China’s top trade negotiator is traveling to Washington this week as tension over trade intensifies between the two nations. President Trump is threatening to impose a 25 percent tariff on nearly all Chinese imports after the U.S. accused China of backtracking on trade commitments. Talks are expected to resume on Thursday, but the Trump administration is facing criticism for refusing to address China’s human rights record as part of the negotiations. The United Nations and a number of human rights groups have accused the Chinese government of setting up massive camps in the far-west Xinjiang province to hold an unknown number of ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslims. Estimates of the population of the camps range from hundreds of thousands to more than a million. China says the camps have been built as re-education and training centers and are needed to combat extremism in the region. The New York Times reports the Trump administration has shelved proposed targeted sanctions over the mass detentions out of fear it could derail a potential trade deal. Last week, Human Rights Watch revealed new details about how China is carrying out mass surveillance in Xinjiang in part thanks to a mobile app that lets authorities monitor the Muslim population. We speak with Human Rights Watch’s China director Sophie Richardson and Rushan Abbas, a Uyghur-American activist and founder of Campaign for Uyghurs.
(RNS) — More than 125 members of the minority Ahmadi Muslim sect spent Monday (April 1) on Capitol Hill advocating for international religious freedom causes — particularly lending their voices on behalf of beleaguered Uighur Muslims.
As part of its ninth annual Day on the Hill project, Ahmadi delegates from around the country met with more than 200 members of Congress or their staffers in Washington to encourage support for the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019.
“Islam teaches absolute justice and human rights for all,” said Amjad Mahmood Khan, national director of public affairs for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. “Our faith asks of us not to rest until the international community protects the rights of all people of faith, including the Uighur community, who have endured unspeakable cruelties.”
Delegates also brought attention to the rights of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims and Middle Eastern Christians, whose persecution has been the focus of Hill visits in previous years.
“As a community that is persecuted ourselves in some parts of the Muslim world, we are obligated to stand up for our brothers and sisters in faith who are suffering,” said Khan.
Rep. Tom Suozzi, left, attended the Ahmadiyya Muslim Caucus’ reception April 1, 2019, at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington and met with Ahmadi and Uighur Muslim representatives. Photo courtesy of Harris Zafar
Ahmadi Muslims, who belong to a sect that began in South Asia in the late 1800s, are subject to severe state-sanctioned persecution.
In Pakistan, the constitution forbids Ahmadis from calling themselves Muslim and the penal code imposes the death penalty for Ahmadis who practice their faith freely. Just last month, after years of advocacy from human rights advocates and U.S. political leaders, Pakistan released an 83-year-old Ahmadi bookseller partway through his eight-year prison sentence for propagating his faith.
“What we want for ourselves, we also want for everybody to have that,” explained Mansura Minhas, an Ahmadi woman from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who visited four congressional offices during her visit. “Hearing these personal accounts of Uighurs was simply harrowing. We also understand the repercussions of having religious freedom taken away, so we stand with all our brothers and sisters, regardless of their faith.”
Reports suggest that China has systematically detained more than 1 million members of the largely Muslim Uighur ethnic minority in western parts of the country, confining them in a massive network of extralegal detention camps.
Authorities insist the camps are for vocational training, but eyewitnesses say detainees are subjected to psychological indoctrination, forced labor, sleep and food deprivation, beatings, waterboarding and other forms of torture, and have been forced to renounce their religion. China’s rapidly expanding surveillance state has also been deployed as part of the brutal crackdown on Uighur and Islamic culture.
“Everything that makes the Uighurs unique has been treated as an abnormality and targeted: language, culture, history, religion and ethnic identity,” said Rushan Abbas, founder and director of Campaign for Uyghurs. Abbas says her aunt and sister vanished in Xinjiang six days after she publicly spoke out about her in-laws’ disappearance.
“Where is the outrage against such horrendous, repugnant catastrophe that is happening on our watch?” Abbas asked at a reception held Monday for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Caucus, a 5-year-old group made up of members of Congress from both sides of the aisle. “Isn’t anyone seeing that Uighurs are facing cultural and physical genocide today because of their identity and religion?”
Ahmadi and Uighur representatives met with Rep. Jim McGovern, center, co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in Washington. Photo courtesy Amjad Khan
Abbas and other Uighurs — including a woman whose husband, scholar Yalqun Rozi, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for his Uighur-language writings — joined Ahmadi delegates at the reception, as did human rights leaders and several members of Congress.
“It’s very unusual that a group that is under siege themselves takes the time to reach out on behalf of another community and realizes that religious freedom must be truly universal,” said Rep. Pete King, co-chair of the 32-member caucus, which formed in 2014 to focus on global religious freedom and remains the only Muslim caucus in Congress.
In February, a coalition of more than 130 U.S. Muslim leaders and scholars signed an open letter calling for the release of Uighur detainees from internment camps in Xinjiang. But Muslim leaders and governments of Muslim-majority countries around the world have largely remained silent in the face of mass detention of Uighurs.
“The violation of human rights at this scale is a crime against humanity requiring immediate intervention,” Harris Zafar, assistant director of public affairs for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, told Religion News Service. “Muslim countries have been surprisingly silent on the extreme treatment of Uighur Muslims. Some have even forcibly returned Uighurs to China.”
In the U.S., bipartisan political leaders have been increasingly taking up the Uighur cause. Four U.S. representatives published an open letter last month calling on the White House to make good on its promise to explore sanctions on China for its human rights abuses.
Two bills in the House and Senate, which the Ahmadiyya Muslim Caucus is rallying support for, would direct federal resources to address China’s human rights violations, including the intimidation and threats reported by U.S. Uighurs like Abbas.
“China seems to be at war with faith, and it’s a war they will not win,” noted Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, at the reception. “Governments come and go, but faith stays.”
Brownback, who attended an Ahmadi convention over the summer and met with the group’s international faith leader in October, urged all Americans to bring the Uighur crisis to lawmakers’ attention.
“We need to push this and we need to push this aggressively,” he said. “Advocate, advocate, advocate. Push, push, push. And then also include these issues in your prayers. Put them up in front of God.”
About 400 Muslims from the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations were also on Capitol Hill on Monday, hosting their fifth annual National Muslim Advocacy Day to discuss domestic issues affecting Muslim communities.
Remarks by Ambassador Sam Brownback
at Taipei Religious Freedom Conference
March 11, 2019
I would like to thank President Tsai’s comments and her for taking the time to be here out of her busy schedule. I can’t help but just stand up here and cheer you, and be so thankful for so many people who gather here for the cause of religious freedom around the world. Thank you for being here.
Millions of people around the world, billions of people around the world just simply yearn to be free. They just want to practice their faith and freedom. We come from all sorts of faith tradition. As I look out on this crowd, I see people dressed in different religious garb, that we probably don’t agree on a lot of theological things, but they do agree on religious freedom and the needs to protect religious freedom for all. This is something we can all agree upon. This is something we can all pursue. This is something we have to do. I believe, a gathering like this throughout the world, can ensure for millions of others that they will be free from persecution in practicing their faith, which is what we are after is a freedom to do that, and I believe they will.
I am delighted to be here in Taiwan. As a U.S. official, Taiwan is a democratic success story, a reliable partner, and a force for good in the world. We count ourselves fortunate to have Taiwan as a friend and partner in promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific region. As a former U.S. Senator and Governor of the State of Kansas, I have long admired Taiwan and its accomplishments from afar, and I am delighted to finally have the opportunity to visit Taiwan in person. It is a pleasure to be here with you.
I would also like to thank Speaker Su, who is also chairman of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, Deputy Foreign Minister Hsu from Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and my colleague Director Christensen for being here from the American Institute in Taiwan for all their hard work that their staffs have done in making this conference a success.
As you have heard this is a first. Governments haven’t in the past physically come together in support of religious freedom, and yet we have here. Let’s give them a big round of applause for pulling this off. Thank you.
We are going to have a couple days of wonderful programs. One of the first things I want to recognize right at the outset, because I hope he is somebody you will get to know and I hope somebody you will work with to build on what the type of work is that Greg Mitchell over here..Greg please stand up. Greg is at the International Religious Freedom Roundtable. In Washington, D.C., every Tuesday that I am in town, I meet with the religious freedom activists. And these are people from all over the world, they usually have over 100 people who come together to talk about the current issues of religious freedom that are on the agenda. Greg hosts that meeting. It is a great meeting together between government and civil society of the topic of religious freedom of what we can do in basically two categories: the increase in religious freedom and the increase in respect in the non-religious as well. We should not just tolerate each other. A good friend of mine says, tolerance is too low of a bar. We need to keep respecting each other. We need to have an authentic relationship with one another. I hope you talk with him about how to start one of those in your country with your group of civil society religious activists, so that we can have religious freedom in your nation growing, and have activists there to push it and to increase that level of respect for one another, whatever our faiths and convictions are.
I also, before I get to my formal remarks, would like to recognize these survivors of religious persecution that are here with us.
We did the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom last year in Washington D.C., the first ever. We had over 400 civil society activists that were there. The key speakers were people who had been persecuted for their faiths, from all sorts of faith, and from all places around the world. They brought textures and meaning and stories of what happened to so many people around the world. I am so thankful that they are willing to travel here today to tell you what has happened to them. There is nothing like hearing first-hand what has happened to those who were persecuted. I want to just recognize several of them as they are here.
Y Phic Hdok is a young Montagnard Christian. Could you please stand? Thank you. We believe police killed his father. He is participating in the conference to speak on behalf of both Hmong and Montagnard Christians who have been rendered stateless because of their faith by Vietnamese authorities. We thank him for being here to share his testimony.
Dawa Tsering, the Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama here in Taiwan, grew up in a Tibet under Communist occupation, which demonized and criminalized the Buddhist faith that lies at the core of Tibetan civilization.
We need to remember all too well the things that happened to him during his childhood. We appreciate Dawa’s attendance of this conference, and we will continue to support the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way approach for meaningful autonomy for all Tibetans across the Tibetan Plateau while remaining a part of the People’s Republic of China.
This month marks the 60th anniversary of His Holiness being forced into exile. Tibetans understandably continue to lament his absence from Tibet, and long for the day that he is able to return and resume his rightful place as their most important religious leader. We urge the PRC authorities to resume formal dialogue with His Holiness or his representatives immediately.
We also want to recognize as well Rushan Abbas. She is a human rights advocate, founder of the Campaign for Uyghurs, an organization that promotes human rights and democratic freedoms following the deterioration of the human rights situation in the PRC’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
The activism she has had has come at a cost. In 2018, six days after she spoke publically about the repression of Uighur Muslims in China, including the detention of members of her husband’s family, two more members of her family – her sister and aunt – disappeared.
Unfortunately her story is not unique. Numerous Uighur expatriates have reported that Chinese officers aim to silence Uighurs abroad by detaining family members.
We thank Rushan for her courage during decades of activism to help the Uighur people share with the world the truth about what the Chinese government is doing to them. It has clearly resulted in personal sacrifices that most of us find difficult to imagine. And yet she has endured it.
And finally, I would like to acknowledge Pastor John Cao, who is not here unfortunately, nor his family members. His wife, Jamie, is American. She is a bold advocate for Pastor Cao’s release. A year ago this month, Chinese authorities sentenced him to 7 years in prison. His crime was providing aid and education to disadvantaged children in China and Burma. That’s what he did and today he’s held in a 26 by 10 foot cell, with a dozen other prisoners. He’s permitted to see sunlight just once a month. His wife and sons aren’t allowed to visit him. We call yet again for his immediate release.
Thank you to all of you that are here to testify and to speak of your situation, and to bring your texture and your personal stories the ways in which [inaudible].
Now we all support the right of an individual to have religious freedom. Promoting religious freedom worldwide is a top foreign policy priority for the United States, and certainly for this administration.
In my capacity as Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, I advise the President, and Administration officials on the challenges to religious freedom around the world. I am focused on how we can advance this universal, God-given right globally.
Your presence here speaks to the importance of promoting religious freedom. The time for action has, unfortunately, never been more urgent.
A large majority of the world live in countries or areas where the freedom for practice their own faith is severely limited, prohibited, or in extreme cases can be deadly. Pew Research Center actually puts the number at more than 80% of people live in a religiously-restricted atmosphere.
People across the globe are oppressed, brutalized, and in some cases killed for seeking to practice their faith or live according to their beliefs or conscience. Others face persecution, discrimination, and harassment. We cannot let this continue.
In my own personal experience, I have found Asia’s faith communities to be vibrant and brimming with devotion. Yet the scourge of persecution across the region affects those of all religions. We see this persecution in many countries.
Though Vietnam passed a law in 2016 that has allowed some religious organizations to become legally recognized, local authorities have targeted members of independent, unregistered religious groups by interrogating or arresting them for purportedly being “anti-government” or separatist. One practitioner of the Hoa Hao Buddhist faith returned from a meeting with my team to find his property destroyed. This is unacceptable.
In Indonesia, the government must address the use of blasphemy laws, particularly against religious minorities.
In Malaysia, though religious freedom is guaranteed in its Constitution, non-Sunni Islam is illegal.
Since 1999, the U.S. Secretary of State has designated China and Burma both as a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.
In my first trip abroad in this position, I visited Rohingya Muslims in refugee camps in Bangladesh. After decades of persecution and repression, Burmese security forces committed terrible acts of violence and drove out almost 700,000 mostly Muslim Rohingya since August 2017.
Burmese officials have continued to persecute the few Rohingya who remain in northern Rakhine State. We have heard credible reports regarding the harassment of Christians, Muslims, and members of other religious minority groups elsewhere in Burma.
In China, authorities have arbitrarily detained more than 1 million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other members of minority Muslim groups in internment camps since April 2017. Tibetan Buddhists are not able to select, educate, or venerate their religious leaders without government interference. House church leaders are detained and their churches are shuttered in accordance with tightened restrictions on religion enforced by the Chinese Communist Party. And Falun Gong practitioners are reportedly tortured and detained by the Chinese government.
As I mentioned in a speech I gave in Hong Kong a few days ago, what does the Chinese government have to fear from people reading the Bible or Uighurs naming their children Mohammad? The Chinese are a strong and vibrant people. They do not need to fear people who have strong religious beliefs or convictions. Instead, the government should promote the protection of the rights of its people to practice their beliefs and worship as they see fit.
I am committed to fighting for the rights of all to believe or not to believe as they see fit, and for all to be able to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms without threat. Not just the freedom of religion or belief, but also the freedoms of expression, of association and of peaceful assembly.
Like people can do here in Taiwan should be the norm for everybody throughout the region in the world.
The freedom of the soul to choose its own course is an inalienable right. And this is why I love this job so much. It is the defense of the pure and noble and beautiful. That is what we are all about. We are defending people that all they want to do is practice their faith without fear of persecution. It is the defense of truth and the right of every man, woman, and child.
For me, this work in action means building a more whole-of-government approach to pursuing religious freedom. And it means calling on all nations to uphold respect for the universal human right to freedom of religion as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Ladies and gentlemen. We cannot afford to fail. There are millions of people cowering in corners now, simply wanting to believe and yet in fear. With your help, we must redouble our efforts to expand religious freedom.
We need your active participation in this cause. To make progress, we need more people to get in the ring, to stand up for religious freedom, and to advance it worldwide. We need all of you and many more to work with the broader religious freedom community, all around the world.
This regional conference is aimed at members of civil society groups, like yourselves. Your participation is vital, but it is only the first step. Civil society is often the first to report of these atrocities and instances of persecution. You are often the first to offer support to those who desperately need it. You are on the front lines, and without you, we cannot do our job effectively.
That’s why I want to see you empowered and even more. We rely on your efforts to press governments to act. We rely on your insight to better understand where persecution, discrimination, or violence is heating up. And we look to you to help us craft the right responses to impact the most people.
We need you to help us increase individuals’ awareness of their rights, empower them to assert their rights, and fight for them when governments or non-state actors seek to infringe upon those rights.
We need better coordination and action within the broader, religious and advocacy communities. That’s a good part of what this event is about. Consider what resources you need to do your work on religious freedom topic you are passionate about. Bring people into the religious freedom roundtable. Bring them to the next Ministerial that will be held from July 16 to 18 in Washington, DC. A global, pulling together of foreign ministers around the topic of religious freedom. Get individuals on social media or in the press.
With persecution continuing around the world against members of religious minorities, the United States wants to partner with our friends and allies on ways we can advance freedom of religion—particularly through education, particularly through advocacy with you.
Governments participating in the Ministerial were encouraged to host regional follow-on conferences to allow for more context-specific discussions, and to facilitate greater civil society participation.
Two weeks ago, we held one in Abu Dhabi that was focused on educational materials. This event is a key conference. Plans are underway for other meetings in Mongolia, Morocco, and Europe.
Another way you can get involved is by creating religious freedom roundtable discussions, as I mentioned earlier, doing this where you live.
Together, as a community with shared values—government, civil society, and faith communities—we can and will advance religious freedom.
With the full participation of all individuals, including religious minorities, societies can much better fulfill their potential and advance human dignity that strengthens peace, security, and prosperity, like it has here in Taiwan.
By God’s grace, life always triumphs over death, freedom overcomes oppression, and faith extinguishes fear. This is the source of our hope. And our confidence in the future, that religious freedom would be the hallmark of the world, that the gates of religious freedom would fly open around the world, and religious oppress, the Iron curtain of religious oppression would come down around the world; and that the people practicing their faith now can do so in peace.
Thank you for being here and part of this great cause, and God bless you all.
Source: USA Today
The world is finally waking up to the ongoing and terrifying violations of human rights against the Uighurs — a Muslim minority in Northwest China. My own family is victim to these violations. As both an American citizen and a Uighur, this disaster has ravaged my heart, and shaken me to my very core.
Last September, six days after I spoke about China’s human rights abuses at the Hudson Institute, Chinese police abducted my sister and aunt from their homes. My family members, who both live in Xinjiang but hundreds of miles apart, were abducted on the same day, as a tactic to silence me and stop my activism in the United States. The government has seized the family members of other Uighurian Americans who speak out about their human rights violations — attempting to control and silence us in the United States, as they control and silence our families in China.
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My Uighurian-American niece and I found out about the abductions through some of our remaining contacts in Xinjiang, but members of my family are not the only ones suffering.
China’s long history of repression
I grew up within the rich culture of the Uighurs, in a region occupied by Communist China known as Xinjiang (also known as East Turkestan). I witnessed the repression of the Cultural Revolution at a young age — my grandfather was jailed and my father was taken to a reeducation camp. As a student in Xinjiang University, I was one of the organizers in pro-democracy demonstrations in the mid- and late-1980s. When I came to America in 1989, I brought my ideals and experiences with me. Since then, I have consistently campaigned for the human rights of my people by dedicating much of my life to writing and advocating on their behalf.
In Xinjiang, our mosques and religious sites have been bulldozed by a government committed to eradicating our culture. Parents are banned from naming their children traditional Muslim names, and Muslim men are forced to shave their beards. Uighurs are threatened even after death: In an attempt to eradicate our burial and funeral traditions, the Chinese government is building crematoriums.
As many as 3 million people, out of a population of about 11 million, may be imprisoned in concentration camps in Xinjiang, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. The Chinese government claims that these facilities (there could be as many as 44 camps) are vocational training centers teaching courses such as tailoring, electronic assembly and the Chinese language. But the truth is these are nothing less than modern concentration camps, complete with armed guards, forced labor and barbed-wire fences. Inside, prisoners are indoctrinated with Communist Party propaganda, forced to renounce Islam, and have been forced to eat pork and drink alcohol in violation of their religious beliefs.
Detainees are subject to rape and torture, according to testimonies of witnesses and those who have been released. Additionally, thousands of Uighur children have been separated from their families and sent away to state-run orphanages, where they are raised to forsake Uighur identity and be loyal Chinese Communist Party members. Uighur prisoners may also be dispersed throughout China as an attempt to hide the numbers of those in detention.
Eradicating Muslims’ cultural, religious identity
Whispers and secret messages laced with code words are the only communications I receive from back home. People are unable to speak freely, knowing they are subject to the Chinese police state. The streets are filled with cameras equipped with facial recognition, roadblocks and police checkpoints are around every corner, and GPS tracking devices are on every vehicle. Uighur homes are assigned QR Codes to monitor residents’ activities. The Chinese government admitted in the party’s newspaper to deploying more than a million government officials to live in Uighur homes as their supervisors.
The Uighur people are ethnically and culturally a Muslim, Turkic people. The territory they live in is of strategic importance for the Chinese government’s “Belt and Road Initiative,” which aims to improve regional cooperation. It is China’s access point to vital trade routes throughout Central Asian, European and African countries. It also sits on large deposits of oil and natural gas.
To eradicate the Uighurs and our cultural identity, and reshape the land to aid China in reaching its economic and political goals, Chinese officials have defamed Uighurs as terrorists and extremists. Under this pretext, in addition to building concentration camps, the government is attempting to ban all cultural expression and Sinicize Islam with communist ideologies. But to the millions of Uighurs facing communist China’s crimes against humanity, this is no longer about freedom of religion; it’s about survival.
Time is running out. The United States must immediately consider targeted sanctions on the high-level Chinese officials most responsible for the government’s policies under the provision of Global Magnitsky Act. Though the possibility of tariffs is still uncertain, America has not pushed the Uighurs’ case for fear of jeopardizing the ongoing trade talks with China. But the plight of the Uighurs must not be reduced to mere numbers, figures on a balance sheet.
Despite the horrendous atrocities the Uighurs are facing, including my own family, we are confronted by a muted world. Is an entire ethnic group and vulnerable religious minority to become collateral damage to short-term politics? Or will the United States take a stand for its highest ideals of human dignity and freedom?
Rushan Abbas is the founder and director of Campaign for Uyghurs. Follow her at @rushan614.
Rushan Abbas, a former broadcaster for RFA’s Uyghur Service and the director of the U.S.-based Campaign for Uighurs exile group, recently testified at the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in Washington about rights violations in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where authorities have held an estimated 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas in a network of political “re-education camps” since April 2017. During her testimony, Abbas detailed how authorities in the XUAR “abducted” her sister and aunt in September 2018 after she took part in panel exposing conditions at the camps, as part of what she said was a bid to silence her and stop her activism within the U.S.
She praised recent “strong words” coming from the Trump administration against China’s policies in the XUAR, but added that “at some point, words are not enough,” urging the U.S. government to hold Chinese officials and businesses accountable for their actions in the region with sanctions through the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. She recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service in an interview that Uyghurs in the U.S. must raise their voices to ensure Washington takes Beijing to task for its actions in the XUAR and demands the closure of the region’s camp network.
What we are asking for [from the U.S. government] is to punish Chinese officials who are responsible for what is happening in our homeland with the Global Magnitsky Act. This has been delayed for too long. The Trump administration … the Department of State and various other agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Commerce, should enforce the Global Magnitsky Act—that is our strongest request.
What Uyghurs can do is speak out against China’s atrocities. For example, when my older sister was taken away, I stood up for her and starting speaking out five weeks after her detention on every possible occasion. Because of this, I drew the attention of journalists and the government. This is why I was invited to testify at the U.S. Senate.
The more Uyghurs—like me and others who have campaigned for their disappeared relatives—speak out, the more awareness they will raise about the Uyghur situation. Uyghurs who have American citizenship must do more. As citizens, we have the right to demand answers from our government and lawmakers. We must use our rights granted in the Constitution, and all Uyghur citizens should use these rights.
Reported and translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service.
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.
Halmurat Harri, a Uyghur activist based in Finland, posted a message as part of the campaign urging China to “show us their videos if they are alive,” referring to all missing Uyghurs in the XUAR.
Abbas, Mijit and Harri join at least a dozen other exiled Uyghurs around the world who posted similar requests on Tuesday under the same hashtag, holding up photos of their loved ones and calling for information on their health and well-being.
Responding to the social media campaign during a regular press briefing on Tuesday, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that as a country of more than 1 billion people, “do we need to release a video of everyone?”
Hua slammed Turkey’s statement and said the video of Heyit showed that reports of his death amounted to an “absurd lie.”
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.
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.
Dolkun Isa, president of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress exile group, on Tuesday welcomed the #MeTooUyghur social media campaign as a way of pressuring China to divulge information about those held in its arbitrary and extrajudicial detention system.
“Most Uyghurs in exile are not sure if their loved ones are alive or dead since China began arbitrarily detaining more than 1 million Uyghurs in [re-education] camps two years ago,” he told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
“I personally don’t know what happened to my father and other loved ones. We have learned of many deaths in the camps, including that of my mother. Therefore, I call on the Chinese government to reveal the whereabouts and the health conditions of all Uyghurs in the camps.”
Adrian Zenz, a lecturer in social research methods at the Germany-based European School of Culture and Theology, has said that some 1.1 million people are or have been detained in the camps—equating to 10 to 11 percent of the adult Muslim population of the XUAR.
In November 2018, Scott Busby, the deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State, said there are “at least 800,000 and possibly up to a couple of million” Uyghurs and others detained at re-education camps in the XUAR without charges, citing U.S. intelligence assessments.
Citing credible reports, U.S. lawmakers Marco Rubio and Chris Smith, who head the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China, recently called the situation in the XUAR “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.”
Reported and translated by Alim Seytoff for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
HONG KONG—Ethnic minority Uyghurs from the far-west Chinese city of Urumqi say authorities attach strict conditions when they release the bodies of Uyghurs who die in custody. Hundreds of Uyghurs were detained as part of a broad crackdown after deadly clashes a year ago.
Members of this Turkic, mostly Muslim ethnic minority, which has chafed for years under Beijing’s rule, are also often in extremely poor physical and mental condition when they are released, residents say.
One Uyghur youth, who fled to the Netherlands and asked not to be named, said his sister, in her early forties, was detained July 5 last year along with her daughter, “while she was just walking down the street.”
“On June 9, when I called home, I learned that they [authorities] brought my sister’s body home and told the family she died in jail. They returned her body without any explanation, just like that.”
“They released my niece … but the police sexually harassed her, and now this 16-year-old who was a very nice girl before is on the streets. She doesn’t come home,” he said in an interview.
When a Uyghur detainee dies in custody, he said, a relative is summoned to “sponsor” the body and bring it home—after signing a pledge that “no information will leak out regarding this death, and they take the body out. Otherwise no one could get the body out.”
“To get the remains, the families must have a sponsor who is a government worker in the family. The sponsor agrees to all terms and promises to keep it quiet.”
“If there is no government worker, then the government will take someone from the family and incarcerate that family member as a ‘hostage’ until all religious burial ceremonies and events are carried out quietly without any issues or questions. Only then do they release their ‘hostage.’”
Violence erupted last July, in which Chinese officials say 197 people died. The government says about 1,700 people were also injured in the 5 July unrest, with Han Chinese making up most of the victims.
The violence, China’s worst in decades, ended after troops were deployed, and security has remained tight ever since. Some 5,000 police officers have been recruited in the year since the clashes, and Urumqi’s police chief Wang Mingshan said officers have been staging drills to deal with any similar emergencies.
The Munich-based World Uyghur Congress says that at least 300 Uyghurs are thought to have fled China since the clashes, and hundreds more are said to have been detained.
Chinese media say at least 25 people, mostly Uyghurs, have been tried and sentenced to death for related crimes.
Authorities also said unclaimed bodies have been cremated, which Uyghurs consider sacrilege.
Asked if any Uyghurs detained after the the July 2009 clashes had been cremated, one official replied: “Yes, some, but not a lot … Probably because they have no one to claim the bodies and others helped to bring the bodies.”
Unwell when released
Another Uyghur man said authorities detained one of his relatives at work.
“His head was beaten up so badly—he’s not functioning normally now. He was supposed to receive free medical care in a psychiatric hospital. He was also being released with his older sister’s sponsorship. Those who are let go aren’t well when they get out.”
An ethnic affairs official in Urumqi, contacted by telephone, said every neighborhood affairs committee has appointed a task force to handle the remains of those who die in custody after they were detained over suspected links to the July 5, 2009 clashes.
Another Chinese official said police and Public Security Bureau officials are now authorized to conduct burials, after which families may hold Muslim funerals if they promise to avoid spreading news of the death.
One Uyghur man identified as Esetjan, 26, was detained on July 5, 2009, the day the clashes erupted.
On April 18, 2010, authorities turned over his body to his family, saying he had suffered a heart attack, one source said.
“Without any interrogation, without a charge, he was being kept there, and on April 18 they returned his body with a sponsor from the family signing the papers and agreeing to keep it quiet and accepting the conditions of not speaking out about his death,” the source said.
“The reason given to the family was that he had a heart attack. I attended his religious burial ceremony myself. If no one acts as a sponsor for the body, then the body is taken to the crematory, where it is burned.”
The man, who also declined to be identified, also said several men in his neighborhood had died within a week of being released from custody.
“They died one by one. These men [bore] no evidence of being beaten. There were no marks of any kind on their bodies. They walked like normal human beings but slowly, and they didn’t say much. If one was very outspoken and outgoing before, after being arrested and being released, they became very quiet, not saying much and speaking slowly,” he said.
Original reporting by Gülchehre Keyim for RFA’s Uyghur service. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Translated from the Uyghur by Rushan Abbas. Written in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.