RFA: Turkey Calls on China to Close Xinjiang Political ‘Re-education Camps’

Turkey has called on China to close its network of political “re-education camps” in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), in a rare condemnation from the Muslim world of the East Asian nation’s persecution of ethnic Turkic Uyghurs and other Muslims that has increasingly drawn international attention.

In a statement issued Saturday, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said rights violations in the XUAR have worsened, particularly since April 2017, when authorities began to detain Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas in re-education camps throughout the region.

Aksoy said that the international community is increasingly aware of the scale of the camp system, where an estimated 1.1 million people have been held and subjected to what he called “torture and political brainwashing,” while those spared from the camps “are under heavy pressure.”

“The reintroduction of internment camps … and the policy of systematic assimilation against the Uighur Turks carried out by the authorities of China is a great shame for humanity,” the spokesman said, adding that Turkey had expressed its concerns on “the tragedy in the Xinjiang region” to Chinese authorities at all levels.

“On this occasion, we invite the Chinese authorities to respect the fundamental human rights of Uighur Turks and to close the internment camps,” he said.

Aksoy also called on the international community and the Secretary General of the United Nations to “take effective measures in order to bring to an end this human tragedy in Xinjiang.”


Well-known Uyghur Musician Abdurehim Heyt Dies in Chinese Prison

Salam friends,

We just learned today that another well-known Uyghur singer was killed in a concentration camp. He is only 45+ years old. You can listen one of his songs from the following link:

Aydin Anwar

Our sister Aydin Anwar wrote the following:
So sad to share that one of the most prominent Uyghur artists, Abdurehim Heyt, has died on Feb 7 2019, in Chinese prison due to excessive torture.
He was imprisoned in early 2017 for his music and representing Uyghur national pride. May Allah have mercy on him and the thousands of other people of East Turkestan currently being sentenced to death by the Chinese government.

RFA: Ethnic Kazakh Faces Immediate Repatriation to China After Fleeing Country

Authorities in Uzbekistan are holding an ethnic Kazakh man with Chinese nationality after he was denied permission to enter Kazakhstan, and his repatriation to China appears imminent, RFA has learned.

Businessman Halimbek Shahman initially fled China, which has incarcerated at least one million ethnic minority Muslim Uyghurs and Kazakhs in “re-education” camps, on Jan. 4, arriving in Thailand, where he took a flight to Almaty in Kazakhstan, sources in Kazakhstan said.

Shahman then boarded a flight to Uzbekistan’s Tashkent airport after being denied entry by the Kazakh authorities, a Kazakhstan-based rights group said.

He is currently stuck in a restricted area of the airport, according to a statement from the human rights group Atajurt.

An employee who spoke to RFA from the group said Chinese foreign ministry officials had demanded Shahman be handed over to them.

Repeated attempts to contact Shahman met with an unreliable connection that seemed to be affected by interference.

“I was born in Emin county in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region [XUAR], to a farming family,” he said in a brief video message sent in lieu of a phone call. “I wanted to go to Kazakhstan, because China’s human rights record was making life intolerable.”

“I would have my ID checked every 50 to 100 meters [164 to 328 feet] when I was in Xinjiang,” he said. “This made me extremely anxious, and I couldn’t stand it anymore.”

A friend of Shahman’s told RFA that he remains in danger of repatriation to China, where he is faced with the threat of a “re-education” camp.

“This guy is in Tashkent airport right now, and the Chinese embassy is getting ready to take him away,” the friend said. “The Tashkent police are planning to detain him.”


RFA: China Secretly Transferring Uyghur Detainees From Xinjiang to Shaanxi, Gansu Province Prisons

Ethnic Uyghurs held in political “re-education camps” in northwest China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region (XUAR) are being sent to prisons in Shaanxi and Gansu provinces, officials have confirmed, pointing to an expansion of a secretive system transferring detainees out of the region.

In October last year, RFA’s Uyghur Service reported that authorities in the XUAR had begun covertly sending detainees to prisons in Heilongjiang province and other parts of China to address an “overflow” in overcrowded camps, where up to 1.1 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas have been held since April 2017.

The report, which was confirmed by officials in both the XUAR and Heilongjiang, came in the same month that XUAR chairman Shohrat Zakir confirmed to China’s official Xinhua news agency the existence of the camps, calling them an effective tool to protect the country from terrorism and provide vocational training for Uyghurs.

As global condemnation over the camp network has grown, including calls for international observers to be allowed into the XUAR to investigate the situation there, reports suggest that authorities may be transferring detainees to other parts of China as part of a bid to obfuscate the scale of detentions of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the region.

On Thursday, RFA spoke to officials in both Shaanxi province and neighboring Gansu province, who confirmed that Uyghur and other Muslim detainees from the XUAR had been sent to prisons there, although they were unable to provide specific numbers or dates for when they had been transferred.

An officer who answered the phone at the Shaanxi provincial Public Security Bureau (PSB) told RFA, “I do not have any information on how many Uyghurs are being transferred here,” before referring further questions to the XUAR PSB and Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, or bingtuan, prison facilities for “more accurate numbers.”

An official at the Cuijiagou prison, in Shaanxi’s Tongchuan city, told RFA to obtain permission from relevant provincial bureaus and send a reporter to the facility with proper documentation before he would answer any questions.

But when asked whether there are Uyghur detainees at Cuijiagou prison, an official with the Shaanxi Provincial Prison Administration confirmed, “that is correct.”

RFA also contacted an official at the Gansu Provincial Prison Administration, who confirmed that detainees from the XUAR are being held in a prison in Baiyin city.

“The number of those transferred from [the XUAR] is huge,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“They are not only being held at Baiyin prison, they are in most of the jails throughout Gansu,” he added.

While the official was unable to provide information about when transfers from the XUAR to Gansu began, he did say that the detainees were being held under “special circumstances.”

“They are not here because they committed certain crimes, but for a special reason, and they are under particularly heavy security,” the official said.

“For example, they are not permitted to meet with their relatives or acquaintances,” he said, before referring further questions to his superiors.

Bitter Winter report

The confirmation from officials in Shaanxi and Gansu followed a report over the weekend by Bitter Winter, a website launched by the Italian research center CESNUR that focuses on religious in China, which cited “informed sources” as confirming for the first time that detainees from the XUAR are being sent to prison facilities in the two provinces.

RFA: Chinese Officials Force Muslims to Drink, Eat Pork At Festival

Chinese authorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang are delivering pork to Muslim households during the Lunar New Year holiday, and forcing some Muslims to drink alcohol, eat pork, and display emblems of traditional Chinese culture, RFA has learned.

Residents of the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) told RFA that officials had invited them to celebratory dinners marking the Lunar New Year at which pork was served, then threatening to send them to a “re-education” camp if they refused to take part.

Photos sent to RFA also showed an official from Ili’s Yining city visiting Muslim households and distributing raw pork, in the name of helping the less well-off on Monday, on the eve of the Year of the Pig.

An ethnic Kazakh resident of Altay’s Qinggil (in Chinese, Qinghe) county told RFA that the attempts to make Muslims eat pork had begun late last year.

“Kazakh people in Xinjiang have never [eaten pork],” the resident said. “Starting last year, some people have been forced to eat pork so they can celebrate a festival belonging to the Han Chinese.”

A Kazakh woman who gave only a single name, Kesay, said Muslims don’t usually celebrate Spring Festival, another term for the Lunar New Year using the traditional Chinese calendar and horoscope.

“Kazakhs don’t celebrate Spring Festival,” she said. “Our main festivals are Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Spring Festival is for Han Chinese and people who believe in Buddhism.”


RFA: China Slammed in Global Freedom, Democracy Report

China’s incarceration of more than one million Turkic Muslims in camps, and indefinite rule by its increasingly authoritarian president are among a number of global threats to democracy, according to a new report from the independent watchdog Freedom House.

China is increasingly seeking to export its model of government to other countries, filling a gap once occupied by the United States in global affairs, the “Freedom in the World 2019” report warned.

“Democracies face threats at home and abroad,” the report found. “A crisis of confidence in open societies is sapping faith in democracy as a system.”

“Domestic attacks on key institutions — the judiciary, the media, and electoral mechanisms — are undermining the foundations of democracy,” it said.

“At the same time, a global assault on the norms of democracy, led by an increasingly assertive China, challenges their spread around the world,” the report said, awarding China just 11 points out of a possible 100 in its freedom score.

Mass detentions in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have drawn significant attention from the international community, and particularly from the U.S., where lawmakers have called for access to the camps and proposed sanctions against officials and entities in China deemed responsible for abusing the rights of ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.


RFA: Uyghurs Demand an End to Mass Incarcerations Ahead of 22nd Anniversary of Ghulja Massacre

Thousands of Uyghurs turned out in protests in cities around the world at the weekend to demand an end to what they called Beijing’s repression of the mostly Muslim ethnic minority group in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the Uyghurs’ historic homeland.

The protests, which were held in countries as far apart as Germany, France, Austria, Belgium, the U.K, Australia, Turkey, and Japan, will be followed on Feb. 5 by a demonstration outside the Chinese embassy in Washington D.C. calling for the release of over a million Uyghurs now held in political re-education camps in China.

February 5 marks the 22nd anniversary of a 1997 massacre by Chinese state security forces of hundreds of Uyghur protesters in the Xinjiang city of Ghulja, which was observed with a commemorative gathering this weekend in the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan.

In a statement released Monday, Uyghur Human Rights Project Director Omer Kanat said that following the 1997 killings in Ghulja, China’s moves to eradicate Uyghur identity and culture in the Xinjiang region have spread “in an alarming fashion.”

“The internment of over one million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims means all families today live in a constant state of fear. They do not know the whereabouts or condition of their loved ones, or even if they themselves will be spared from the camps.”

“The psychological trauma will be with us for generations,” Kanat said.

Speaking on Monday to RFA’s Uyghur Service, Ilshat Hassan, president of the Uyghur American Association, said that conditions for Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region are growing steadily worse.

“If the Chinese government was shooting peaceful Uyghur protestors in the streets 22 year ago, today China is simply putting innocent Uyghurs into concentration camps for brainwashing, torture, and even death,” Hassan said.

“Today’s China under Xi Jinping is openly challenging the international norms and principles of human rights in the world by extrajudicially detaining up to two million Uyghurs in the concentration camps not seen since the WWII.”


RFA: Uyghur Businessman Dies While Detained in Xinjiang Political ‘Re-education Camp’

A middle-aged Uyghur businessman has died under mysterious circumstances while in detention at a political “re-education camp” in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), according to local officials.

A post recently shared within the Uyghur exile community on social media indicated that Weli Memet, a healthy 55-year-old, died in late December last year while held at a “re-education camp or prison” in his home city of Atush (in Chinese, Atushi), in the XUAR’s Kizilsu Kirghiz (Kezileisu Keerkezi) Autonomous Prefecture.

Since April 2017, authorities have detained up to 1.1 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas in a vast network of re-education camps throughout the XUAR.

According to the post, which was made by an anonymous source claiming to be a fellow businessman from Atush, Memet was “martyred” in detention, and his family was informed about his death on Dec. 27 or 28, while “100 to 200 armed police officers encircled the neighbourhood to contain any emotional disturbance.”

It said that Memet’s body was never turned over to his family, possibly because he “suffered severe torture and was cremated afterwards” or “his internal organs were harvested for transplants,” and his relatives were prevented from holding a prayer service in the absence of performing funerary rights for his remains.

The author of the post did not say what Memet had been accused of that led to his detention, nor did he provide any evidence for the claims about why authorities refused to hand Memet’s body over to his family.

RFA’s Uyghur Service called two different police stations in Atush, but officers who answered the phones there said they were unaware of Memet’s case.

When asked what jurisdiction the case of Memet “who died in a re-education camp last month” fell under, an officer at the Atush city police department told RFA that it had been handled by “the Azaq district police station,” but an officer at the Azaq station hung up the phone when asked for comment.

The head of Memet’s home district of Azghan in Atush acknowledged that Memet had grown up in the area and was the son of a former head of the district.

RFA also contacted two ruling Communist Party cadres from Azghan, one of whom said he believed Memet was taken to a re-education camp because he “sent his children for religious studies” with a local cleric around a decade earlier.

The other cadre told RFA Memet was sent to a camp around Nov. 16, and that he had seen him there.

The second cadre said Weli Memet was “once strong and healthy,” but had become “thin and pale” before he died, due to poor food and conditions at the camp.

“Five or six people have already died” at local camps, he added, without providing further details.

Uyghur sources in exile who were familiar with Memet told RFA that he was “a well-respected man who had a strong sense of responsibility for the community” and would always go out of his way to resolve an unjust situation, suggesting that his outspoken nature may have made him a target of authorities at the camp.


RFA: US Lawmakers Reintroduce Legislation to Sanction China Over Abuse of Uyghurs in XUAR

U.S. lawmakers have reintroduced legislation that would hold China accountable for rights abuses against ethnic Uyghurs in its Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where more than 1 million people are believed to have been held in “political re-education camps” over the past two years.

The bipartisan “Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act,” put forward Thursday by U.S. Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Bob Menendez of New Jersey, would dedicate new resources from the U.S. State Department, FBI, and other intelligence agencies to documenting abuse of Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslims in the XUAR, as well as Beijing’s intimidation of U.S. citizens and residents on American soil.

“The United States must hold Chinese government and Communist Party officials responsible for gross human rights violations and possible crimes against humanity, including the internment in ‘political reeducation’ camps of a million or more Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim minorities,” said Rubio, who co-chairs the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC).

“The State Department has indicated that it is leading an interagency effort within the Administration to develop policy options in response to this brutal campaign of repression. The time for action is now.”

Since April 2017, authorities have detained up to 1.1 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas in a vast network of re-education camps throughout the XUAR.

These extrajudicial detentions have accompanied intrusive security measures that include ramped up surveillance techniques and the collection of DNA, as well as policies aimed at diluting ethnic identity, such as controls over the right to worship, use of language, and even personal appearance.

While Beijing initially denied the existence of re-education camps, the chairman of the XUAR government, Shohrat Zakir, told China’s official Xinhua news agency in October that the facilities are an effective tool to protect the country from terrorism and provide vocational training for Uyghurs.

But reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media organizations has shown that those held in the camps are detained against their will, are subjected to political indoctrination and rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities. The atmosphere is more like a prison than any kind of school, multiple sources say.

Rubio and immediate past CECC co-chair U.S. Representative Chris Smith recently called the situation in the XUAR “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.”

Act proposals

The “Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act” would require the Director of National Intelligence to issue a report in coordination with the State Department on the security threat posed by China’s crackdown on the Uyghurs, as well as a list of Chinese companies involved in the construction and the operation of re-education camps in the XUAR.

It also calls for the establishment of a new position at the State Department that would oversee developments in the region while the crackdown persists.


RFA: Interview: ‘I Recognized Her Straight Away’

Kalbinur Tursun is an ethnic Uyghur mother who fled oppressive policies in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) for Turkey in April 2016 while seven months pregnant and with one of her six other children in tow. She planned to return to the XUAR after giving birth to bring her remaining children to Turkey with her, but was unable to do so after her husband was arrested back home for “attempting to travel abroad” and “suspected terrorism.”

Since then, dozens of members of her extended family have been detained and she is unsure of what became of her children. Her family members are believed to be among the estimated 1.1 million Uyghurs held in “political re-education camps” throughout the XUAR since April 2017 after being accused by authorities of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas. The children of detained parents are regularly brought for care to schools, nurseries or orphanages, where sources say the facilities are seriously overcrowded and in terrible condition.

In December last year, a video portraying Uyghur children in Hotan (Hetian) prefecture surfaced on social media and, upon viewing it, Tursun immediately recognized her daughter Ayshe among those filmed. She recently spoke to RFA’s Uyghur Service about the difficulties she has endured living in exile without knowing what has become of her family.

RFA: What makes you so certain that you recognized your daughter?

Tursun: From the way she moved her head side to side, I recognized her straight away. Also the way she looked and acted made my heart jump upon seeing her.

RFA: Of course, a mother’s heart can recognize these things. When did you travel to Turkey?

Tursun: We arrived in Turkey on April 12, 2016.

RFA: Did you leave all your children behind when you left?

Tursun: Only one of my children had a passport, but the remaining five did not, and I was seven months pregnant when I left. I wanted to return after giving birth to bring them to Turkey, but I was unable to return. I think it was Dec. 24 last year when someone posted the video to the Uyghur Brothers and Sister’s Group on WhatsApp. I am a member of that group and when I played the video, I saw my daughter among the group of children.

I watched it over and over again to check that it was really her and I knew it was, from the way she looked and acted … I am 100 percent certain that it was my daughter. I called the man who shared the video … [and] he told me the video was taken in Hotan.