difficult to understand those people.”

Here’s where Tohti differs with McKay.

The Uyghur crisis has to be addressed specifically, and fast, Tohti said. The World Uyghur Congress is hoping Canada will replicate a bipartisan initiative in the U.S. Congress, the Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act, spearheaded by Massachusetts Democrat James McGovern and the Republicans’ Marco Rubio. Their proposed law would declare all goods relying on materials originating in Xinjiang to be the product of slave labour unless otherwise proven, shifting the burden of proof in the existing rules under the 1930 Tariff Act.

“It is shocking that we have not seen any steps taken in Canada to ban products that have entered Canadian markets through supply chains that use Uyghur forced labour,” Tohti said. “Canadian consumers continue to buy these products, unknowingly.”

And here’s where McKay sides with Tohti.

“If COVID has exposed anything it has exposed our unhealthy dependency upon products made in China, and I think it’s exposed vulnerabilities not only in PPEs but in vaccines and various other health supply chains that leave us hugely vulnerable as a nation to the political whims of the Communist Party of China. And I just don’t think that’s a viable position for Canada to be in, and that’s aside from the slavery issue.”

Source: Will Canada stand with Uyghurs—and against ‘modern slavery?’

Why do Muslim states stay silent over China’s abuse of the Uighurs? Nick Cohen

As in the case in the past:

When China imposed trade sanctions on Norway in 2010 for honouring the imprisoned dissident Liu Xiaobo with the Nobel peace prize, it spat out a word we weren’t used to hearing from propagandists for an atheist communist regime, but should get used to today. “It’s a blasphemy,” a party mouthpiece said.

Once, blasphemy was damning the faithful’s gods and sacred books. Now, criticism of the world’s largest dictatorship has become sacrilegious. You shouldn’t be surprised. As some of us tried to say in the 1990s and 2000s, the gap between the sacred and the profane was never as wide as religious sentimentalists and liberal multiculturalists believed.

They went along with the argument that it was bad taste at best and racism at worst to offend believers. You were “punching down” at largely poor and largely Muslim communities. We thought they were being wilfully blind. They did not understand how men with real power and malice were manipulating religious outrage to consolidate their rule over their wretched population. Iran issued a death sentence on Salman Rushdie in 1989 for satirising Islam’s foundation myths in The Satanic Verses. Its theocratic dictator, Ayatollah Khomeini, was augmenting his powers by claiming to speak for the Muslim world, as well as taking aim at novelists. When the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published largely innocuous cartoons of Muhammad in 2005, to assert the right to mock religion, the Egyptian and Syrian dictators, Hosni Mubarak and Bashar al-Assad, turned a local argument into a global campaign against Denmark. The cries of rage usefully distracted from their corruption and misrule. I could add further examples but they tell the same story. Authoritarian politics and authoritarian religion are just two sides of the same debased coin.

China forces birth control on Muslim Uighurs to suppress population

The news regarding Chinese government repression keeps on getting worse and worse:

The Chinese government is taking draconian measures to slash birth rates among Uighurs and other minorities as part of a sweeping campaign to curb its Muslim population, even as it encourages some of the country’s Han majority to have more children.

While individual women have spoken out before about forced birth control, the practice is far more widespread and systematic than previously known, according to an AP investigation based on government statistics, state documents and interviews with 30 ex-detainees, family members and a former detention camp instructor. The campaign over the past four years in the far west region of Xinjiang is leading to what some experts are calling a form of “demographic genocide.”

The state regularly subjects minority women to pregnancy checks, and forces intrauterine devices, sterilization and even abortion on hundreds of thousands, the interviews and data show. Even while the use of IUDs and sterilization has fallen nationwide, it is rising sharply in Xinjiang.

The population control measures are backed by mass detention both as a threat and as a punishment for failure to comply. Having too many children is a major reason people are sent to detention camps, the AP found, with the parents of three or more ripped away from their families unless they can pay huge fines.

After Gulnar Omirzakh, a Chinese-born Kazakh, had her third child, the government ordered her to get an IUD inserted. Two years later, in January 2018, four officials in military camouflage came knocking at her door anyway. They gave Omirzakh, the penniless wife of a detained vegetable trader, three days to pay a $2,685 US fine for having more than two children.

If she didn’t, they warned, she would join her husband and a million other ethnic minorities locked up in internment camps — often for having too many children.

“To prevent people from having children is wrong,” said Omirzakh, who went deep in debt to scrape together the money and later fled to Kazakhstan. “They want to destroy us as a people.”

Birth rates in the mostly Uighur regions of Hotan and Kashgar plunged by more than 60 per cent from 2015 to 2018, the latest year available in government statistics. The hundreds of millions of dollars the government pours into birth control have transformed Xinjiang from one of China’s fastest-growing regions into one of its slowest in just a few years, according to new research obtained by The Associated Press in advance of publication by China scholar Adrian Zenz.

“This is part of a wider control campaign to subjugate the Uighurs,” said Zenz, an independent contractor with the nonprofit Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry and the Xinjiang government did not respond to multiple requests for comment. However, Beijing has said in the past that the new measures are merely meant to be fair, allowing both Han Chinese and ethnic minorities the same number of children.

Under China’s now-abandoned ‘one child’ policy, the authorities had long encouraged, sometimes forced, contraceptives, sterilizations and abortions on Han Chinese. But minorities were allowed two children — three if they came from the countryside.

That changed under President Xi Jinping, China’s most authoritarian leader in decades. Soon after he came to power, the government revised birth regulations so Xinjiang’s Han Chinese could have two or three children, just like minorities.

While equal on paper, in practice Han Chinese are largely spared the abortions, sterilizations, IUD insertions and detentions for having too many children that are forced on Xinjiang’s other ethnicities, interviews and data show. Some rural Muslims, like Omirzakh, were punished even for having the three children allowed by the law.

Forced birth control

Fifteen Uighurs and Kazakhs told the AP they knew people interned or jailed for having too many children. Many received years, even decades in prison.

Once in the detention camps, women are subjected to forced IUDs and what appear to be pregnancy prevention shots, interviews and data show.

One former detainee, Tursunay Ziyawudun, said she was injected until she stopped having her period and kicked repeatedly in the lower stomach during interrogations. She now can’t have children and often doubles over in pain, bleeding from her womb, she said. Ziyawudun said women at her camp were made to undergo gynecology exams and get IUDs, and their “teacher” told them they would face abortions if found pregnant.

In 2014, just over 200,000 IUDs were inserted in Xinjiang. By 2018, that jumped more than 60 percent to nearly 330,000 IUDs. At the same time, IUD use fell sharply elsewhere in China, as many women began getting the devices removed.

Chinese health statistics also show a sterilization boom in Xinjiang.

Budget documents obtained by Zenz show that starting in 2016, the Xinjiang government began pumping tens of millions of dollars into a birth control surgery program. Even while sterilization rates plummeted in the rest of the country, they surged seven-fold in Xinjiang from 2016 to 2018, to more than 60,000 procedures.

Zumret Dawut, a Uighur mother of three, said after her release from a camp in 2018, authorities forced her to get sterilized. If she didn’t, they told her she’d be sent back to the camp.

“I was so angry,” she said. “I wanted another son.”

Ethnically targeted

The birth control campaign is fuelled by government worries that high birth rates among Muslims leads to poverty and extremism in Xinjiang, an arid, landlocked region that has struggled in recent years with knifings and bombings blamed on Islamic terrorists. Though the program adopts tactics from China’s ‘one child’ policy, the campaign unfolding in Xinjiang differs in that it is ethnically targeted.

“The intention may not be to fully eliminate the Uighur population, but it will sharply diminish their vitality, making them easier to assimilate,” said Darren Byler, an expert on Uighurs at the University of Colorado.

Some experts take it a step further.

“It’s genocide, full stop,” said Uighur expert Joanne Smith Finley, who works at Newcastle University in the U.K. “It’s not immediate, shocking, mass-killing on the spot type genocide, but it’s slow, painful, creeping genocide.”

Source: China forces birth control on Muslim Uighurs to suppress population

‘I Thought It Would Be Safe’: Uighurs In Turkey Now Fear China’s Long Arm

Long read on yet another unsavoury aspect of the Chinese and Turkish regimes:

Abdurehim Imin Parach often looks over his shoulder when he walks around Istanbul. He worries that he is being followed, just as he was last year when two Turkish plainclothes policemen escorted him out of a restaurant in the city and told him he was under arrest.

“They didn’t say why they were arresting me,” says Parach, 44, an ethnic Uighur who landed in Turkey more than five years ago after fleeing his home in China’s Xinjiang region. “At the police station they tried to get me to sign a statement saying I was a terrorist. They beat me, but I wouldn’t sign it. Then they sent me to a deportation center.”

It was a cold, dark building hundreds of miles away from Istanbul. Parach says he met at least 20 other Uighurs there, all expecting to be deported.

Then, after three months, he was released without explanation. Turkish authorities urged him not to speak out against China.

Parach suspects China was behind his arrest. He has criticized China’s treatment of his people for years and had to flee the country after repeated detentions.

“When you stand against China,” he says, “you are a threat wherever you are.”

China’s government considers many members of the Uighur ethnic minority to be “terrorists” and “separatists.” It has imprisoned them on a mass scale and has turned Xinjiang into one of the world’s most tightly controlled police states.

As a result, many Uighurs have fled to Turkey, which they have traditionally viewed as a refuge and an advocate for their rights. Now, many Uighurs in Istanbul tell NPR they fear China is pressuring Turkey to threaten them.

Parach believes he was targeted after he published a book of poetry describing China’s oppression of Uighurs. In a quiet corner of a spicy-noodles diner, he unzips his backpack and pulls out the book, Breathing in Exile. The book’s cover includes a moody drawing of Tian Shan (or in Uighur, Tengri Tagh) the Central Asian mountain range that’s known as the “mountains of heaven.”

He flips to a verse describing how Uighurs feel: lost, dislocated, swallowed up by the night. The verse translates roughly as: “We await a thundering so great/that it shatters stars/that it awakens fate/to save us from a void of eternal scars.”

The book came out in December 2018 as China was making international headlines for imprisoning more than a million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in reeducation camps to counter what it calls extremist ideologies.

Two months later, the Turkish plainclothes police officers arrested him. Parach was shocked and confused. His book criticized China, not Turkey.

“I’m not sure if China is putting pressure directly on the Turkish government to control Uighurs here,” Parach says, “or if Chinese agents have infiltrated Turkish society to frame us as terrorists.”

NPR spoke to more than a dozen Uighurs in Istanbul who detailed how Turkish police arrested them and sent them to deportation centers, sometimes for months, without telling them why. One Uighur activist in Turkey says he has counted at least 200 such detentions since January 2019, while a lawyer says he has assisted more than 400 Uighurs arrested in the past year.

All those interviewed suspect China’s involvement in the detentions. Most declined to give their full names out of fear they would be targeted again.

A woman in her mid-40s says she was dragged out of her home in the middle of the night as her terrified children watched. A father of three says Turkish authorities imprisoned him along with his entire family, including his young children. Another man was hustled out of his tea shop in front of his confused customers.

The Uighur activist tracking detentions is named Anwar. He says he has been arrested himself — twice, most recently last October when Turkish police plucked him off the Istanbul metro as he was heading to work.

“They didn’t ask any questions except, ‘Do you want to call the Chinese Embassy?’ ” says Anwar, 27, a wiry, blunt-talking father of two.

He didn’t call the Chinese Embassy, but he suspects that authorities in China somehow found out about the arrest right away. A couple of hours after his detention, his parents in Xinjiang called his wife in Turkey to tell her about it, he says.

Activists later promoted Anwar’s case on social media and hired a lawyer who helped him get out of migrant detention after a few days. Uighurs who can’t afford lawyers are not so lucky and can languish in detention centers for months, he says.

Anwar often pickets outside the Chinese Consulate in Istanbul, dressed in prison garb and declaring that East Turkestan, as the Uighurs call Xinjiang, must be free.

Since his release, Turkish authorities have warned Anwar to stop protesting so loudly against China. He says he’s trying to understand how the long arm of Beijing could have reached Turkey, where at least 35,000 Uighurs live, according to local leaders.

“I thought it would be safe in Turkey,” he says. “But I have nightmares every night that the next time I’m arrested, I will be deported to China.”

“A second home”

Uighurs have sought refuge in Turkey for decades. They speak a Turkic language and, like Turks, they practice Islam.

In 1952, the Turkish government offered asylum to Uighurs who were fleeing Xinjiang after its takeover by Chinese Communists. Turkey has granted some form of temporary or permanent residency to Uighur exiles since then.

Ismail Cengiz’s father arrived in Turkey in 1953. He had been forced out of his home in Kashgar, a city in far-western China that was on the Silk Road trade route once connecting the country to the Middle East and Europe.

“My father always talked about our home in Kashgar,” says Cengiz, 60, a graying, talkative man in black-rimmed glasses. “It made me long for it.”

Born and raised in Turkey, Cengiz advocates for independence for East Turkestan. Some in the community in Istanbul call him “prime minister,” and he is often seen at Uighur cafes and restaurants in the city, glad-handing imams and business owners.

“Uighurs really do see Turkey as a second home,” Cengiz says. “We want to believe that [the government] would never allow Uighurs to be sent back to China. But what’s happening to the newcomers is making them nervous.”

Many Uighurs arriving in Turkey since 2014 have struggled to get Turkish residency permits, Cengiz says. Many of them have expired Chinese passports.

“If they try to renew the passports at the Chinese Consulate, the Chinese rip them up,” Cengiz says. “Then they hand out documents that allow only for a one-way return to China. After these Nazi-style camps [in Xinjiang], no one wants to go back.”

He clicks open his briefcase and takes out a thick folder with photos of Uighurs missing in China, including some who have Turkish citizenship. There’s also a list of Uighurs who have been detained by Turkish police.

“Everyone needs to know what’s happening to us,” he says.

Whenever Cengiz hears about Turkish police arresting Uighurs, he says he writes letters to the immigration service and makes calls to lawmakers and the Interior Ministry. He appeals to the sense of solidarity Turks are said to feel with Muslims around the world.

“I tell them Uighurs have fled their ancestral home out of fear,” he says. “They should not have to deal with more fear here in their second home.”

Many Uighurs in Turkey live in two Istanbul neighborhoods, Zeytinburnu and Sefakoy. Walk around and you will see Uighur mothers in headscarves and full-face veils pushing their children on playground swings as grandfathers with long white beards pray in nearby mosques. There are Uighur-language schools, boxing clubs, bakeries and cafes scented with saffron-and-cardamom tea. Clothing shops sell red embroidered dresses, ankle-length vests and T-shirts printed with a drawing of a ghijek, a type of fiddle. Bookstores stock Uighur works banned in China, including Parach’s poems.

The baby-blue flag of East Turkestan is on every wall. It features the same white crescent and star as Turkey’s red flag.

A suspicious call before an arrest

Both flags hang at a cultural center where Aminah Mamatimin meets other Uighur women whose families are missing in China.

Mamatimin, a 29-year-old mother of five, says that until now the relative safety of Turkey has allowed her to publicly mourn her husband and children, who have been missing in China since January 2017.

She was pregnant with her fifth child when she flew to Turkey with her toddler daughter in 2016. Her husband was supposed to follow with their three older children after closing down his business, but Chinese police arrested him on the charge of “investing in terrorism,” Mamatimin says, after he sent her money in Turkey. Then he and the children disappeared. She flips through a poster-size scrapbook of their photos.

Mamatimin has heard that her children were hauled off to Chinese military-style schools surrounded by barbed wire. She worries that Fatima, her frail, sickly 8-year-old daughter, won’t survive there.

“Fatima’s the one who needs me the most,” says Mamatimin, her voice breaking as she flips through her scrapbook. “She’s anxious and sometimes wets the bed. She’s so shy she won’t even speak up when she’s hungry. I keep wondering: Is she getting enough to eat? Is she cold? Is she afraid?”

Downstairs at the cultural center, Uighur women run a busy bazaar selling fresh dumplings, dried noodles and colorful skullcaps. A veiled woman steps out of the crowd, holding the hands of two little girls in matching bowl cuts and cherry-print dresses.

She gives her name as Asma and her age, 33, but she is too afraid for her safety to reveal her full name. She unlocks the door to a friend’s spice shop, which is closed for the day, and sits down to recount a call she got late last year.

The screen on her cellphone showed a Chinese area code. The man on the line identified himself as a police officer in Xinjiang, where several of Asma’s relatives have been forced into camps and prison. She can’t confirm that the man was, in fact, a Chinese official, but leaked classified Chinese government documents show that Beijing has made a concerted effort to spy on Uighurs no matter where they are.

“He knew everything about us,” she says, referring to herself and her husband. “He even sent us photos of our families in China. The man told me we had to spy on other Uighurs. He said: If you don’t, you don’t know what bad things might happen to you.”

Asma refused to cooperate. A couple of months after that call, Turkish police detained her husband in his tea shop in Zeytinburnu and sent him to a deportation center.

Her husband, who declined to give his name, was released after a few weeks. He told NPR that he was so rattled by the arrest that he closed down his shop.

“I have to prove I am Uighur”

NPR confirmed that Turkey deported at least four Uighurs last summer to Tajikistan.

The deportees had lived in the central Turkish city of Kayseri. They included Zinnetgul Tursun and her two toddler daughters.

Her sister, Jennetgul, who spoke to NPR by phone from her home in Saudi Arabia, remembers her sister calling her last summer from a deportation center in Turkey’s west-coast city of Izmir.

“She kept saying, ‘You have to bring documents that I am Uighur. I have to prove I am Uighur,’ ” Jennetgul says.

She didn’t have the documents her sister needed. A few days later, she lost touch with Zinnetgul. A month later, she heard from their mother in China.

“She had my sister’s children and said that the Chinese police had arrested my sister,” Jennetgul says. “And then the nightmare began.”

Jennetgul has pleaded with Turkish officials to help locate her sister. She says she’s heard nothing.

“It’s so difficult for me to accept that Turkey did this,” she says. “Turkey, the land that is like our home, where the people are like our own.”

Turkey’s migration office claims Zinnetgul Tursun entered Syria illegally and didn’t have valid documents proving she’s Uighur — charges her sister denies.

In the past, Turkey has cited security as a reason to arrest migrants, including Uighurs. In 2014, Chinese state media said about 300 Uighurs had joined the Islamic State. Three years later, when an Uzbek gunman loyal to ISIS killed 39 people at a popular Istanbul nightclub during New Year’s celebrations, Turkish authorities arrested several Uighurs with suspected extremist ties as part of the investigation into the mass shooting.

“After that tragedy,” says Ragip Kutay Karaca, a professor of international relations at Istanbul Aydin University, “the authorities began arresting Uighurs with even the slightest connection to Syria.”

Parach, the poet, found himself swept up in this dragnet. His then-11-year-old son, Shehidulla, disappeared in 2014, the same year they both arrived in Turkey. Parach spent years calling Uighur militants in Iraq and Syria in an effort to locate and retrieve his child. In 2017, Turkish authorities arrested Parach on suspicion of terrorism for making those calls.

“I didn’t blame them for arresting me then,” he says. “It made sense.”

Parach learned that Shehidulla likely died in a suicide bombing that the boy may have set off himself. He says he’s devastated that his son died “with terrorists.”

The poet’s wife, Buhelchem Memet, had talked her husband and son into fleeing to Turkey while she stayed in Xinjiang with their five other children. She hoped her husband could secure a residency permit in Turkey and bring over the rest of the family. But she was soon imprisoned in China. Late last year, Parach heard from someone in the same prison that his wife had died there.

In China’s good graces

Just five years ago, Turkish President Recep Tayipp Erdogan declared that he would always keep Turkey’s doors open for Uighur refugees. Last February, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry called China’s Xinjiang camps “a great embarrassment for humanity.”

But when Erdogan visited Beijing last summer to boost ties with China, he told reporters that those who “exploited” the Uighur issue are undermining Beijing-Ankara relations. Since then, he has been silent on the issue.

“China, for Turkey, is quite an important economic partner,” says Cevdet Yilmaz, the vice chairman and foreign policy chief of the ruling Justice and Development Party, the AKP. “We have a big trade volume with China. We hope that we can also sell our goods to the rising middle class of China.”

In 2018, as Turkey’s lira was plummeting, in part because of U.S. sanctions, China gave Turkey a $3.6 billion loan. Chinese investors are also financing a third suspension bridge across the Bosporus in Istanbul, though concern about the new coronavirus pandemic has led to project delays.

Yilmaz, 52, who has held senior posts in Erdogan’s administration, says the government is pushing to attract more Chinese tourists and investors. Turkey also wants greater involvement in the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s vast global trade and infrastructure project.

“We are in the middle corridor of this project, and we want to work with China to develop it because it will be useful for Turkey,” says Yilmaz, during an interview with NPR his office in the AKP’s fortress-like headquarters in the Turkish capital, Ankara. “We are in between east and west. And if there is more trade between Europe and China, Turkey will benefit.”

He denies Beijing is pressuring Ankara to send back Uighurs. He says he doesn’t know the specifics about Uighur arrests in Turkey and referred questions to the Interior Ministry, which did not respond to NPR’s requests for comment.

“We don’t have any specific policy against Uighur people,” Yilmaz says. “It is about the overall security of Turkey and international cooperation on security.”

He says that Turkey supports China’s territorial integrity and frowns upon Uighur separatism.

“We believe Uighur people should solve their problems, if they have any, with Chinese authorities,” Yilmaz says. “We don’t want to see these issues to be used to harm our relations with China.”

He adds, “We expect [Uighurs] to be a bridge between Turkey and China, rather than a divisive issue.”

Yavuz Onay, the vice chairman of the Turkish-Chinese Business Council in Turkey, says he flies regularly to Beijing to attract investors to Turkey.

Onay insists that Uighurs are not oppressed in China and he approves of the controversial Xinjiang camps where Uighurs are imprisoned. “China gives them free education and takes care of them there,” he says. “They must stop complaining. It’s not good for Turkey.”

Pressure on exiles

Human rights groups say China has already pressured several countries to intimidate, detain and deport Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic groups. There are signs of this happening in Egypt, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and a number of other countries in Asia and the Middle East.

Ali Akber Mohammad, a 43-year-old Uighur cleric, says he was chased out of Egypt. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has pushed to attract billions of dollars in Chinese investment and tourism. In 2017, Egyptian police raided the homes of Uighurs living in Egypt. Mohammad managed to flee to Turkey.

“When I first arrived, Turkey felt so safe,” Mohammad says. “But in the last few months, everything has started to change. The Turkish police are arresting Uighurs, are interrogating Uighurs. This is why I left Egypt. … Now, where do we go?”

Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s regional director for East and Southeast Asia, says Beijing wants Uighurs back in China in order to silence them.

“They don’t want witnesses. They don’t want people who can to talk to the degree of political, cultural, religious repression that’s taking place in Xinjiang simply because it’s shocking and beyond the pale,” he says.

Bequelin says the Chinese do not want Uighurs to secure the kind of worldwide sympathy enjoyed by Tibetans, another oppressed ethnic group in China.

“And that is one of the reasons why they’ve played the Muslim card so much,” he says. “China tars the Uighurs as terrorists.”

For decades, the Chinese government has blamed violent attacks in China on militant Uighur separatists who are part of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. The crackdown expanded in 2009, when nearly 200 people died during Uighur protests against state-sponsored Han Chinese migration into Xinjiang. Many Uighurs fled to avoid imprisonment.

Beijing pressures countries to repatriate Uighurs so “they can be kept under tight monitoring, to reduce what [China] sees as a threat, both real and potential, to the country’s national security,” says Chien-peng Chung, a politics professor at Lingnan University in Hong Kong and an expert on ethnic nationalism in China.

“We can’t live like this”

Bequelin of Amnesty International says the ground is shifting for Uighurs in Turkey. “The government seems more and more inclined to pacify Beijing by taking stronger measures against Uighurs,” he says, “but that’s not going to be popular with Turkish people.”

Turks see Uighurs as “their brothers and sisters,” says Karaca, the professor at Istanbul Aydin University. In December, thousands of Turks marched in Istanbul, calling Uighurs “warriors who resist persecution” and chanting, “Murderer China, get out of East Turkestan.”

Abdul Kadir Osman, who was a doctor in Xinjiang but now makes a living baking walnut-encrusted flatbread in Istanbul, says he appreciates the support but knows its limits. “The Turkish government will do what’s best for itself, not for us,” says Osman, 45.

Osman is one of thousands of Uighurs to whom Turkey has denied residency papers, local leaders say. Without residency permits, Uighurs risk getting deported. Osman says he sees Uighurs in this situation getting arrested every day.

“It’s stressful to walk outside of my home, even when I’m with my entire family,” Osman says. “Running errands is a nightmare. I’m afraid to take public transportation, in case the police are there.”

Another baker, a man who gives his name as Abdulla, says he’s also stranded in Turkey with an expired Chinese passport and no residency papers. He was arrested and sent to a deportation center in 2018 for reasons he still doesn’t understand.

Now that the arrests seem to have stepped up, he says, he’s a nervous wreck. He can’t sleep. He has headaches. He worries that his family will go hungry if he’s arrested again. He has nightmares that he will be deported like Zinnetgul Tursun.

“It’s hard to live like this,” he says, “so we are trying to move to a safe place.”

Like many Uighur exiles in Turkey, he’s making plans to flee with his family to Western Europe. He’s heard people there don’t like refugees or Muslims — but he does hope they might stand up to China.

Source: ‘I Thought It Would Be Safe’: Uighurs In Turkey Now Fear China’s Long Arm

The ominous metaphors of China’s Uighur concentration camps

Uncomfortable parallels:

The recent leak of Chinese Communist Party documents to the New York Times offers a chilling glimpse into the 21st century’s largest system of concentration camps.

A million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are now detained in a Chinese operation that combines the forced labour and re-education of Mao-era laogai with the post-9/11 rhetoric of the “war on terror.” U.S. President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, border camps crowded with migrant children and America’s global archipelago of so-called black sites detaining terror suspects deserve condemnation. So too do the concentration camps of the world’s newest superpower.

Retina scans, DNA databanks and facial recognition technologyare now ubiquitous across China’s Xinjiang province. They are modern-day updates to earlier surveillance technologies like Soviet internal passports.

KGB tactics

Satellite images and clandestine video footage of watchtowers, concrete barracks and barbed-wire perimeters conform to the prison esthetic described by Holocaust survivor Primo Levi and Russian labour camp detainee Alexandr Solzhenitsyn.

Nighttime roundups resemble KGB tactics, while involuntary medical injections recall the dark history of forced sterilization, from Nazi eugenics to the targeted sterilization of Indigenous women in Canada.

Another haunting parallel is the language Chinese officials use to justify their actions. Speaking of the concentration camps of totalitarian Europe, the late social theorist Zygmunt Bauman, himself a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor, wrote that “gardening and medicine” have offered “archmetaphors” for the management of unwanted populations.

To cultivate a garden is to ensure the survival of some plants while eliminating others. Gardens require fences, walls and the extermination of weeds. As if to illustrate Bauman’s point, a Chinese official in Kashgar recently informed a crowd of Uighers:

“You can’t uproot all the weeds hidden among the crops in the field one by one. You need to spray chemicals to kill them all.”

The tenderly pruned gardens of classical China were peaceful retreats for poets and philosophers. By contrast, the association of human beings with noxious weeds and the Chinese Communist Party’s embrace of industrial agricultural metaphors have yielded dystopian results.

Language of disease

More than anything, Chinese statements about Uighur concentration are saturated with the language of disease.Likening Islam to a contagion, an official Communist Party document suggests Uighers have “been infected by unhealthy thoughts.”

“Freedom is only possible,” it adds, “when the ‘virus’…is eradicated.”

In an exercise in victim blaming for which cultural theorist Susan Sontag argues medical metaphors are especially conducive, Chinese officials have warned: “If you were careless and caught an infectious virus, like SARS” (a scenario that led to mass medical detention in China in the recent past), then “you’d have to undergo enclosed isolated treatment. Because it’s an infectious illness.”

Chinese officials are thus defending the camps as quarantine cells that will safeguard China from the Uighur epidemic while eliminating religious and cultural pathogens.

The human body has long served as a metaphor for state and society both in Western and Chinese thought. And medical analogies have proven central in the political calculus of extrajudicial detention. With a pseudo-scientific endorsement, policy-makers around the world have classified unwanted populations as parasites or social pathogens that need to be cured, physically isolated or excised completely.

First concentration camps

The first concentration camps in contemporary history, established by Britain during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), were directly inspired by plague quarantine camps in India and South Africa. The goal was to “cleanse” besieged towns of “disease, crime and poverty” by introducing wartime refugees to sanitary enclosures administered by British medical officials.

The Soviet Union likewise consigned “parasitic classes” to the gulag, while earlier generations in China referred to political prisoners as “convalescents.” Even today, xenophobic voices in America associate Latino migrants with “tremendous infectious disease.”

The biological metaphors revealed by the Chinese government’s recent document leak, however, find their most sinister analogies with Nazi Germany.

“The battle in which we are engaged” against the “Jewish virus,”Hitler proclaimed, “is of the same sort as the battle waged…by Pasteur and Koch. We shall regain our health only by eliminating the Jew.”

A germaphobe, Hitler imagined fighting “battles against a veritable world sickness, which threatens to infect the German people, a plague that devastates whole peoples.” In this imaginary landscape, Nazi apologists invariably depicted concentration camps as sanitary spaces that isolated Jewish “parasites” in the name of racial hygiene.

The genetic emphasis of Nazi racism ultimately meant “curing” Jews was an impossibility. By Hitler’s logic, outright extermination — or “euthanasia” in sanitized state-speak — was the only recourse. China, by contrast, holds out hope that Uighur camps, or “re-education hospitals”, can cure their “patients” and thus “clean the virus from their brain.”

Yet like cancer, Chinese Communist officials fear, “there is no guarantee the illness will not return.” And just because an inmate has “recovered from the ideological disease doesn’t mean they are permanently cured,” the documents reveal.

The language of disease justified some of the 20th century’s worst crimes. If left unchecked by the international community, China is poised to continue that tradition in the 21st century. And where China leads, others are likely to follow.

Source: The ominous metaphors of China’s Uighur concentration camps