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A Call for a UN Investigation, and US Sanctions, on the Human Rights Disaster Unfolding in Xinjiang

August 10, 2018

 

Uighur, FLG, praying

Thousands of Uighurs praying in Kashgar, July 2014. Source: farwestchina.com

 

It is now clear, from numerous reliable sources, that shocking human rights atrocities are being perpetrated in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China (XUAR).

The Communist Party authorities have established a large number of political re-education centers in Xinjiang, detaining people without any judicial process, stripping them of their personal liberty, imprisoning them, and detaining them for indeterminate ‘sentences.’ Estimates of the numbers detained range from hundreds of thousands to over a million, primarily targeting Uighurs, but also Kazakhs, Hui people, and other minorities who follow Islam. Among those detainees are peasants, workers, university, college, high-school and middle-school students, teachers, poets, writers, artists, scholars, the head of a provincial department, bureau chiefs, village chiefs, and even Uighur police officers. Uighurs overseas, as well as their family members and Uighur students who return to China after studying abroad — and even Uighurs who have simply visited abroad for tourism — have been particular targets of attack.

Those locked up in detention centers have been forced to sing Red Songs, learn Mandarin Chinese, and study Xi Jinping Thought. Many have been forced to eat pork, drink alcohol, and been force-fed unidentified drugs. Abuse and torture is common in re-education centers, and reports of deaths in custody due to torture have become common. The well-known deaths confirmed to date include Muhammad Salih Hajim (穆罕穆德.萨利阿吉), the renowned Uighur scholar of Islam known for translating the Quran with official approval; Halmurat Ghopur (哈木拉提·吾甫尔), a leading food safety administrator and Communist Party official in Xinjiang; and Ayhan Memet, mother of Dolkun Isa (多里坤·艾沙), the chairman of the World Uyghur Congress. Many children, because their parents were disappeared, have been crammed into orphanages and are now suffering terrible conditions.

According to official Chinese statistics, over 227,000 Uighurs in Xinjiang were criminally arrested in 2017, 8 times the 27,000 recorded in 2016. In 2017, the number of people detained on criminal charges in Xinjiang was 21% of the total in all of China, while Xinjiang’s population is only 1.5% of the country’s.

Further, Communist Party authorities have set up a comprehensive electronic surveillance system trained on the daily lives of Uighurs in Xinjiang. They’ve deployed cameras with facial recognition capabilities, cell phone scanners, a DNA collection system, and a ubiquitous police presence, turning the entire Xinjiang region into the world’s most high-tech Police Garrison. All of the Party’s efforts are directed toward the cultural destruction of the Uighur people, who now face a crisis of survival.

In light of this grave human rights catastrophe, all who value human rights and universal values cannot be silent. We hereby state the following:

  1. We strenuously protest the CCP’s unilateral barbaric violence, and we demand that the authorities immediately cease the political persecution of Uighurs and other minority peoples, shut down the political re-education camps, and release all prisoners of conscience including Ilham Tohti  (伊力哈木.土赫提) and Gheyret Niyaz (海莱特尼亚孜);
  2. We support the righteous struggle by Uighurs and other minority peoples in XUAR aimed at securing their basic human rights;
  3. We call upon the U.S. government to continue speaking out about the human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and to put more effective pressure on Party authorities;
  4. We call upon the United Nations to launch an investigation into what is taking place in XUAR and to publicly censure the CCP’s despicable acts.

 

Signatories:

Hu Ping (胡平), honorary chief editor of Beijing Spring, New York.

Wang Dan (王丹), founder and director of China Dialogue, Washington, DC.

Teng Biao (滕彪), human rights lawyer, visiting scholar at New York University, Princeton.

Xia Yeliang (夏业良), independent scholar, Washington, DC.

Mo Li (茉莉), teacher, Sweden.

Fu Zhengming (傅正明), scholar, Sweden.

Cai Chu (蔡楚), editor of minzhuzhongguo.org and canyu.org, Mobile, Alabama.

Zhang Yu (张裕), coordinator of the Committee on Imprisoned Writers, Independent Chinese PEN Center. Stockholm, Sweden.

Lü Jinghua (吕京花), deputy chair of Chinese Alliance for Democracy, New York.

Liao Tianqi (廖天琪), president of Independent Chinese PEN Center, Köln, Germany.

 

Zhang Qing (张菁), chairwoman of Women’s Rights in China, New York.

Liao Yiwu (廖亦武), writer in exile, Berlin, Germany.

Yaxue Cao (曹雅学), editor of chinachange.org, Washington, DC.

Sulaiman Gu (古懿), student, Georgia, USA.

Wang Juntao (王军涛), chairman of the National Committee of China Democracy Party, New Jersey.

Qi Jiazhen (齐家贞), independent writer, Melbourne, Australia.

Chen Weijian (陈维健), chief editor of Beijing Spring, Auckland, New Zealand.

Xia Ming (夏明), professor of political science, CUNY, New York.

Sheng Xue (盛雪), writer, journalist, Toronto, Canada.

Zhou Fengsuo (周锋锁), president of Humanitarian China, New Jersey.

 

Zhong Jinjiang (钟锦江), chairman of Chinese Alliance for Democracy, Sydney, Australia.

Guo Dongcheng (郭冬成), worker, Sweden.

Cai Yongmei (蔡咏梅), writer, Hong Kong.

Chen Chuangchuang (陈闯创), member of China Democracy Party, New York.

Yang Jianli (杨建利), founder of Initiative for China, Washington, DC.

Pan Yongzhong (潘永忠), secretary general of Federation for a democratic China, Germany.

Chen Pokong (陈破空), political commentator, New York.

Li Weidong (李伟东), director of China Strategic Analysis quarterly, USA.

Zhang Lin (张林), internet writer, New York.

Wang Ce (王策), chairman of Chinese Republican Party, Madrid, Spain.

 

Li Ruijuan (李瑞娟), journalist and editor, Taipei, Taiwan.

Wuerkaixi (吾尔开希), initiator of Friends of Liu Xiaobo, Taiwan.

Zhao Xin (赵昕), civil rights defender, Bay Area, California.

Su Xiaokang (苏晓康), writer, Washington, DC.

Guo Chen (郭琛), businessman, former chief supervisor of the Association of Taiwanese in Europe, Germany.

Bob Fu (傅希秋), founder and president of ChinaAid, Texas.

Fei Liangyong (费良勇), engineer, member of Federation for a democratic China, Nuremberg, Germany.

Wang Jinzhong (王进忠), deputy chair of Chinese Alliance for Democracy, Tokyo, Japan.

Chen Liqun (陈立群), deputy chair of the National Committee of China Democracy Party, New York.

Ma Yuzhong (马育忠), editor, Xi’an, China.

 

Fu Sheng (付升), scientist, Xi’an, China.

Cai Shufang (蔡淑芳), Friends of Conscience, Hong Kong.

Ren Wanding (任畹町), founder of Human Rights Defenders, France.

Chen Hanzhong (陳漢中), board director of China Spring Research Foundation, chief supervisor of Chinese Alliance for Democracy, California.

Zhang Jie (张杰), Boxun News journalist, USA.

Hong Zhesheng (洪哲胜), chief editor of Democracy Forum, New York.

Xue Wei (薛伟), manager of Beijing Spring, New York.

 

 

 

 

China Fails in its Gambit to Use the UN NGO Committee to Silence the Society for Threatened Peoples and Uyghur Activist Dolkun Isa

Andrea Worden, July 10, 2018

 

UN NGO Isa 2 US Kelly

Kelley Currie, US representative to the @UN Economic & Social Council, speaks.

 

 

During the most recent session of the UN’s Committee on NGOs, China attempted unsuccessfully to have the Committee withdraw the NGO consultative status of the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) in connection with its support of Dolkun Isa, a human rights activist, German citizen, and president of the World Uyghur Congress. Mr. Isa, a member of STP, received accreditation through the NGO to attend this year’s session of the annual UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in New York from April 16-27.  Despite having received prior approval to attend, Mr. Isa was blocked from entering UN headquarters on April 17 by diplomatic security because of unspecified “security concerns.”  Following a subsequent unsuccessful attempt to gain entry into the UN, it took intervention at the highest levels, from at least the U.S. and German Permanent Missions, to finally get Mr. Isa into the building so that he could participate in the UNPFII, but by that time–– April 25–– there were only a few days left in the session.

The Chinese government has for many years accused Mr. Isa of being a “terrorist” but has failed to produce any substantiated evidence to support its accusations. Last year, China requested that UN diplomatic security remove Mr. Isa from UN premises while he was participating in the 2017 meeting of UNPFII, citing, as it did in 2018, “security reasons.” The UN Secretary-General’s 2017 report on reprisals against civil society actors included the incident of Dolkun Isa’s removal from UN headquarters at the behest of China in April 2017 (A/HRC/36/31, para. 29).  In February 2018, Interpol removed a longstanding China-initiated red notice (i.e., an international alert) against Mr. Isa.

Having achieved only limited success in preventing Mr. Isa’s participation in the 2018 Permanent Forum –– although China caused a substantial delay, Mr. Isa eventually did gain access to the UN–– China adopted a new tactic, which, had it been successful, would have had long-term consequences for both STP and Mr. Isa. Late in the day on Friday, May 17–– the last working day before the opening meeting of the 2018 second (“resumed”) session of the NGO Committee, the Chinese Permanent Mission circulated a note verbale (i.e., an unsigned diplomatic correspondence) to the Members of the Committee, setting forth its reasons for seeking the withdrawal of STP’s consultative status. Besides a groundless procedural point regarding the accreditation of Mr. Isa, China’s objections to STP’s consultative status can be summed up by this sweeping unsubstantiated accusation in its letter: “Dolkun Isa has been participating, inciting and funding separatism and terrorism for years.”

The May 21 Meeting 

At the opening meeting on May 21, China referred (@ 36:30) to its note verbale and requested that the consultative status of the Society for Threatened Peoples be withdrawn. Repeating many of the accusations contained in China’s letter, the Chinese delegate said that China had designated Mr. Isa as a “terrorist” in 2003, and that he was “a terrorist in every manifestation,” and therefore should not have been accredited by the STP to participate in activities at the UN.  The Chinese diplomat acknowledged that under the Committee’s procedures, the STP should be given an opportunity to respond (although Mr. Isa himself was not given such an opportunity).  A heated discussion followed, consuming a substantial portion of the morning meeting (and thus further delaying the work of the overloaded and backlogged Committee), with the U.S. leading a counter-attack against China for its attempt to make the NGO Committee “an accomplice” to its reprisals against STP and Mr. Isa. Committee Members that are aligned with China, including Russia, Pakistan, Cuba and Iran, predictably expressed concern about the nature of China’s allegations against STP, which they said warranted serious consideration by the Committee. The delegations praised China for following the procedures of the Committee in asking for a response from STP before the Committee decided the matter.

Representatives from the U.S. and Germany (as an observer of the Committee) said that despite repeated requests by their governments to China to provide substantiated evidence for its accusations of “terrorism” against Dolkun Isa, China had failed to produce any credible evidence or actionable intelligence to support its claims. The German representative said that German security authorities “possess no information that [Mr. Isa] might pose a security risk.” Both delegations stressed that the UN would not have issued Mr. Isa a badge enabling him to gain access to the UN if they believed he was a security risk, nor would the U.S. have granted him a visa (Mr. Isa has a 10-year multiple entry visa to the U.S.).  The U.S. and Germany said that the allegations against Mr. Isa were unfounded and unsubstantiated and requested that China withdraw its proposal to have STP’s consultative status revoked, and also urged the Committee to not let itself be used as a vehicle for reprisals against NGOs.  The EU also opposed removing STP’s accreditation; and the observer from the U.K. cautioned the Committee against “moving at the speed of lightning when attempting to revoke an accreditation,” particularly when it moves “so very slowly” in considering new accreditations, particularly for human rights NGOs.

The German representative also took China to task for the very short notice of its proposal, which was distributed just several working hours before the opening of the session. With respect to STP, he said it was an independent human rights organization registered in Germany that focuses on the rights of religious and ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples, and that it was granted ECOSOC status in 1993. He further stated that Mr. Isa was “correctly registered as a representative for STP.”  The German representative also added that “after serious deliberations,” in February 2018 Interpol deleted the red notice against Mr. Isa.

Regarding Interpol’s decision to remove the red notice against Mr. Isa, the Chinese representative said that to China’s knowledge, “this act of cancellation was totally initiated by the Secretary General, who is German, and the director of the legal department of Interpol, who is an American.” He said they “didn’t really consult with the member States, let alone China,” and claimed that it was done out of “political motivations,” and that it was “underhanded,” a “total dark box operation.”

 

UN NGO Isa 1

Chinese delegates speaking at the May 21 meeting.

 

China and the United States exchanged several volleys. In addition to stressing that Mr. Isa posed no security threat, Ambassador Currie of the U.S. said that it was clear what was really going on: China was attempting to silence a human rights defender from a silenced community in China for speaking up for the rights of that group at the U.N.  She referenced several accounts about the plight of the Uyghurs in China, including recent reports documenting that hundreds of thousands and possibly up to one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities were being detained in “re-education camps” in Xinjiang. China responded that the Western media was biased against China, and that “the Chinese government has always paid attention to and protected the rights of all the ethnic minorities, including the Uyghur people” and that Uyghurs in Xinjiang have seen “the best protection of their human rights in history.”

The Chinese delegate also suggested that Ambassador Currie was personally biased, and accused her of getting “emotional” about the issue because of prior work she had done relating to Xinjiang. He added, “I suspect she has close contact with those people.” The U.S. delegation raised a point of order, stating said the Committee had hit a “new low” and that the Chinese representative’s comments were “completely inappropriate.” The Chair of the Committee, Mr. Jorge Dotta of Uruguay, took the point of order and advised the Chinese delegate to “confine himself to concrete aspects of his information about the NGO” and to not go into other unrelated matters, and cautioned, “we mustn’t get into a political discussion.”

STP was given until May 25 to submit its written response to the question from China. China thus not only consumed a significant portion of the NGO Committee’s time and attention at its opening meeting with its vexatious ploy, it also imposed an unwarranted burden on STP, distracting the NGO from its advocacy work at the UN.

Lastly, when the Chair attempted to give the floor to a representative of civil society, China and Russia raised a point of order. They said there wasn’t enough time to hear from civil society, and that the Committee should adhere to its work agenda. China of course was responsible for the delay in the first place with its unfounded proposal against STP, and then invoked “time constraints” to silence the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) from making a statement on behalf of 100 NGOs. Many delegations came to the defense of civil society and ISHR’s right to speak and be heard, particularly given the mandate of the NGO Committee to enable greater civil society involvement with the UN. Fifteen minutes after China raised its point of order, the Chair stated that due to a lack of consensus on the issue, ISHR would not take the floor. China thus consumed more of the Committee’s meeting time with its objection to a civil society statement, which likely would have taken only several minutes to deliver.

The May 30 Meeting

China’s proposal regarding STP’s status was not discussed during the May 25th meeting, but was addressed at the 29th meeting of the Committee held on May 30. The Chinese government (@ 2:05) noted the written response from STP to the NGO Committee’s question, and said that although China’s position–– reflected in the May 17 note verbale and its statements during the Committee meeting on May 21–– “remains unchanged,” it would no longer seek the withdrawal of STP’s consultative status during the current session. The representative of China strongly urged STP to “earnestly fulfill” the commitments it made in its written response, which included respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China and not appointing terrorists as its representative, and to “avoid past mistakes.” He said that China would be “closely following” the organization’s activities in the UN, including the Human Rights Council, and would “take necessary measures in the NGO Committee as appropriate.”

The June 11 Meeting

On Monday, June 11, the Committee gathered for its final meeting of the 2018 second session in order to adopt its report for the session. The meeting opened with an unexpected announcement from the Chair, Mr. Jorge Dotta (@ 00:45). He said he had received a note from the Secretary General of Interpol (Mr. Jürgen Stock) on the preceding Friday. Mr. Stock requested that Mr. Dotta mention to the Committee Members that he had addressed a communication to the PRC delegation “in reference to a statement made by [the PRC] delegation on the 21st of May 2018.” Mr. Dotta told the Committee “he was complying with that request with the understanding that that matter is a bilateral issue to be considered between the delegation of China and the Secretary General of lnterpol.” He said he was “expecting it to be resolved in the best possible manner” and that since the issue was not part of the Committee’s agenda and beyond his mandate, the Committee should proceed with its work.

This incident involving Interpol is an example of the important role played by webcasting the Committee’s open meetings, a new practice mandated by an April 2017 ECOSOC resolution. The webcast enabled Interpol officials to watch for themselves the accusations made by the Chinese delegate, who claimed that the cancellation of the red notice against Mr. Isa was politically motivated. This point of contention between the Secretary General and the PRC delegation would not have been known to the public but for the webcasts of the May 21 and June 11 meetings. The public documents issued relating to the session, including the unofficial written coverage of the meetings

(May 21, June 11) and the Committee’s adopted report, did not mention China’s remarks about the cancellation of the red notice, nor the communication from the Interpol Secretary General to the Committee Chair. Mr. Stock apparently wanted the Committee Members to know that he took issue with China’s statement on the matter. The fact that the current Interpol President, Mr. Meng Hongwei, is Chinese had not deterred the Secretary General from démarching the Chinese delegation. China, however, has yet to retract the baseless accusations it made against Mr. Isa on May 21. This is the shadow side of webcasting: it provides a public platform at the UN for governments to broadcast unfounded accusations against organizations and individuals, without a commensurate opportunity for those attacked to defend themselves.

Although its gambit to have STP disaccredited during the May session was unsuccessful, China has signaled that it is capable of using its position on the NGO Committee to aggressively target currently accredited NGOs. The United States led a forceful defense of Mr. Isa and STP, and civil society more broadly. This was both an inspiring example of what the U.S. and its allies can do for the cause of human rights at the UN, and a sobering reminder of a possible “pushback gap” that may emerge at the Human Rights Council with the absence of the U.S., which had been at the forefront of efforts at the Council to counter China’s increasingly aggressive anti-human rights tactics.

The Geneva-based UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) will review China’s implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination on August 10 and 13. CERD is the main UN treaty body that focuses on the rights of ethnic minorities per the provisions of the treaty. The current arbitrary detention (and disappearances) of hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, and the Chinese government’s relentless drive to wipe out their religious and cultural identity, must be addressed at the Committee’s upcoming review, and civil society voices must be heard. The CERD review and China’s Universal Periodic Review in November might also explain China’s attempt to seek a quick revocation of the Society for Threatened Peoples’ consultative status. Fortunately, China failed, this time.

 

 

Andrea Worden croppedAndrea Worden is a human rights activist, lawyer, and writer. She has worked on human rights and rule of law issues involving China throughout much of her career, and previously held positions as the Acting Executive Director of Asia Catalyst, Advocacy Director with the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), and Senior Counsel at the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC). Her essays and articles on human rights issues in China have appeared in such publications as the The Pro-Democracy Protests in China: Reports from the Provinces, Yale-China Review, Georgetown Journal of International Law, South China Morning Post, and China Rights Forum, among others.

Follow her on Twitter @tingdc

 

 


Background on China and the NGO Committee

 

The UN’s Committee on NGOs is a standing committee of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and is supported in its work by the NGO Branch of the Office of Intergovernmental Support and Coordination for Sustainable Development, a division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). China has occupied the top spot at DESA for more than 10 years; the current Under-Secretary-General is Liu Zhenmin, a veteran diplomat and official in the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs. DESA is reportedly widely known as China’s turf.

The NGO Committee is comprised of 19 Member States, which are elected for a four-year term based on the principle of equitable geographic representation. The mandate of the NGO Committee is to consider applications from NGOs seeking consultative status with the UN­­­­ ––a status that enables NGOs to participate more substantially in the work of the UN than NGOs without such status. The Committee meets twice a year in New York, usually in January (regular session) and May (the resumed session). It makes recommendations on the NGO applications to the ECOSOC, which then votes in July. With a growing emphasis on civil society involvement with the UN, most recently, in connection with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the number of NGO applications has risen significantly over the past several years, leading to an expanding backlog of applications awaiting consideration and other delays in the Committee’s work. Since 2014, the NGO Branch has seen a 75% increase in the number of applications for consultative status received. (Draft Report of the Committee on NGOs on its 2018 resumed session, E/C.2/2018/CRP.59/Rev.1, para.33).

The NGO Committee has long been under attack by some governments, UN officials, and civil society, for behaving more like an “anti-NGO” committee.  As noted above, China, along with several other countries on the Committee, actively obstructs the review of applications of certain NGOs, particularly NGOs whose work focuses on human rights. These governments often ask repetitive and inappropriate questions of the NGOs.  All that’s needed is just one question from a Member State seeking clarification or additional information to delay consideration of the NGO’s application until the Committee’s next session. Sometimes the questioning, and the deferrals, can go on for years.

In its September 2017 report on China’s interference with the UN human rights mechanisms, Human Rights Watch noted that China’s obstructionism on the NGO Committee is most apparent with respect to “NGOs whose mission focuses on holding governments accountable, acting as watchdogs, or promoting human rights.” HRW included as one example relentless questioning of certain NGOs, including the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP), on China-related information in their quadrennial reports–– a report required of all NGOs with consultative status.  STP faced five rounds of questioning, starting in September 2012.  In June 2016, STP was asked by the NGO Committee “to elaborate on its position on Tibet.” China further enforces its positions on Tibet and Taiwan in the Committee by holding NGOs’ applications for consultative status hostage until they have scrubbed their websites and reports of any references to Taiwan as a country or Tibet as (historical) Tibet, rather than the PRC-created Tibet Autonomous Region.

 

 


Also by Andrea Worden:

China Pushes ‘Human Rights With Chinese Characteristics’ at the UN, Andrea Worden, October 9, 2017.

As the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders Turns 20, China Wages a Multi-Pronged Attack on Rights Defenders, Andrea Worden, March 14, 2018.

With Its Latest Human Rights Council Resolution, China Continues Its Assault on the UN Human Rights Framework, Andrea Worden, April 9, 2018.

 

 

 

Comparing the Brainwashing of Uighurs With the Party’s Anti-Falun Gong Campaign

Matthew Robertson, June 18, 2018

 

On a blank sheet of paper free from any mark, the freshest and most beautiful characters can be written; the freshest and most beautiful pictures can be painted.  
— Mao Zedong

Extend special invitations to the Autonomous Region Women’s League Propaganda Troupe to visit… important villagers and education-transformation bases to hold ‘thanking the Party, listening to the Party, obeying the Party’ agitation campaigns… Draw the sword and be at the vanguard of stability maintenance…
—  Party Committee of the Bayin’guoleng Women’s League[1]

The party has a powerful ability to synthesize experience and come up with methods to deal with challenges. All the brutality, resources and persuasiveness of the Communist system is being used — and is having an effect.
— Party advisor on the anti-Falun Gong campaign[2]

 

 

Uighur, FLG, praying

Thousands of Uighurs praying in Kashgar, July 2014. Source: farwestchina.com

 

 

Since around 2014 in China’s northwestern border Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), the Chinese Communist Party has been engaged in an extraordinary campaign of thought reform, recalling the early years of the People’s Republic of China and subsequent political-ideological campaigns. Hundreds of thousands, and potentially up to a million, Uighur Muslims have been forcibly detained and put through grueling brainwashing sessions aimed at crushing their faith and forcing them to pledge allegiance to the CCP (via its constructions of nationhood and personal identity).

It is notoriously difficult to accurately assess the full scale of such political campaigns, given the secrecy and official obfuscation that surrounds them.[3] Qualitatively, however, it is helpful to compare the current campaign of thought transformation in Xinjiang with the most recent similar campaign in PRC history: the systematic campaign of brainwashing waged against practitioners of Falun Gong. For a variety of complex reasons beyond the scope of this article, the anti-Falun Gong campaign has largely been forgotten in comparisons and analyses with what is now taking place in Xinjiang — though as Harvard scholar Elizabeth Perry wrote about it in 2001: “the launching of a full-scale campaign against a single organization of this sort is indeed unprecedented. Not since the Suppression of Counter-Revolutionaries Campaign in the early 1950s have we seen such sustained national attention directed to the threat of sectarian resistance, and never before have we witnessed an attack of this kind on but a single target.”[4]

Falun Gong, a Buddha-school spiritual and meditation practice that had attracted tens of millions of practitioners through the 1990s, was marked for elimination in 1999 by Jiang Zemin. The decision to destroy the group was reached after years of internal debate between hardliners in the security apparatus and other, more sympathetic officials.[5] Aside from an intense propaganda campaign aimed at vilifying the practice, the Party’s primary method for waging war against Falun Gong was ‘transformation through education’ (教育转化) — a kind of high-pressure thought reform (its own term of art, 思想改造) that involved liberal use of violence and torture against millions in custody. The campaign continues against an estimated 7-20 million practitioners, though at a lower intensity than the early years, to this day.[6]

Judging by a number of the features described below, this campaign may have very well been the training model for what is now taking place in Xinjiang, where the Party has designated the practice of Islam by Uighurs as an extremist threat to regime that must be extinguished by the forcible reform of the thinking of each individual Uighur.

The following comparison is by no means exhaustive, though it does reveal many similarities in the Party’s methods, propaganda, and justifications for both of these campaigns. Such comparison is useful and important for illustrating continuities over decades in the Party’s extraordinarily invasive and brutal mechanisms of social and psychological control, extending to the private beliefs of tens of millions of subjects.

For the Greater Good

The basic justification for detaining innocent people against their will in both campaigns is that it’s in the service of the Party, the nation, and ‘the people.’

In the anti-Falun Gong campaign, this rhetoric went through several phases. In the first place, the Party waged an explicitly ideological attack on Falun Gong. The front page of The People’s Daily was filled with diatribes on the ‘idealism and theism’ of Falun Gong, with the claim that Falun Gong’s teachings of Buddhas and gods, its principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance (真善忍), and the role of personal cultivation in transcending the mortal realm, were false, dangerous, and misleading.[7]

Later, in October 1999, Falun Gong was for the first time called a ‘heterodox teaching’ (邪教 ‘xie jiao’). The term has been used since the Ming Dynasty to designate schools of thought that were not sanctioned by the state and thus considered a threat to state legitimacy. In the anti-Falun Gong campaign, the term was rendered in English as ‘evil cult’ — a misleading translation, perhaps, but one that had a profound impact on Western perceptions of, and sympathy for, Falun Gong.

Uighur, FLG, grim reaper

Falun Gong, depicted as the Grim Reaper, leads a young child to her doom. Source: Lu Renjie et al., “Criticize and Expose ‘Falun Gong’ Picture Book” [揭批“法轮功”板画 ] China Writers Publishing House (February 2003) p. 179.

The Party’s rhetoric on Falun Gong is often extreme in its vilification: one of the widely promulgated picturebooks meant to incite hatred of the practice depicts Falun Gong and its founder as suicidal lunatics (dowsing themselves in gasoline, hanging themselves, running around with meat cleavers), or as the grim reaper (in one case leading a young child to her doom), or as goblins, reptiles, and even a caterpillar being severed at the base of the neck with the hoe of a mustachioed proletarian farmer.[8]

The Party has similarly adopted a dual track approach to attacking Uighurs: the legitimacy of their beliefs are both ridiculed and denigrated, and the population is attacked as a dangerous threat to society in need of harsh reform.

Much of the brainwashing of Uighurs is done under the official rubric of so-called ‘de-extremification’ (去极端化). As an article in Chinese Cadres Tribune instructs, “restraining extremism is a new requirement in ethnic religious work for safeguarding long-term peace and social stability in Xinjiang,” citing a Party Central Committee’s Xinjiang Work Conference.[9]

The definition of this activity is stated in a matter-of-fact manner by Baidu Baike, the Wikipedia of China: “De-extremification is a preaching activity carried out in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region to attack religious extremist crimes and contain the spread of religious extremism.” Part of it includes creating propaganda — stage plays, banners, posters, songs — in the form of “rich and interesting cultural activities that the masses of every ethnicity delight in, in order to satisfy the normal religious needs of the masses.”[10] In other words, replacing the practice of Islam by Uighur Muslims with a set of Party-concocted and controlled activities considered ‘normal.’

In practice, the so-called ‘de-extremification’ as it is carried out involves mass incarceration, total environment control, and brutalization aimed at erasing Uighur identity and belief.

 

Uighur, FLG, “去極端化” skit

An anti-Uighur skit in a school competition in Xinjiang, 2014, meant to promote ‘de-extremification.’ Source: https://archive.is/zs3uY

Calling Regular Religious Beliefs ‘Extremist’

The extreme methods the regime has adopted to attack these groups would be impossible to justify unless, of course, the targets themselves were ‘extremists’ who posed a threat that had to be neutralized. Their normal religious and spiritual beliefs are thus pathologized as a danger to themselves and society. This discourse appears in both campaigns.

Falun Gong is said to destroy families, collect money, and cause social chaos. Li Hongzhi, the founder of the discipline, is said to exercise literal mind control over those who practice it. The aspirations of quietude and disattachment from the cycle of desire found in actual Falun Gong meditation and practice? This “persuades people to give up all ‘desires, ideals and pursuits’…and concentrate on Falun Gong exercise to ‘transcend the secular world,’” thus spreading a “negative and idealistic philosophy of life among the people,” People’s Daily said.[11] A propaganda image in the “Criticise and Expose ‘Falun Gong’ Picture Book” book shows practitioners “meditating contentedly, oblivious as their lives crumble around them.”[12]

In the case of Uighurs, the threat to society is claimed not to be through inactivity, but alleged terrorism. “The number of violent terrorists in custody under 30 years old is 54.9%,” says a November 2015 paper in the Journal of Xinjiang Police College. “Because they are naive and unsophisticated and their worldviews are still in a period of formation, they are easily subject to the allure and coercion of extremist so-called ‘jihad martyrdom to enter Heaven’ (圣战殉教进天堂), they listen and watch violent terrorist videos and madly carry out all manner of violent terrorist criminal acts.”[13]

Chinese police journal articles on the attacks against Uighurs in Xinjiang invariably make reference to 911, the global war on terror, and the supposed common struggle China faces in dealing with its own domestic terrorist population.

Uighur, FLG, dance

“Uphold Science; Deal With Evil [Religions] According to the Law.” Military-style school dance events are held to denounce Falun Gong. https://archive.is/o3Rjh

A similar tactic of rhetorical association was used to justify the anti-Falun Gong campaign, identifying Falun Gong as a cult along the lines of the Branch Davidians or Scientology, so as to forge dark, stigmatizing associations in the minds of potential sympathizers, and allow the torture and brainwashing to proceed unimpeded and unremarked upon.

The new labels concocted by the Party are used to replace the self-definition of the target groups. “Extremist Religion is Not Religion,” one Xinjiang Daily headline barks,[14] just as People’s Daily announces that “Falun Gong Is An Evil Religion, Not a Belief.”[15]

Thus, the world is told that Uighurs = terrorists and extremists, and Falun Gong = cultists, and that the Party is dealing with the problem in a firm but humane manner.

Hitting Them Where it Hurts

The religious character of both Falun Gong and Uighur Muslim beliefs has given the CCP a rich menu of choices for attacking, humiliating, and degrading their targets. Party security operatives have latched onto what their victims consider sacred images, ideas, or practices, and proceeded to defile them and, most importantly, force the target populations to defile them, as a way of weakening their will, engendering helplessness, and breaking their faith.

In the anti-Falun Gong campaign, police in train stations attempted to identify the Falun Gong practitioners traveling to the capital to protest by placing on the ground an image of the founder of the practice, Master Li, who is considered a holy figure, and forcing them to trample on it. Those who did so were allowed through, while those who refused were identified and incarcerated.[16] Similar ‘tests’ are conducted on Falun Gong practitioners in detention, to ensure that they are truly ideologically transformed.[17]

The attacks on the religious practices of Uighurs include: bans on beards that are too long and on veils, both of which are “deemed to promote extremism”;[18] attempts to stop Uighurs fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan;[19] forcing Uighur shopkeepers to sell alcohol and cigarettes;[20] and even restrictions on Uighur funerary practices through ‘burial management centers.’[21]

In a surgical provocation clearly intended to infuriate and humiliate, a guard in a newly build brainwashing center in Hotan, southern Xinjiang, told detainees that Uighur women historically eschewed underwear, braided their hair to attract partners, and were promiscuous.

“It made me so angry,” a detainee interviewed by Gerry Shih said. “These kinds of explanations of Uighur women humiliated me. I still remember this story every time I think about this, I feel like a knife cut a hole in my chest.”[22]

Blaming Foreign Forces

No political-ideological campaign in China would be complete without the invocation of hostile foreign forces, meddling behind the scenes and misleading the masses. This propaganda narrative is being used in the case of Uighurs, as it was against Falun Gong.

In the case of Uighurs, the People’s Daily says that “we must be vigilant of foreign forces using religion to infiltrate and conspire to carry out the ‘four transformations’ and ‘splittism.’”[23] Party media regularly reports that the incidents of domestic terrorism in Xinjiang — often, it seems, by desperate Uighurs seeking revenge against the regime for previous injustices — are said to have been plots hatched by foreign terrorist groups.

Of Falun Gong, Xinhua writes: “According to those Western anti-China forces which have never given up their attempt to ‘Westernize’ and ‘break up’ China and those domestic and foreign hostile forces which do not want to see a prosperous and powerful China, the Falun Gong cult organization is a political force which may be able to create disorder in China and to subvert China’s state power.”[24]

In both cases, a certain awkward tension can be detected between the two sets of claims against each target: they’re accused simultaneously of secular goals (splittism for Uighurs, vague political ambitions for Falun Gong), and also quite conflicting religious goals (Islamic martyrdom for Uighurs, ritual suicide to enter heaven for Falun Gong — a concept that is, of course, not part of the practice).

Apparently it is the sheer magnitude and ferocity of the propaganda that is relied upon to square those circles.

Brutality Concealed Under the Color of ‘the Law’

Though both the campaigns involve arbitrary incarceration, violence, torture, theft of personal property, and deep violations of individual psychological sovereignty through thought reform, mostly conducted through extralegal public security mechanisms, they have been justified in the language of the law. In the case of the anti-Falun Gong campaign, there was a more sophisticated attempt to actually codify the Party’s actions in legislation and judicial interpretations of this legislation (though any lawyers who sought to challenge the constitutional basis of this are violently ejected from courtrooms and in some cases subjected to the same methods they were objecting to).

 

Uighur, FLG, eradicate three forces

‘Resolutely Fight Against the Three Forces.’ Propaganda used to incite hatred against Uighurs from 2014. Source: http://xj.people.com.cn/n/2014/1121/c188514-22966094-5.html

 

The true nature of what goes on in the detention facilities constructed for dealing with these problem populations is never revealed in official sources. Official accounts of thought reform in Xinjiang, like those uncovered through the dedicated efforts Canadian law student Shawn Zhang, make broad reference to activities like ‘military training,’ ‘education in gratitude toward the Party,’ ‘singing red songs,’ and even the pedestrian categories like ‘professional ethics’ and ‘safe manufacturing.’[25]

These prosaic expressions conceal the more tawdry and brutal reality of the experience. Gerry Shih documented this in an interview with Bekali, a 42-year-old Kazakh citizen who was swept up in the campaign while in Xinjiang for business. Bekali was strapped to a “tiger chair,” a common torture device used in Communist Party imprisonment facilities; he was also hung by his wrists against a wall, forcing him to stand on the balls of his feet. He was denied food, and had his religion and people insulted, and was locked in a room with 8 others. Another prisoner, Kayrat Samarkan, reports that prisoners were put in an iron body-suit as punishment for disobeying guard commands, while others were locked in a tiger chair for 24 hours.[26]

A typical Falun Gong torture report reads similarly: “[James] Ouyang was arrested again in April after going to Tiananmen Square to show his support for Falun Gong,” The Washington Post wrote in 2001. “This time, he said, police methodically reduced him to an ‘obedient thing’ over 10 days of torture… [He] was stripped and interrogated for five hours. ‘If I responded incorrectly, that is if I didn’t say, ‘Yes,’ they shocked me with the electric truncheon’…  the guards ordered him to stand facing a wall. If he moved, they shocked him. If he fell down from fatigue, they shocked him.”[27]

Other medieval, hair-raising torture reported to be in wide use against Falun Gong to elicit repentance statements include: bamboo under fingernails, burning the legs with a hot iron, scolding with boiling water, electric batons repeatedly inserted into vaginas and mouths, and more.

Tales of this kind of extreme torture do not appear to have emerged from Xinjiang, though it may only be a matter of time. The need to hit transformation rate targets set by higher-ups likely contributed to the level of brutality used against Falun Gong, and given that similar quotas are being dictated in Uighur transformation work, security cadres may find that more violent methods are required to achieve their ends.

What’s clear in both cases, at least, is that the transformation campaigns have been carried out in a premeditated, systematic manner, with a vast build-out of re-education centers or extensions and renovations to existing centers. Adrian Zenz has been able to hint at the scale of the operation in Xinjiang by analyzing bid proposals for re-education center construction, and it is well documented that similar facilities were custom built or expanded for the express purpose of transforming Falun Gong — the build-out of a ‘prison city’ around the Masanjia Labor Camp by Bo Xilai, for instance, is a notorious example.[28]

 

Uighur flg, the people

‘Extremists’ are driven out by ‘the people’ in the war against religious extremism in Xinjiang. November 2014. Source: http://xj.people.com.cn/n/2014/1121/c188514-22966094.html

‘It’s For Your Own Good’

According to the Communist Party, the subjects of their coercive ideological ministrations are, simply put, idiots. This is another crucial justification for locking them up and brainwashing them.

In the anti-Falun Gong campaign, Falun Gong practitioners are claimed to be weak-willed, uneducated failures at life who were taken in by the slick messaging of a qigong guru. (The Party could of course not justify the detention and thought reform of individuals with levels of post-secondary education far above the general population in China, or who were themselves Party cadres, intellectuals, businesspeople, and so on.)[29]

As long as the vast majority of Falun Gong practitioners were just simpletons who had been taken in, they simply required the nurture of the Party to break out of the mind control, return to embrace of the Party, and once again be productive members of society.

Uighurs are also talked down. Those in detention are said to “have not been through systematic education; their level of knowledge is low, their manner of thought naive and prejudiced, shortsighted, delusional and conceited; they are unable to distinguish right and wrong, beautiful and ugly, good and evil; they lack their own views and emotions, blindly following others and easily accepting of illegal religious activities and the reactionary propaganda of ethnic splittist ideology.”[30]

Therefore, of course, “the vast majority are lured or forced into involvement in violent terrorist activities.” They’re thus invited, through participation in Maoist-inspired rituals like singing red songs, small group sessions, self-confession, and repentance, to join ‘the big socialist family’ (社会主义大家庭).[31]

There are numerous other similarities between the two campaigns, both in technique and justification. This includes: the use of oral agitators; the ‘bangjiao’ (帮教) or ‘assistant’ system, where individuals already transformed are assigned to targets who they then accompany, persuade, and sometimes discipline, in order to transform them; the obsessive taxonimization of targets for allocating transformation resources against; the incessant sloganeering; the use of retired cadres as ideological bastions; the dichotomization of ‘science’ versus belief; the mobilization of ignorant members of the citizenry against the targets; and tragically, the widespread use of transformed individuals part of the target population, who have adopted the new Party-created identity, and now join the Party in assimilating more of their former brethren.

This battery of techniques were first used against their own new members in Yan’an, then later against intellectuals, rightists, and ‘counterrevolutionaries,’ Falun Gong practitioners, and others in the New China.  Now, the Party brings over 70 years of practice and refinement of these techniques to a minority Turkic people in Xinjiang.

Just as in the Falun Gong case, the goal of all this activity seems simple enough: to erase the religious (and in the Uighur case, cultural and ethnic) identities of the target peoples and forcibly assimilate them into the Party’s vision of normalcy. In other words, to make every Chinese subject legible, homogeneous, and manageable.

 

 

[1] 巴音郭楞蒙古自治州人民政府网站 [Internet]. [cited 15 Jun 2018]. Available: https://web.archive.org/web/20180615215749/http://zwgk.xjbz.gov.cn/jj503/html/jj503-2100-2017-00005.htm; with thanks to Adrian Zenz for references to this and many other other official sources.

[2] Pomfret J, Pan PP. Torture is breaking Falun Gong; China systematically eradicating group. Washington Post. 2001; A1.

[3] Though the work of assiduous scholars like Adrian Zenz and others have performed a great service by building a partial picture. Cf. Zenz A. “Thoroughly Reforming them Toward a Healthy Heart Attitude” – China’s Political Re-Education Campaign in Xinjiang. Available: https://www.academia.edu/36638456/_Thoroughly_Reforming_them_Toward_a_Healthy_Heart_Attitude_-_Chinas_Political_Re-Education_Campaign_in_Xinjiang

[4] Perry EJ. Challenging the mandate of heaven: popular protest in modern China. Crit Asian Stud. Taylor & Francis; 2001;33: 163–180.

[5] See chapter three in Gutmann E. The slaughter: mass killings, organ harvesting, and China’s secret solution to its dissident problem. Prometheus Books Amherst; 2014.

[6] Cook S. The Battle for China’s Spirit: Religious Revival, Repression, and Resistance under Xi Jinping. Freedom House; 2017. p. 9.

[7] These ideas come out most clearly in the early months of the anti-Falun Gong propaganda given prominent placement in People’s Daily, with credit to Caylan Ford for this insight. Cf. Xinhua, ‘Analysis of Falun Gong leader’s malicious fallacies’, July 22 1999; Xinhua, ‘CPC Central Committee forbids Party members to practice Falun Gong,” July 23 1999; PLA, Armed Police support government ban on Falun Gong,” July 24 1999; Xinhua, ‘Falun Gong criticized by scientists and practitioners,’ July 25 1999; Xinhua, “People’s Daily on struggle between materialism and idealism,” July 27 1999;

[8] Lu Renjie et al., “Criticise and Expose ‘Falun Gong’ Picture Book” [揭批“法 轮 功”板“画” ] China Writers Publishing House (February 2003)

[9] 中共伊宁县委、县政府.  实施“四大活动”推进“去极端化”工作. 中国党政干部论坛. April 2016; 98-100.

[10] 去极端化. 去极端化_互动百科 [Internet]. [cited 15 Jun 2018]. Available: http://www.baike.com/wiki/%E5%8E%BB%E6%9E%81%E7%AB%AF%E5%8C%96&prd=so_1_doc&prd=so_1_doc&prd=shouye_inlist

[11] Xinhua, “Xinhua Commentary on political nature of Falun Gong,” August 1 1999

[12] From Caylan Ford and Stephen Noakes, “Unsanctioned Religion in an Athiest State: Falun Dafa as Alternative Morality” (forthcoming chapter in edited volume)

[13] 于力, 崔钧. 当前公安监管场所暴力恐怖在押人员管理教育对策研究. 新疆警察学院学报. 2015;35: 13–16.

[14] 中新网. 新疆学者:极端宗教不是宗教 须戳穿宗教极端势力画皮 [Internet]. [cited 15 Jun 2018]. Available: http://www.chinanews.com/gn/2014/05-29/6226962.shtml

[15] 人民网海南频道. 法轮功是邪教不是信仰 [Internet]. [cited 15 Jun 2018]. Available: http://hi.people.com.cn/n2/2017/0313/c376252-29841240.html

[16] Evidence of How Jiang Zemin’s Criminal Regime Fools and Harms the Citizens in Latest News from China. In: Minghui.org [Internet]. 27 Jun 2001 [cited 13 Jun 2018]. Available: http://en.minghui.org/html/articles/2001/7/8/11995p.html

[17] Clearwisdom.net, Saturday, June 19, 2004 [Internet]. [cited 13 Jun 2018]. Available: http://en.minghui.org/emh/articles/2004/6/19/zip.html

[18] IANS. China’s beard, veil ban in Xinjiang comes into effect. In: The Hindu [Internet]. [cited 13 Jun 2018]. Available: http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/china-s-beard-veil-ban-in-xinjiang-comes-into-effect/article17758744.ece

[19] Staff R. China Restricts Ramadan Fast For Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang. In: Radio Free Asia [Internet]. Radio Free Asia; 9 Jun 2016 [cited 13 Jun 2018]. Available: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/restricts-06092016162515.html

[20] Staff R. Chinese Authorities Order Muslim Uyghur Shop Owners to Stock Alcohol, Cigarettes. In: Radio Free Asia [Internet]. Radio Free Asia; 4 May 2015 [cited 13 Jun 2018]. Available: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/order-05042015133944.html

[21] Staff R. Xinjiang Authorities Use “Burial Management Centers” to Subvert Uyghur Funeral Traditions. In: Radio Free Asia [Internet]. Radio Free Asia; 19 Apr 2018 [cited 13 Jun 2018]. Available: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/burials-04192018141100.html

[22] Shih BG. China’s mass indoctrination camps evoke Cultural Revolution. In: AP News [Internet]. Associated Press; 18 May 2018 [cited 25 May 2018]. Available: https://apnews.com/6e151296fb194f85ba69a8babd972e4b/China%27s-mass-indoctrination-camps-evoke-Cultural-Revolution

[23] 人民网. 郑筱筠:如何认识和看待新疆宗教与极端主义  [Internet]. [cited 15 Jun 2018]. Available: http://theory.people.com.cn/n1/2016/0603/c40531-28408542.html

[24] China’s Xinhua agency criticizes Falun Gong leader. BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific. 05 Jan 2001.

[25] Zhang S. Xinjiang’s re-education system is a hybrid of Gulag and Indian Residential School. In: Medium [Internet]. Medium; 12 Jun 2018 [cited 13 Jun 2018]. Available: https://medium.com/@shawnwzhang/latest-re-education-campaign-in-karshgar-xinjiang-167668ad5729

[26] Shih BG. China’s mass indoctrination camps evoke Cultural Revolution. In: AP News [Internet]. Associated Press; 18 May 2018 [cited 25 May 2018]. Available: https://apnews.com/6e151296fb194f85ba69a8babd972e4b/China%27s-mass-indoctrination-camps-evoke-Cultural-Revolution

[27] Pomfret J, Pan PP. Torture is breaking Falun Gong; China systematically eradicating group. Washington Post. 2001; A1.

[28] Gregory S. Rewarded for Torture: The Rise of Bo Xilai in China. In: The Epoch Times [Internet]. 13 Mar 2012 [cited 15 Jun 2018]. Available: https://www.theepochtimes.com/rewarded-for-torture-the-rise-of-bo-xilai-in-china_1487849.html

[29] This data comes from surveys of Falun Gong in the 1990s in Wuhan, Beijing, and elsewhere. Cf. 法轮功武汉学员修心健身效果部分调查 【明慧网】 [Internet]. [cited 15 Jun 2018]. Available: http://www.minghui.org/mh/articles/1999/7/18/%E6%B3%95%E8%BD%AE%E5%8A%9F%E6%AD%A6%E6%B1%89%E5%AD%A6%E5%91%98%E4%BF%AE%E5%BF%83%E5%81%A5%E8%BA%AB%E6%95%88%E6%9E%9C%E9%83%A8%E5%88%86%E8%B0%83%E6%9F%A5-5643p.html; similar findings are present in the work of David Ownby in a general demographic analysis of practitioner composition in North America, cf. Ownby D. Falun Gong and the Future of China. Oxford University Press, USA; 2008. p. 138

[30] 于力 et. al (2015), pp. 13-14.

[31] 新疆穆斯林网 [Internet]. [cited 15 Jun 2018]. Available: http://www.xjmuslim.com/ztbd/2015-12/20/content_481620.htm

 

 

Matt R.Matthew Robertson is a translator and contributing editor for China Change. He was recently a research fellow with the Human Rights Law Foundation in Washington, D.C. He begins a PhD in political science at the Australian National University in 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The City of Weimar in Germany Saw Its Website Attacked for Giving Human Rights Prize to Uighur Professor Ilham Tohti

China Change, November 8, 2017

 

Ilham weimar prize

Goethe and Schiller monument in Weimar.  https://www.weimar.de/

 

The city of Weimar announced on June 30 that, in compliance with the Weimar City Council’s recommendation, they were awarding this year’s Weimar Human Rights Prize to Ilham Tohti in recognition of his work upholding the rights of the Uighur people and promoting understanding between Uighurs and Han Chinese. In accordance with tradition, the Prize is awarded every year on December 10—International Human Rights Day.

The Weimar City Council, in announcing the award, said: “As a professor of economics and sociology at the Central University for Nationalities (Minzu), for decades Ilham Tohti spared no effort in publicizing the economic and social difficulties faced by Uighurs in Xinjiang. At the same time he advocated the peaceful coexistence of Uighurs, Hans and all other ethnic minority groups. He urged the Chinese government to respect its Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law.”

Ilham Tohti_Lego

Lego portrait by Ai Weiwei.

In September 2014, Ilham Tohti was sentenced to life in prison for “separatist activities,” and his real “crimes” though were his efforts to build bridges between different ethnic minorities and his speaking out bluntly about China’s draconian, unproductive policies in Xinjiang. The Weimar City Council hopes that by awarding the Human Rights Prize to Ilham Tohti, “his advocacy for peace and dialogue will not be forgotten, and support for his release will be strengthened.”

Mr. Oehme is in charge of the Weimar Human Rights Prize. He told Radio Free Asia that, starting in early July and shortly after the prize was announced, the city’s official website was attacked and continues to be until now. All news about the award and the December 10 prize ceremony has been removed. Mr. Oehme said that the Weimar government deeply regrets that hackers have deleted the content from the webpage that has been three years in the making.

Mr. Oehme also revealed that the City Council’s Human Rights Prize Committee received a telephone call in July from a self-identified “Ms. Li” from the Chinese Embassy in Berlin, alleging that Ilham Tohti’s work had nothing to do with human rights and freedom of speech. She protested Weimar giving the human rights prize to a “Chinese criminal.”

The Weimar municipal government also learned that, after the announcement of the prize, Beijing had protested to Berlin through diplomatic channels.

The Weimar government asked the police to conduct a criminal investigation into the hacking. It’s not yet clear where the cyberattacks originated. But Isa Dolkun, current General Secretary of the World Uyghur Congress based in Munich, believes that this attack is undoubtedly being carried out by China.

Mr. Oehme said that no matter what happens, there will be no change in awarding this year’s human rights prize to Ilham Tohti.

In advocating with partners for Ilham Tohti’s case in Europe over the past two years, China Change has learned that ethnic minority issues are something the European countries face, and they take very well Ilham Tohti’s advocacy for ethnic minority autonomy, dignity and peaceful coexistence. This is undoubtedly the consensus among all civilized countries.

The Chinese government’s irrational attack on and interference with the Weimar Human Rights Prize shows how essential this award is, what a dire situation Ilham Tohti faces in China, and what an awful government there is in Beijing.

To be honest, it is fortuitous that the Chinese Communist Party is committing such foolish acts all over the world. This has a much more powerful effect than our earnest remonstrations.

Not to mention that the city of Weimar will be forever spared of a statue of Marx like the one that now stands at a corner of the city of Trier, Germany, a gift from China.

 

Martin_Ennals_UNHRC

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein gave MEA to Jewher Ilham in Geneva in October, 2016. Elliot Sperling (right), who passed away in January 2017, accompanied her. 

 

Before he was arrested, 48-year-old Ilham Tohti was a professor at the Central University of Nationalities (中央民族大学), teaching and researching Xinjiang issues and Central Asian sociology, economics, and geopolitics. In 2006, Ilham Tohti founded the UighurBiz website, a Mandarin website that brought news about the Uighurs to the Chinese population. In January 2014, Ilham Tohti was arrested, his house searched and bank account frozen. In September of the same year, Ilham Tohti was sentenced to life in prison by a court in Urumqi for the crime of secession. He is presently serving his sentence in Xinjiang’s Number One Prison. He is in solitary confinement, and his application for retrial has been rejected. Family visits have been limited. His family has been warned not to give interviews to foreign media. All of these practices are illegal under Chinese law, and aimed at eliminating all news of Ilham Tohti.

In 2016 Ilham Tohti was nominated for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, and he won the city of Geneva’s Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, known as the “Nobel Prize for Human Rights.” The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein gave the award to Ilham Tohti’s daughter. The Chinese government subsequently attacked the High Commissioner for “interfering with China’s internal affairs and judiciary sovereignty.”

 

 


Related:

Ilham Tohti: A Short Introduction, June 15, 2016.

My Ideals and the Career Path I Have Chosen, Ilham Tohti, April 6, 2014.

Present-Day Ethnic Problems in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region: Overview and Recommendations (downloadable), Ilham Tohti, May 19, 2015.

China Pushes ‘Human Rights With Chinese Characteristics’ at the UN, Andrea Worden, October 9, 2017.

 

 

 

News About Uighur Scholar Ilham Tohti on the Third Anniversary of His Sentencing: No News

China Change, September 22, 2017

We believe that the combination of reduced visits, denial of communication, gag orders, and family reprisals, have been carefully engineered to punish the Uighur scholar with degrading treatment and psychological torture, while at the same time keeping the attention on his plight from the outside world to a minimum.

Martin_Ennals_UNHRC

On October 10, 2016, Ilham Tohti’s daughter Jewher Ilham received Martin Ennals Human Rights Award from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on behalf of her father. The HC was later harassed by China for attending the ceremony and presenting the award. Professor Elliot Sperling accompanied Jewher.  Photo: Martin Ennals Foundation.

 

September 23, 2017, marks the 3rd anniversary of the Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti’s sentencing to life in prison for peacefully speaking out for the economic, cultural, political and religious rights of the 10 million Uighur people inhabiting the northwestern region known as Xinjiang.

A Summary of the Case

Ilham Tohti is the most renowned Uighur intellectual in the People’s Republic of China. For over two decades he has worked tirelessly to foster dialogue and understanding between Uighurs and Chinese over the present-day repressive religious, cultural and political conditions exercised against the Uighurs, a Muslim, Turkic people living mostly in modern China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. As a result of his efforts he was sentenced to life in prison in September 2014 following a two-day show trial. Despite political persecution in the years leading up to his trial, he remained a voice of moderation and reconciliation.

Ilham was born in 1969 in Atush, Xinjiang, and began his studies in 1985 at the institution that is today the Central Minzu University in Beijing, long known for studies of minorities. He eventually became a faculty member at the same university and a recognized expert on economic and social issues pertaining to Xinjiang and Central Asia. As a scholar, he has been forthright about problems and abuses in Xinjiang, and his work led to official surveillance and harassment that began as early as 1994. From time to time he was barred from teaching, and after 1999 he was unable to publish in mainstream venues in China.

In order to make the economic, social, and developmental issues confronting the Uighurs known to China’s wider population, Ilham established the Chinese-language website Uighurbiz.net in 2006 to foster dialogue and understanding between Uighurs and Chinese on the Uighur Issue. Over the course of its existence it was shut down periodically and people writing for it were harassed. Ilham Tohti has adamantly rejected separatism and sought reconciliation by bringing to light Uighur grievances, information the Chinese state has sought to keep behind a veil of enforced silence.

Following massive Chinese repression in Xinjiang in 2009, Professor Tohti was taken into custody for weeks for posting information on Uighurs who had been arrested, killed and “disappeared.” In subsequent years he was subjected to periodic house arrests and barred from leaving the country.

The show trial three years ago convicted Ilham Tohti of the crime of “separatism.” The court decision, which has never been made public in full, cited interviews with overseas Uighur, Chinese and English-language media outlets, his commentaries on events in, or concerning, the Uighurs and Xinjiang, his criticism of Chinese government’s ethnic policies, and his work with his students in founding and running the Chinese-language website Uighurbiz.net, which had been repeatedly suspended and, after its server was moved to overseas, endured denial of service attacks until its complete shutdown in early 2014.

In words and actions, Ilham Tohti has for years promoted peace and dialogue between the Han Chinese and Uighur communities. He opposed separatism, the use of terror to voice grievances, and any acts that fan ethnic animus, as well as government policies that undermine the Uighur language and economically marginalize the Uighur people. As a Uighur intellectual specializing in Xinjiang issues and Central Asian sociology, economics, and geopolitics, he took it upon himself to critique current affairs concerning Xinjiang and its people, faithfully fulfilling the duty of a public intellectual.

Ilham Tohti is the recipient of the Barbara Goldsmith “Freedom to Write” Award from the PEN America Center in 2014, and the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2016. He was one of the four nominees for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2016. This summer Ilham Tohti received the 2017 Human Rights Award from the city of Weimar in Germany.

Conditions of Imprisonment

Ilham Tohti has been serving life in prison in the First Prison of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Reginon in Urumqi since December 2014 after his appeal was dismissed and sentence upheld without a court hearing on November 21, 2014.

  • Visits: Since then, he has been allowed to receive only one family visit every three months, whereas Chinese law allows one visit per month. Each visit lasts less than one hour. In meetings, Ilham and relatives are not allowed to speak about anything except “family matters.” We estimate that, from the time he first received family visit in prison in June 2015 to the present, Ilham Tohti has received a total of less than 10 hours visitation over the span of more than two years. This is a calculated and cruel deprivation.
  • Solitary confinement: Until at least early 2016, Ilham Tohti’s wife said he had been held in solitary confinement. Since then there has been no update on whether this is still the case.
  • Right to communication: He has been deprived of the right to communicate with family and friends. Letters sent by his wife have not been received, nor has she ever received letters from him.
  • Gag order: From the first few visits in 2015 and early 2016, we were able to get brief updates on Ilham’s condition by the brothers and wife who visited him. But such updates have since dried up completely. It seems that relatives have received a gag order from the authorities, not even telling intermediaries who could then relay information to media outlets. His wife last spoke to Radio Free Asia in late summer of 2016 and was promptly visited by state agents afterwards. Ilham’s daughter, who currently studies at Indiana University, found herself cut off from family circles on Chinese social media and has been unable to gather information about her father’s condition.
  • Request for retrial (申诉, shen-su) suppressed: In late 2015 and early 2016, Ilham Tohti urged his relatives to apply for a retrial (shen-su). Under Chinese law, such an application can be filed at any stage of the jail term by any prisoner who believes he or she is wrongfully convicted and a victim of a miscarriage of justice. In the summer of 2016, friends learned privately that Ilham Tohti made another attempt to shen-su but was stopped by the authorities who threatened the family that their visitation rights would be revoked if they pressed the matter.
  • Health concerns: The prison provides little Muslim food. After visiting him in prison in July 2016, his wife reported that he had lost a lot of weight. Given the recent death of Liu Xiaobo in prison, the health issue of China’s political prisoners has become an issue of concern. We are deeply worried about the health of Ilham Tohti, both physical and mental.
  • Niece was given a 10-year sentence for possessing photos of Ilham Tohti on her cell phone: Ilham’s niece, a 25-year-old nurse in the city of Atush, was taken away by police in early 2016 for possessing on her cellphone photographs of Ilham Tohti and two articles about him by Radio Free Asia, as she was stopped by police on her way to a shopping mall. Sources told us that she was sentenced to 10 years in prison, and her grieved mother has fallen ill. A search of the website of the city’s court does not yield any information about her case. (In fact the website stopped posting any court decision since January 2015.) We demand to know everything about her case.
  • The seven students of Ilham Tohti: The student volunteers who worked with Ilham Tohti on net have been sentenced to up to eight years in prison, but information about where they are being held and their condition is unavailable despite continuous efforts by multiple parties to find out more about their cases.

We believe that the combination of reduced visits, denial of communication, gag orders, and family reprisals, have been carefully engineered to punish the Uighur scholar with degrading treatment and psychological torture, while at the same time keeping the attention on his plight from the outside world to a minimum.

We ask the UN human rights institutions and governments to:

  1. Make inquiries about the health of Ilham Tohti;
  2. Ensure that Ilham Tohti receives monthly family visit as Chinese law stipulates;
  3. Ensure his right to communication with friends and family is respected;
  4. Ensure that Ilham Tohti be allowed to file a shen-su according to Chinese law, without he or his relatives suffering retaliation;
  5. Make inquiries about Ilham Tohti’s 25-year-old niece in Atush, Xinjiang;
  6. Continue to press for the total freedom of the Uighur scholar and his students.

China must not be given a pass for its human rights atrocities. Not any more.

 

 


Essential Readings on Ilham Tohti:

Ilham Tohti, a 4-minute video http://bit.do/TohtiVideo

Statement to the Uyghur Service, Radio Free Asia before his arrest, July, 2013. http://bit.do/statement-uyghur

My Ideals and the Career Path I Have Chosen by Ilham Tohti. http://bit.do/ideals-career

Present-Day Ethnic Problems in Xinjiang by Ilham Tohti. http://bit.do/xinjiang-analysis

Voice of America Interview with Uyghur Professor Ilham Tohti in 2013 http://bit.do/voa-interview

 

 


Related:

As Liu Xiaobo Dies in Isolation, It’s Time to Abandon ‘Quiet Diplomacy’, Chang Ping, July 18, 2017.

Obama Goes to Hangzhou – The US Has No Human Rights Policy Toward China, China Change, September 1, 2016.

 

 

 

 

The Dire Consequences of the Imprisonment of Ilham Tohti

Elliot Sperling, February 5, 2017

In memory of Elliot, who passed away last week. I recovered this from my email archive, dated September 17, 2016, the day after Ilham Tohti was nominated for the Sakharov Prize. It is published here for the first time. – Yaxue Cao

 

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The nomination last week of the imprisoned Uyghur Professor Ilham Tohti for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is welcome recognition of the role this courageous individual has played in working for the fundamental rights of a beleaguered people, a people subject to one of the harshest regimens that China visits on any nationalities or collective groups within its borders. But the persecution of Ilham Tohti serves as an example of how China’s repressive policies create damage and danger that go far beyond its own borders. There are good reasons for international concern and outrage over Ilham Tohti’s imprisonment.

On the heels of recent attacks in Europe, and concern about new ISIS-aligned actors outside the group’s core Middle East area, a recent report from the New America think-tank has revealed, among other things, that China’s treatment of its Muslim population is boosting radicalization: over 100 Turkic Uyghurs, Muslims from the region of Xinjiang in China’s northwest were recruited into ISIS response to the harsh state repression visited on them as Muslims and as Uyghurs in full disregard of common human rights norms. But the particularly harsh persecution of Ilham Tohti demonstrates a terrible dynamic in that process: the one-party Chinese state, by targeting moderates effectively nurtures extremism as the outlet for legitimate grievances over China’s policies.

On January 15, 2014 Ilham Tohti was spending the afternoon resting with his two young sons in his apartment on the campus of Minzu University where he taught economics. When a large contingent of police and state security agents burst through the door, suddenly and unexpectedly, waking the napping professor, his life changed forever. He was dragged from his apartment and has spent all of his subsequent days behind bars. As for legal formalities—such as they are for an outspoken liberal Uyghur intellectual in China—his trial on charges of supporting separatism, advocating violence among his students, etc.—took all of two days and produced a life sentence. And what had he really done? He had written about what had been happening in Xinjiang in a way that was markedly different from the official line; he circulated word of what he had found openly and on his own website; and perhaps most dangerously, he invited response and discussion. Though fluent and literate in Uyghur, he constituted his website as a Chinese-language venue so as to initiate dialogue between Uyghurs and Chinese. In retrospect that, as well as Ilham’s charismatic teaching, was intolerable. And so he was taken from his family and months later subjected to a kangaroo court (witnesses he asked for were not called; in contravention of Chinese law he was tried in a venue hundreds of mile from Beijing, his place of residence and the place in which his supposed crimes had allegedly been committed).

The intrinsic merit in Ilham’s activities and the egregious injustice of his imprisonment have been acknowledged internationally: he was the recipient of the PEN American Center’s Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award and just recently named one of three Finalists for the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. And now he is a nominee for the Sakharov Prize.

One might be inclined to see in Ilham Tohti’s case just one more sad instance of Chinese authoritarian repression and hostility to free thought. But in the present climate of anxieties about extremism, about Islam and about terror, his case is especially significant. Given China’s record of cynical misuse of the terrorism issue to attack dissent among Uyghurs and Tibetans, observers are rightly concerned that the state’s adoption of a new, broad anti-terrorism law just this past December has set the stage for actions that will exacerbate China’s problems.

By any measure, Ilham Tohti is a moderate person. A Muslim, he is liberal in his practice and entertains close friendships across lines of nationality and religion. But from the perspective of the authorities, moderates such as Ilham—non-violent critics who operate openly—are threats and are targeted for severe repression. The ills and abuses they bring to the surface are ignored and fester. Thus, the persecution to which Uyghurs are subjected continues. Bans on beards and head scarves in public venues, coercion to violate religious prohibitions concerning food and drink, violence and incarceration as a response to dissent: this is precisely the kind of abuse that, in the absence of a moderate core seeking dialogue, lends itself to exploitation by extremists. Indeed, China seems to go after the moderates because they can be seen: they operate in the open and call for dialogue and honesty about what the state is doing. Their imprisonment leaves the field to extremists who operate below the radar; they become the only ones articulating to an aggrieved population anything contrary to the official line. For all its propaganda about fighting extremism China is actively abetting its rise: in this instance among a population that has previously been noted for its moderation and restraint. Given current anxiety about Islamist extremism, the international community ought to be horrified by what China is doing. The Islamic world, wherein this extremism is wreaking the greatest havoc should be even more alarmed—and should make the persecution of writers and intellectuals such as Ilham Tohti a prominent issue in its relations with China.

The original sin, so to speak, in modern China’s dealings with Uyghurs as well as Tibetans was its annexation of these peoples without any regard to what they wanted. (And for most it was unwanted.) This original sin and the brutal periods of Chinese rule that followed have fostered a situation in which a free, open discussion of the history of Uyghurs and Tibetan under PRC rule cannot be entertained without severe damage to the myths that are enforced as the official line. Thus, when discontent surfaces the Party finds itself structurally incapable of asking what it is doing wrong. Instead, the question becomes “Who is doing this to us?” And it answers the question by seeking scapegoats. Not long ago Tibetan disgust at the appearance in the media of fake “Chinese Lamas” produced an incoherent and irrelevant response from official quarters denouncing Tibetan separatism, something that only exacerbated Tibetan frustration at their concerns not being taken seriously. Matters in Xinjiang have brought no serious questioning of the repressive Chinese policies. When French journalist Ursula Gauthier questioned China’s deployment of the terrorism narrative to defend its actions there she was expelled from China. And Ilham Tohti, who tirelessly pursued a principled quest for dialogue and change, languishes in a prison in Xinjiang. The injustice inherent in Ilham’s case is symbolic of the way China is making extremism the only option for the disaffected in Xinjiang. It should be a primary concern of the international community.

 

Elliot Sperling is the former chair of the Department of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University and formerly the Director of its Tibetan Studies Program. He is the author of “The Tibet-China: History and Polemics.”