RFA: New Pressure Builds For Action on Uyghurs as UN Rights Chief Calls For Access to Xinjiang

China is facing mounting pressure from the international community to account for its policies in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where an estimated one million ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities have been held in a sprawling system of political “re-education camps.”

On Wednesday, United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said she had called on China to allow international monitors access to the region to verify reports of arbitrary detentions in the camps, where authorities have held Uyghurs and other Muslims accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas since April 2017.

“My office seeks to engage on this issue with the government for full access to carry out an independent assessment of the continuing reports pointing to wide patterns of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions, particularly in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region,” Bachelet said, marking her second request for access to the region in six months at the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC).

Bachelet’s statement came a day after U.N. religious freedom investigator Ahmed Shaheed told the media that he had also requested access to the XUAR in February to investigate concerns over China’s “de-extremification” law.

Though Beijing initially denied the existence of re-education camps, Shohrat Zakir, chairman of the XUAR, told China’s official Xinhua news agency in October 2018 that the facilities are an effective tool to protect the country from terrorism and provide vocational training for Uyghurs.

China recently organized two visits to monitor re-education camps in the XUAR—one for a small group of foreign journalists, and another for diplomats from non-Western countries, including Russia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan and Thailand—during which officials dismissed claims about mistreatment and poor conditions in the facilities as “slanderous lies.”

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.

On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said that China has invited “many groups from overseas” to visit the XUAR, and welcomes all parties to the region, “if they act in compliance with the Chinese law,” according to a report by the state-owned China Global Television Network group.

“China does not welcome organizations which visit Xinjiang with political purposes and attempt to harm China’s interests,” the report said, citing Lu.

Lu also urged the HRC and other relevant departments to “adhere to the purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter, and respect the human rights of member states when performing their duties,” it said.


RFA: Interview: ‘I Have Never Cried so Much in my Life’

Abdurahman is an ethnic Uyghur father of three who fled oppressive policies in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) for Turkey in October 2013, followed by his wife, Helime, four months later. After Helime gave birth to the couple’s third child, she returned with all three to her home in the XUAR’s Aksu (in Chinese, Akesu) prefecture in August 2016, seeking help with childcare from her parents. After losing touch with his family members, he learned that authorities had sentenced Helime to prison.

Since then, dozens of members of his extended family have been detained and he is unsure of what became of his children. His 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.

Recently, a video portraying a Uyghur child being quizzed on propaganda points about the Chinese “fatherland” in Mandarin Chinese surfaced on social media and, upon viewing it, Abdurahman immediately recognized the boy as his four-year-old son Abduleziz. He recently spoke to RFA’s Uyghur Service about the difficulties he has endured living in exile without knowing what has become of his family.


Xinjiang Authorities Grant 24-Hour Releases to Uyghur Detainees For ‘Good Behavior’

Authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are temporarily releasing Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities from political “re-education camps” who have demonstrated “good behavior” in detention, according to sources.

Zulfukar Ali, a Uyghur activist living in exile in Turkey, recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service that he had suddenly been contacted via video chat by a relative in the XUAR’s Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture who was detained in one of the camps, after being cut off from communication with his family members for more than two years.

“She told me that she was released to her home for three days,” Ali said of his relative, who is among more than 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas that are believed to have been held in the XUAR’s network of camps since April 2017.

“She said there were 20 people from each cell released and that they were taken from the camp in handcuffs with a black hood over their heads, which were only removed outside of their homes as they prepared to go inside.”

Ali said his relative—who displayed what he described as “scars” from beatings in detention—suggested she may have been allowed to return home because authorities “received notice of a foreign group visit,” noting that she had previously worked for the government and “understands under what circumstances people would be released.”

The following day, he was unable to speak with her and said he believes she was returned to the camp within 24 hours of her release.

An official who answered the phone at the Kashgar prefectural government office confirmed that authorities had temporarily released at least three detainees from camps in his region since Feb. 12.

“There were some who were only released for a day to see their families, but there isn’t anyone who was permanently freed,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“They were escorted to their homes and left with their families for 24 hours, before being taken back. They call this a ‘24-hour home visit.’ That is all we know, we don’t know anything else.”


RFA: China Spiriting Uyghur Detainees Away From Xinjiang to Prisons in Inner Mongolia, Sichuan

Ethnic Uyghurs held in political “re-education camps” in northwest China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region (XUAR) are being sent to prisons in Inner Mongolia and Sichuan province, officials have confirmed, adding to the growing list of locations detainees are being secretly transferred to.

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.

And earlier this month, 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.

The first report, which was based on statements 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.

RFA recently spoke to an official at the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Women’s Prison who said that detainees from the XUAR had been transferred to detention facilities in the region, but was unable to provide details without obtaining authorization from higher-level officials.

“There are two prisons that hold prisoners from Xinjiang—they are Wutaqi [in Hinggan (in Chinese, Xing’an) League’s Jalaid Banner] Prison and Salaqi [in Bogot (Baotou) city’s Tumd Right Banner] Prison,” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

When asked how many Uyghur detainees are held in the prisons, the official said she could not disclose the number “because it is strictly confidential.”


RFA: China’s Rights Activists Face Torture, Detention, ‘Disappearance’: Report

China’s human rights activists continue to speak out on behalf of victims of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s abuses of power, despite the threat of arbitrary detention, torture, and forced ‘disappearance,’ an overseas rights group said on Thursday.

“2018 was another year of harsh reprisals against human rights defenders by Chinese authorities for their peaceful exercise of and advocacy for human rights,” the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network, which compiles reports from groups inside China, said in its annual report.

“Types of retaliation included the use of torture, enforced disappearance, and arbitrary detention,” the report said, adding that the government had also threatened activists who tried to cooperate with United Nations human rights experts.

Anyone who tried to speak out for marginalized and persecuted communities, report violations, or complain about the perpetrators of rights violations “bore the brunt of government retaliation” last year, the report said.

The group called on China to release all ethnic Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims subjected to mass arbitrary detention in the northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

“End arbitrary detention of ethnic Uyghurs and Turkic Muslims in the [XUAR], and shut down internment camps and other indoctrination programs established under ‘counter-terrorism’ and ‘counter-extremism’ policies,” the report said in its recommendations section.

It also called for the release of all detained and imprisoned rights activists and human rights lawyers, and for those who mistreated or tortured them to be held criminally responsible.

“CHRD urges the Chinese government … to provide detainees and prisoners prompt access to proper medical treatment … and end the practice of enforced disappearance,” it said.

The report also said that wholesale violations of basic human rights had reached unprecedented levels under the administration of President Xi Jinping.


RFA: U.K. Would be ‘Irresponsible’ to Allow Huawei to Bid For 5G: Think Tank

A former British diplomat called on Wednesday for Chinese telecoms giant Huawei to be excluded from bidding for the next generation of 5G mobile technology contracts, saying allowing such a move would be “irresponsible.”

In a report for defense and security think-tank the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), Charles Parton warned against Beijing’s “rigorous, ruthless advancement of China’s interests.”

“Allowing Huawei’s participation is at best naive, at worst irresponsible,” Parton wrote in the report, citing China’s history of cyber attacks as an integral part of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s interference in other countries.

“The history of China’s cyber attacks shows that an integral part of CCP interference abroad is getting access to a wide variety of information, whether related to industry, commerce, technology, defense, personal details or politics,” Parton wrote.


RFA: Independent Students Slam China-Backed Intimidation on Overseas Campuses

An independent group of overseas Chinese students has hit out at Communist Party-backed student groups on overseas campuses, following reports that they threatened and harassed Uyghur and Tibetan activists campaigning against Beijing’s human rights violations.

The Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars in USA (IFCSS) said it was “deeply concerned” about reports that have emerged from universities in the United States, Canada, France, Ireland, and the Netherlands of the coordinated targeting of activists campaigning against China’s treatment of ethnic minorities.

It said that “apparently organized pro-CCP (Chinese Communist Party) students harassed, abused and threatened Uyghur and Tibetan students, concerned scholars and activists,” in incidents at McMaster University and the University of Toronto in Canada, and Duke University in the U.S.

Similar reports have also emerged from students at the University of Strasbourg in France and University College Dublin and from activists in the Netherlands, it said.

“We strongly denounce these Chinese students’ efforts to stymie free speech and suppress the truth about the ongoing genocidal crimes committed by China’s murderous regime,” it said.

The group called on authorities in the countries concerned “to protect Uyghur and Tibetan students and scholars from intimidation on campus and guard their citizens of Uyghur and Tibetan backgrounds against foreign threats at home.”

It called on police to investigate possible crimes that may have been committed, and to investigate the role of the Chinese government in the incidents.

Threat to son

Uyghur activist Rukiye Turdush, whose lecture on the mass incarceration of Uyghurs and other ethnic minority Muslims in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) was disrupted by Chinese students, said in a video statement that German broadcaster Deutsche Welle had reported that the students had discussed locating her son.


RFA: Pelosi Signals Strong US Congress Concern Over Uyghur Political ‘Re-education Camps’

U.S. House Majority Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants Washington to “call out” Beijing for its mass incarceration of ethnic Uyghurs in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), signaling strong concern in Congress, where legislation has been introduced to hold those responsible to account.

Speaking at an event in Washington on Tuesday commemorating 60 years of exile by Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, Pelosi said she had talked with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the conclusion of the U.S. National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 7 and urged him to bring up the issue of China’s political “re-education camps” in the XUAR with his counterparts in Beijing.

“When I went to the Prayer Breakfast the other day, [U.S. President Donald Trump] talked about religious freedom, and we all applauded … But afterwards, I went up to Secretary Pompeo and I said, ‘how come we’re not talking about the Uyghurs?’ and he said, ‘we should—let’s drum it up,’” Pelosi said.

She said that the camps, where more than 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas are believed to have been held since April 2017, are relevant to the situation in Tibet because Tibetans have endured “decades of repression of religion,” and Chinese authorities are now using the same tactics of cultural eradication in the XUAR.

“What has been happening in Tibet now is happening in the Uyghur region of China, and it has to be called out,” Pelosi warned.

“A million Uyghurs in [what is] effectively prison labor camps for the same purpose … assimilation. They want to purge the great individuality of the … culture there.”

According to Pelosi, Washington is obligated to bring up the Uyghur issue, and other examples of religious repression, with Beijing, and “shouldn’t hesitate because of any commercial interest with China.”

“If we don’t, we lose all moral authority to speak about human rights any place in the world,” she added.

Post editorial

Pelosi’s comments came on the same day that the Washington Post published an opinion piece by its editorial board calling on the international community to “demand justice” for the Uyghurs and other Muslims detained in camps in the XUAR.


RFA: Uyghurs in Exile Launch Campaign Calling on China to Release Video of Missing Family Members

More than a dozen ethnic Uyghurs living in exile have called on China to release video of family members held in political “re-education camps” in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) after Chinese state media published what it said was a proof of life video of a Uyghur musician who was thought to have died in prison.

Over the weekend, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry issued a rare statement of criticism against China by a majority Muslim nation, demanding that authorities close the camp network, where more than 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas are believed to have been held in the XUAR since April 2017.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said the statement had been prompted, in part, by reports of the death in prison of prominent Uyghur musician Abdurehim Heyit, who had served two years of an eight-year jail sentence “for one of his songs.”

On Sunday, Chinese state media published a video online that purportedly shows Heyit alive, and in which the musician claims he is “in the process of being investigated for allegedly violating the national laws.”

The subject of the video goes on to say that he is “in good health and have never been abused,” although experts have said his body language and choice of words suggest he is being held under duress.

By Tuesday, the Uyghur exile community had launched a social media campaign under the hashtag #MeTooUyghur, calling on Chinese authorities to release video of their relatives who are missing within the XUAR and believed detained in the vast camp network.

“China, please immediately release a video of my sister Dr. Gulshan Abbas, who you abducted five months ago,” U.S.-based Uyghur activist Rushan Abbas said in a video she posted to Facebook and Twitter on Tuesday.

“I need to know if she is alive or not. Please release a video just like you did with Abdurehim Heyit.”

Adile Mijit, the Turkey-based daughter of prominent Uyghur comedian Adil Mijit, also posted a message on Twitter under the same hashtag, demanding information about her father, who is believed held in a re-education camp in the XUAR.

“Show me that my father is alive and well! Release my father immediately!” she wrote.


RFA: Ethnic Kazakh Man Who Fled China Sent Back to Thailand

Authorities in Uzbekistan have sent an ethnic Kazakh man with Chinese nationality back to Thailand in spite of Beijing’s attempts to have him repatriated, RFA has learned.

Businessman Qalymbek Shahman, 41, initially fled China, which has incarcerated an estimated one million or more 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.

He then boarded a flight to Uzbekistan’s Tashkent airport after being denied entry by the Kazakh authorities, where he was stranded while Chinese officials tried to claim him and take him back to China.

The repatriation bid failed, however, and Uzbek authorities put Qalymbek aboard a flight to Thailand, his port of origin, on Saturday.

An unnamed source told RFA that Qalymbek was dragged onto the plane to Bangkok by Uzbek police.