RFA: Trial Date Set For Kazakh Activist Who Blew Whistle on China’s Mass Detention Camps

Authorities in Kazakhstan have set a date for the trial of rights activist Serikzhan Bilash, whose group Atajurt works to release ethnic Kazakhs from mass “re-education” camps in China’s Xinjiang.

Bilash, who has been under house arrest since his initial detention five months ago, will stand trial at a court in the Kazakh city of Nursultan at 11:30 a.m. local time on Monday, RFA has learned.

Bilash had been a vocal campaigner for the release of fellow ethnic Kazakhs from Chinese camps, where the ruling Chinese Communist Party has been holding more than one million ethnic minority Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslims in mass incarceration centers since April 2017.

He was detained amid accusations from Chinese officials that he had “fabricated” the cases he was documenting, in an arrest that was widely seen as being at Beijing’s behest.

Bilash’s lawyer Aiman Umarova received notification from the court that the trial would be held in Nursultan, she told journalists on Friday.

“I believe he is innocent, because he said that he would conduct an information jihad against discrimination against Kazakhs, Kyrgyzs, and Uyghurs in China’s “re-education” camps,” Umarova said.

“The evidence submitted by the prosecution includes witnesses … who are saying that these remarks have caused disharmony,” she said, adding that the witnesses were unknown to Bilash.


RFA: Uyghur in Xinjiang ‘Vocational Training’ Video Identified as Educated Professional

A Uyghur man portrayed in a video by official Chinese media as a successful example of “vocational training” in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is a university-schooled architect who held a lucrative job prior to his detention, according to a former classmate.

Rejepniyaz Hebibulla, a Uyghur from Qaraqash (in Chinese, Moyu) county, in the XUAR’s Hotan (Hetian) prefecture, attended high school in Jiangsu province’s capital Nanjing and Xidian University in Shaanxi province’s capital Xi’an, where he graduated with a degree in architectural engineering.

He was then hired back home as the lead computer programmer for the Alrazi Food Production Co., schoolmate Nurmemet Ahmet recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service.

Despite his educational and professional achievements, Ahmet said that Hebibulla was detained in one of the XUAR’s internment camps, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas since April 2017, but which Beijing describes as “boarding schools” that provide vocational training and protect the country from terrorism.

Reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media organizations has shown that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.

Ahmet told RFA that he learned of Hebibulla’s detention after seeing him in a television program produced by the official China News Service as part of a series that aired at the end of 2018 and in March this year, highlighting the success of the “vocational training centers” in the XUAR.

In the video, a reporter interviews a “student” at one of the internment camps in Qaraqash named Alahan Yusufu, who is studying how to “shop online.”

“The first thing Alahan did, once he learned how to shop online, was to buy his mother a jacket,” the reporter tells the audience, before Yusufu explains that he is “studying very hard” and wants to “master this course, so that when I leave here I can go help the people in my neighborhood to purchase things on the internet.”

“At the start of the video, [Hebibulla’s] photo is shown, and in a later scene, he is shown working at a computer,” Ahmet, who fled the XUAR to Turkey in December 2016 and now lives in Germany, told RFA about his friend.

“He is very knowledgeable about the operation of computers and doesn’t need training on how to shop online … His Chinese is impeccable, and his English is nearly perfect as well, so there is no situation in which he would require any training in a camp.”

While Ahmet said he was unsure of why Hebibulla had been detained, he suggested that it could have to do with how his religious beliefs informed the work that he did at Alrazi Food Production Co.

“As he was working in a grocery production company, it is possible there was a dispute regarding [foods characterized as] Halal and Haram,” he said, referring to dietary restrictions that guide what Muslims can and cannot eat.

A staff member who answered the phone at the government office in Hebibulla’s home district told RFA that he was unaware whether the computer programmer resided there, and declined to answer further questions about him.

Identified detainees

Hebibulla is one of many Uyghur professionals and intellectuals who have been identified as detainees in XUAR internment camps, and who defy claims by authorities that those held in the facilities are in need of “vocational training.”


RFA: Official Chinese White Paper Claims Uyghurs, Xinjiang Have Long Been ‘Inseparable Part of China’

A Chinese government policy paper has claimed that the Turkic-speaking Uyghur ethnic group, whose homeland is in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), has no Turkic ancestry, a move critics said was a further bid by the ruling Chinese Communist Party to erase Uyghur culture and identity.

The report, released by the State Council Information Office on Sunday, also made the claims that Islam isn’t an “indigenous” belief system of the Uyghur people, that the XUAR has long been inseparable from China, and that minority cultures have “developed in the embrace of the Chinese civilization.”

“Since the modern times, some Pan-Turkism advocates with ulterior motives have described all peoples of the Turkic language family as ‘the Turks’ using the untenable argument that the Turkic-speaking tribe integrated with the ancestors of the Turkish people after migrating westward,” the report said.

“A language family and an ethnic group are two essentially different concepts. In China, ethnic groups speaking Turkic languages include the Uyghurs, Kazaks, Kirgiz, Uzbeks, Tatars, Yugurs, and Salars, each with its own history and unique culture. These peoples cannot be referred to as ‘Turks.’”

The report suggested that conversion to Islam by Uyghurs “was not a voluntary choice made by the common people, but a result of religious wars and imposition by the ruling class,” although the government under the People’s Republic of China now protects “the Muslims’ right to their beliefs.”

In an article on Sunday, the official Global Times newspaper welcomed the report, saying it would help people to “distinguish between right and wrong,” while forcing “malicious agitators [to] zip their lip.”

Uyghur exiles, academics, and rights groups, however, dismissed what they deemed a revisionist history Beijing is using to justify a crackdown in the XUAR that has seen authorities detain up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas in a network of internment camps since April 2017.

Though Beijing initially denied the existence of internment camps, China has tried to change the discussion, describing the facilities as “boarding schools” that provide vocational training for Uyghurs, discourage radicalization, and help protect the country from terrorism.

Reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media organizations, however, has shown that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.

The mass incarcerations are part of a broader set of policies in the region that include widespread security deployments, the regular surveillance of residents, and the political indoctrination and cultural assimilation of the Uyghur community.

“The purpose of Beijing’s white paper is to deny the history and culture of the Uyghurs, to use lies to weave a so-called historical basis for its rule, and to cover up its colonial-style political, economic, and cultural policies in Xinjiang,” Dilshat Rashit, spokesman for the exile World Uyghur Congress (WUC), told RFA.

“China is becoming more and more concerned at Uyghur resistance and anger, because they fear losing control over Xinjiang,” he said.


RFA: Foreign Journalists Endure Formidable Obstacles, Risks to Report on China’s Policies in Xinjiang

Foreign journalists endure monitoring by plainclothes security, Potemkin tours of state-run facilities, a clampdown on the flow of information, and a formidable propaganda machine to report on China’s policies in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), according to one member of the media who recently traveled there.

Isobel Yeung, a correspondent for Vice News, visited the XUAR capital of Urumqi and city of Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) in January, and returned to the region to visit Hotan (Hetian) city in May, to investigate reports that authorities have detained up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas in a network of internment camps since April 2017.

Yeung and a colleague traveled to the XUAR both times as tourists running “a travel blog” as part of a bid to learn what they could about the camps and accompanying “kindergartens,” where Uyghur children are placed when their parents are detained, as well as to capture footage of the government’s substantial security apparatus and speak with residents about what life is like in the region amid increased restrictions.

The result of their investigation was compiled into a 32-minute video released in late June as an episode of the HBO series Vice News Tonight and posted on YouTube, where it has been viewed more than 1.6 million times.

“We decided to go in as tourists, undercover essentially, because it’s been really difficult for journalists to report on the area, because journalists have been followed wherever they go,” Yeung told RFA in an interview, adding that when reporters are permitted to cover the camps they are presented with a “dog and pony show” to promote the government’s claims that they are “boarding schools” that provide vocational training for Uyghurs, discourage radicalization and help protect the country from terrorism.

“We were hoping to do something a little bit different and we were really hoping to try to get a sense of the Orwellian state that is really playing out at the moment in that region, as well as to get voices from Uyghur people on the ground, and hopefully to uncover some of the realities behind what’s happening to children, among other things.”

While in Urumqi, Yeung’s team documented well-armed police patrols on nearly every block, security checkpoints every few hundred yards outfitted with face and body scanners, and closed circuit cameras in virtually every public area of the city.

The reporters then traveled by train to Kashgar, where they encountered store owners being trained in the street by police officers to use clubs against “radicalized terrorists” and spoke to Han Chinese youths outside a nightclub about increased security measures in the city.

In both situations, they were detained briefly by security personnel who confronted them about filming without permission and felt that they had to leave the region because authorities had been alerted to their presence and were making it difficult for them to speak with anyone.


RFA: Trump Meets Survivors of Religious Persecution, Jailed Uyghur Professor Ilham Tohti’s Daughter

U.S. President Donald Trump met with more than two dozen survivors of religious persecution on Wednesday, including the daughter of a jailed Uyghur professor in China, a Rohingya Muslim who fled state-sponsored violence in Myanmar, and Christians from North Korea, Myanmar and Vietnam.

The unscheduled meeting saw Trump host 27 representatives of groups from 16 nations the White House said have suffered violations of religious freedom, including four people from China, and came as the U.S. State Department is hosting its second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington from July 16-18.

“With us today are men and women of many different religious traditions, from many different countries, but what you have in common is that each of you have suffered tremendously for your faith,” he said in welcoming the survivors, noting that they had collectively endured “harassment, threats, attacks, trials, imprisonment, and torture.”

“Each of you has now become a witness to the importance of advancing religious liberty all around the world … If people are not free to practice their faith, then all of the freedoms are at risk and, frankly, freedoms don’t mean very much.”

Among those Trump met on Wednesday was Jewher Tohti, the daughter of jailed Uyghur professor Ilham Tohti, who regularly highlighted the religious and cultural persecution of Uyghurs in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), but was charged with promoting ethnic separatism and handed a life sentence by a Chinese court on Sept. 23, 2014 following a two-day trial.

Tohti told the president about the region’s network of internment camps, where authorities are believed to have detained up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas since April 2017.

She said she has no idea how much longer her father will remain in prison.

“I haven’t heard about him since 2017, because that’s when the concentration camps started,” she said.

“Anyone who goes to ask about anybody’s family members’ news will never make their way back to their own homes.”

On Thursday, Tohti said that if she had more time, she would have explained to Trump that she knows trade negotiations are ongoing with China, and that the situation in the XUAR is a very sensitive topic, “but please don’t let the [potential for] monetary gains silence your country.”

On Tuesday, at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, Tohti had slammed China for its policies in the XUAR, and questioned whether Beijing is qualified to host the 2022 Winter Olympics when Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities remain held in the region’s vast internment camp system.

Her comments preceded a warning from Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi that the U.S. risks losing its moral authority to speak out against violations of religious freedom elsewhere in the world if it does not hold China accountable for its policies targeting Uyghurs in the XUAR, as well as her call for sanctions against XUAR Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo under the Global Magnitsky Act for his role in the persecution.

‘The stain of the century’

On Thursday, high-level U.S. criticism of China’s treatment of the Uyghurs continued at the ministerial event, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling mass incarcerations in XUAR “one of the worst human rights crises of our time” and “truly the stain of the century.”

Vice President Mike Pence also slammed China’s internment camps “where [Uyghurs] endure around-the-clock brainwashing” and survivors have described their experience as “a deliberate attempt by Beijing to strangle Uyghur culture and stamp out the Muslim faith.”

Other representatives from China at the White House on Wednesday included Zhang Yuhua, a practitioner of the banned Falun Gong sect, a Tibetan Buddhist named Nyima Lhamo, who called for Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to be allowed to return to Tibet, and Ouyang Manping, the Christian wife of a jailed pastor from an underground church.

On Thursday, Pence noted that the U.S. is engaged in discussions with China over trade relations, but vowed that whatever comes of the negotiations, “the American people will always stand in solidarity with the people of all faiths in the People’s Republic of China.”

Speaking to a regular press briefing on Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang dismissed the characterization of the four Chinese citizens Trump met with as “survivors of religious persecution.”

“There is no such thing as religious persecution in China—Chinese citizens enjoy freedom of religious belief in accordance with the law,” he said.

He also labeled the decision to host Falun Gong “cultists” at the White House and at the State Department’s ministerial as “interference in China’s internal affairs,” and urged the U.S. to stop using religious issues as a pretext to do so.


July 2019 Open Letter to the International Olympic Organizing Committee

To add your signature to this open letter, please visit this link and add a comment at the bottom of the post.

Dear International Olympic Committee members,

The whole world is aware of the human rights abuses committed by the government of the Peoples Republic of China. Well documented abuses include the suppression of religious activities (including bull-dozing churches, mosques, and temples,) millions detained in ‘re-education’ camps and a mass surveillance system the East German Stasi only wished they had.

The policies of the government of the Peoples Republic of China are the antithesis of Olympism philosophy.

  • Continued attempts to eradicate Tibetan, Mongolian, Turkic Muslim (including Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and Uzbeks,) and others’ cultures and languages removes tens of millions from being able to share or educate others about their culture or history.
  • There is no joy of the effort expended in sport when minority athletes are jailed when they return from training overseas as covered in the media concerning two (2) young Uyghur soccer players (1) (2). The chilling prospect of imprisonment for training overseas does not resemble Olympism; striving for excellence in performing extra training should be applauded, not punished.
  • As far as the ‘respect for universal fundamental ethical principles,’ the government of the Peoples Republic of China violates many of the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a matter of public policy, not some secret plan. The ‘re-training’ camps holding millions of Turkic Muslims is a clear example. One has to wonder why so many Uyghur intellectuals need to be ‘re-trained’? Why are retired medical doctors being ‘re-trained’? There should be no illusion these draconian measures are anything but cultural genocide against peoples with over a thousand years of their own history.

When Beijing was awarded the 2008 Olympiad, the world was told how it would help bring China into the ‘fold of nations’ and their behaviors would change. The government of the Peoples Republic of China wasn’t listening and was emboldened to enact even further draconian measures against law abiding citizens for a difference of opinion or their ethnicity.

We, the undersigned, believe the location of the 2022 Winter Olympiad should be changed due to the egregious behavior of the host nation towards its own citizens and the appalling human rights abuses, including the internment of millions of their own citizens based on ethnicity alone. In 1936, Hitler had not started to murder his victims, but in 2022, you could have done something to affect the host country’s behavior.

RFA: Uyghur Man Dies in Xinjiang Internment Camp After Sacking Over Muslim Prayers

A young Uyghur man from Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture, in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), has died in an internment camp after being fired from his job because of his Muslim faith, according to sources.

An anonymous source recently sent a letter to RFA’s Uyghur Service claiming that Alimjan Emet, 22, was beaten to death while being interrogated at a camp in Kashgar’s Yengisheher (Shule) county because he had denied praying in secret—an allegation that had earlier led to his removal as an employee at a loan office in his home township of Ermudan.

According to the source, Emet was the son of academics but, after completing high school, failed to gain acceptance to a university and grew depressed. He was able to lift his depression after embracing his Islamic faith, by reading religious texts and listening to spiritual teachings.

“I don’t know the reason he was detained, only that he died within 40 days of being sent to the camp,” the letter said, adding that Emet had been arrested while working as a security guard at the Yengisheher County Party School, where he had been employed since being fired from the Ermudan loan office.

A staff member who answered the phone at the loan office told RFA that Emet had never worked there, and that no employee was ever taken to an internment camp, where authorities are believed to have detained up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas since April 2017.

But a second staff member, who said he started a job at the loan office last year, told RFA that he had “heard that a young man called Alimjan worked here in the past,” without providing further details.

However, when contacted by RFA, the female director of Women’s Affairs with the Yengisheher county government said that she knew of “a young man who died in an internment camp … [named] Alimjan Emet,” and confirmed that he was “22 or 23” years old.

“His [residency permit] was Ermudan township, and he lived behing Zhangquan Park,” said the director, who also declined to provide her name.

“He worked as a guard at the gate of the Yengisar County Party School.”

While she was able to confirm that Emet had been sent to an internment camp in Yengisar, she did not know which one.

“People said that he died within 40 days [of being sent to the camp],” she said, adding that his body had been returned to his family before being buried—under police supervision—in a graveyard behind Zhangquan Park.

“I heard that the police took preventive measures in guarding the area and assisting with the burial service,” she added.

The director said that Emet “didn’t appear to” suffer from any medical problems before he was detained at the internment camp, suggesting he had been in fine health.

A staff member of the Yengisheher County Party School told RFA that “we all know [Emet,” but said he “cannot provide information about him … to people that I don’t know.”


CFU: No To Beijing 2022

The Campaign for Uyghurs has begun a petition through We the People, and would like to ask for your support. If this petition gets 100,000 signatures within 30 days of its creation, the White House will review its contents and respond. More background information can be found below and on our website.

You can view and sign the petition here:

The U.S. must lead removing hosting rights of the Winter Olympics 2022 from Communist China


Thanks for raising your voice!


Review of the film Sweet Requiem by Jamyang Norbu

I was going to write the knockout review for Tenzing and Ritu’s new film The Sweet Requiem, but the poet Tsering Kyi from VOA beat me to it. She had seen the movie in early May at a special showing in Washington for the US Congress Human Rights Commission. Tsering-la had another advantage over me in that she herself had made a similar perilous escape from Tibet, as Dolkar in the film had. Hence the film had a harrowing immediacy for our poet/reviewer that she vividly manages to get across in her Tibetan language review Unbearable Memories.

I can make no such such claims, but the movie broke my heart anyway. It brought back memories of the interviews I conducted in the late 90s and early 2000 with escapees, writing reports and articles about their perilous journey across Nangpala and of their being shot “like dogs” just when they were crossing the high pass into Nepal.


RFA: China’s Policy of Mass Detentions in Xinjiang ‘Has Nothing to do With Terrorism’: US Anti-Terror Czar

The mass incarceration of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) “has nothing to do with terrorism,” and is part of a war Beijing is waging on religion, according to Washington’s counter-terrorism czar.

In an interview with RFA’s Uyghur Service, Ambassador Nathan Sales, the U.S. State Department’s Coordinator for Counter-terrorism, dismissed China’s claims that its vast network of internment camps in the region—where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.5 million people since April 2017—is part of a vocational training program that is saving those influenced by religious extremism.

“In addition to the people who are in custody and these forced labor camps there are millions more who are subjected to political re-indoctrination in daytime facilities,” he said.

“The scope of this campaign is so vast and so untargeted that it simply has nothing to do with terrorism. Instead, what’s going on is the Chinese Communist Party is waging war on religion. It is trying to stamp out the ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious identities of the people that it’s been targeting.”

Sales also rejected statements from Beijing recently reiterated at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva by XUAR vice governor Erkin Tuniyaz that internment camps in the region had allowed detainees to “gain access to modern knowledge and enhance their employability.”

“You don’t need to send people who have jobs to vocational training centers,” he said.

“Again, the scope of the detentions and the scope of the measures that have been applied to people outside the camps is simply so vast and overwhelming that it belies any claim that this is counter-terrorism or a targeted job training program. It’s repression, plain and simple.”

Regardless, he added, counter-terrorism cannot be used as a pretext for advancing what he called “a domestic agenda of political or religious or ethnic repression,” and said the U.S. is “deeply concerned” by the Chinese government’s “misuse” of the issue to achieve its goals in the XUAR.

Sales stressed that the mass detentions and restrictions on religion in the region are only part of a larger attack by Beijing on an entire culture.

Specifically, he highlighted reports of children of detainees being placed in state-run orphanages, where they are taught only Chinese, regularly have their names changed, and are “effectively being separated from the cultural and linguistic heritage … from which they come,” as an example of how authorities hope to force Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the XUAR to assimilate into Han Chinese culture.