Testimony: China’s Harassment of Uyghurs Overseas

UAA President Ilshat Hassan faces CECC co-chairs Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Chris Smith

UAA President Ilshat Hassan faces CECC Cochairs Congressman Chris Smith and Senator Marco Rubio

In a Congressional hearing on May 24 2016, Uyghur American Association President Ilshat Hassan was invited to testify regarding China’s attempts to stifle human rights activists overseas. The hearing, entitled “The Long Arm of China: Global Efforts to Silence Critics from Tiananmen to Today,” was organized by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, a research body with a mandate to monitor human rights issues in the People’s Republic of China. Watch footage from the hearing online:

The following is the text from Mr. Hassan’s prepared testimony:

Written Statement of Ilshat Hassan Kokbore

President, Uyghur American Association

Congressional-Executive Commission on China Hearing

Good afternoon.

I would like to first thank the CECC for holding this important hearing today, and for inviting me to participate. I am a victim of the Chinese government’s constant political persecution, and a human rights activist living in the U.S.

Personally, I hope the U.S. government and U.S. Congress can understand the Chinese government’s long arm, which stretches beyond China’s borders to overseas, to threaten and harass overseas human rights activists. I hope the U.S. government and Congress will act to hold the Chinese government accountable for its vicious actions.

This is my personal story.

My name is Ilshat Hassan Kokbore, also known as Ilshat Hassan. I was born in Ghulja, East Turkistan.

I have been politically active against communist Chinese rule in East Turkistan since studying at university in the 1980s. Constantly under harassment, threats, and persecution from the regional government’s secret service agency, I was forced to leave East Turkistan in November 2003, leaving behind my parents, sisters and brothers, wife, and child. After three years of waiting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for resettlement as a refugee, in July 2006, I came to the U.S.

After coming to the U.S., I joined the Uyghur American Association (UAA) and became a very active member of UAA. I actively participated, organizing demonstrations against the Chinese government’s occupation of East Turkistan, attending and holding conferences to expose the Chinese government’s cruel policy against the Uyghur people, and writing articles in Chinese to rebuke their claim over East Turkistan.

My political activities greatly agitated the Chinese government. In the beginning, the Chinese government held my family members hostage, denying my wife and son passports; inhumanely causing the forced separation of my family. I was only able to meet with my son after 10 years of long-suffering separation.

After losing the hope of getting a passport for my wife, and also of protecting her from constant harassment from the Chinese government and secret agents, I had to make the painful decision to get a divorce. But that didn’t stop the Chinese government from continuing to harass and threaten my ex-wife, and she was continually under surveillance and threats.

In order to pressure me to stop my political activities, on August 17, 2014, at midnight, Chinese authorities burst into my elder sister’s house around 1:30 a.m.; after searching her house and taking her son’s computer, she was detained in an undisclosed place for around 8-10 months, without any charge. Even though she was released, she still has to report to the local police regularly, and has to get approval even to visit our parents.

On the same day, August 17, 2014, RFA journalist Shohret Hoshur’s two brothers were detained, and were later sentenced. This was obvious retaliation against Mr. Hoshur, who revealed a great deal about Chinese police brutality against Uyghurs.

As we all know, prominent Uyghur leader, human rights champion, and World Uyghur Congress (WUC) president Mrs. Rebiya Kadeer has constantly been accused by the Chinese government of being an evil separatist; and her two sons were sentenced to jail as retaliation from the Chinese government.

The Chinese government pressured one of Mrs. Kadeer’s imprisoned sons to condemn his mother, and to accuse Mrs. Kadeer of being an evil criminal. As normal, civilized human beings, we cannot imagine under what circumstances, and under what kind of pressure, a son was forced to condemn his dearest mother, accusing his own mother publicly of being a criminal!

Dolkun Isa, another prominent Uyghur human rights activist, and chair of the WUC executive committee, was recently preparing to attend a meeting held in Dharamsala, India. The Indian government, after issuing a visa to Mr. Isa, and under the Chinese government’s pressure, cancelled the visa, denying Mr. Isa entry into India.

In late 2009, Mr. Isa, as a German citizen, was in immediate danger of being repatriated back to China when he tried to enter South Korea to attend a human rights conference. He was put in solitary confinement for more than three days, before the U.S. and European Union intervened.

The Chinese government has constantly tried to block all of Mr. Isa’s political activities by claiming he is a wanted terrorist according to an Interpol red notice, baselessly accusing him of supporting and funding terrorists.

Recently, another friend of mine, a Uyghur who is a Norwegian citizen, called me and told me that his family members living in East Turkistan were being harassed by the Chinese government; some of his family members were brought to the police station and interrogated for several hours, and they were told to tell him to stop any activities supporting Uyghurs.

Of course, we all know about the Uyghur refugees who managed to get out of China; but unfortunately, they were sent back to China by some irresponsible countries when they were in the process of applying for UNHCR refugee status. Some of them were directly interrogated by Chinese police in other countries, and their family members were threatened. After they were repatriated, most of them disappeared, and some of them were given harsh sentences.

The story of Uyghurs facing the Chinese government’s constant persecution, harassment, and threats goes on and on. Even Uyghurs who live overseas can’t be spared from the inhuman political persecution of the Chinese government. The Chinese government’s long arm keeps stretching longer and longer. It’s obvious that if China isn’t pressured to stop this kind of harassment, no one will be safe, regardless of where we live.

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Patigul Ghulam – “I don’t have a gun, I have only my mouth and my tears, and you cannot control them.”

Original Chinese Blog by Zubayra Shamseden, UHRP Chinese Outreach Coordinator

The following is the translation of a Chinese language blog published by the Uyghur Human Rights Project on February 16, 2016. According to Radio Free Asia, Patigul Ghulam faces trial in April, 2016.  

Patigul Ghulam. Illustration by Brian Williamson, courtesy of Radio Free Asia

Patigul Ghulam. Illustration by Brian Williamson, courtesy of Radio Free Asia

Patigul Ghulam is a mother unwavering in her commitment to find her missing son who disappeared after the “July 5 incident.” It is well known that hundreds died and thousands were injured in the “July 5 incident,” which brought untold suffering to the Uyghur people. In addition to the hundreds who died and thousands injured, during and after July 5, 2009 many Uyghurs were arrested and disappeared and have not been heard from since.

On July 5, 2009, Uyghurs peacefully gathered in Urumchi’s People’s Square to protest the government’s inaction in Shaoguan, Guangdong Province, after a deadly attack on Uyghur workers there. Details of that day and the following months are still unclear today. What is clear is that the events in Urumchi caused an untold number of casualties and unprecedented unrest. Eyewitness accounts of the July 5 events in Urumchi documented in a report by the Uyghur Human Rights Project as well as human rights groups including Amnesty International confirm instances in which Chinese riot police shot and killed peaceful Uyghur protestors.

At that time, brave Uyghur mother Patigul Ghulam’s son Ali was 25 years old, and seven days after the major unrest of July 5 (around July 12), police took him away. Ever since her son was taken, she has appealed to authorities, and searched everywhere for her son, to no avail. Throughout her search process, Patigul has suffered countless insults and unreasonable treatment by the local authorities.

According to Radio Free Asia, on May 27, 2014 the Urumchi Public Security Bureau detained Patigul on the grounds that she “aided hostile forces to publicly vilify the government.” An anonymous neighbor of Patigul who is familiar with the situation gave an account to Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service, citing Patigul’s daughter. The neighbor said that after a bombing incident at an Urumchi fruit market on the morning of May 22, 2014, the Urumchi police detained Patigul on May 27 on charges of “aiding hostile forces to publicly vilify the government,” though the police never explained what her illegal behavior actually was. Patigul’s daughter protested the police conduct, but she was threatened that if she continued to attract public attention and cause trouble, she would be found guilty of the same crime as her mother.

Because of her son’s disappearance after his arrest by police, Patigul has spent years protesting to the local authorities, demanding an explanation, and actively appealing to overseas media. Based on reports, nine months after her son’s arrest, she heard directly from another prisoner that Ali had been tortured and was hospitalized. Thereafter she did not receive any further information about her son.

According to investigations by Uighurbiz and other independent websites, after the “July 5 incident” the Chinese authorities arrested 1,800 Uighurs – some were sentenced to death; some were sentenced to life imprisonment; some were released; and many went missing, and their whereabouts remain a mystery today. Based on the understanding of overseas Uyghur groups, seven years later the family members of those who disappeared have been subject to long-term pressure and monitoring.

As one among hundreds of mothers who lost their sons and daughters, Patigul’s experience showcases the inhumane treatment that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) adopts towards Uyghurs like her. It is suffering enough to lose close relatives and sons or daughters, and to “add fuel to the fire” by further abusing a woman with nowhere to turn is simply inhumane. Nevertheless, as Patigul has said, “I don’t have a gun, I have only my mouth and my tears, and you cannot control them.” No matter how the CCP tramples the freedom and rights of the Uyghurs, the CCP government is powerless to cover up the “mouths” of the Uyghur people even after its long-term forceful oppression, their “tears” cried for freedom, or their perseverance in the struggle for their future.

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International Women’s Day 2016

Rebiya Kadeer, right, at the ISLC conference (photo courtesy Radio Free Asia)

Rebiya Kadeer, right, at the ISFLC conference (photo courtesy Radio Free Asia)

On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2016, the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) posts a speech on the condition of Uyghur women’s human rights made by Uyghur democracy leader Rebiya Kadeer on February 27, 2016.

At the recent International Students For Liberty Conference held in Washington, D.C. from February 26-28, 2016, Ms. Rebiya Kadeer led a session titled Defending Liberty With Rebiya Kadeer and Women Activists from Around the World. Women for Liberty activists from South Asia, Africa, Europe, and the United States joined Ms. Kadeer to discuss women’s rights across the globe.

Ms. Kadeer’s speech focused on the long history of women’s leadership in the Uyghur community, her own experiences in the struggle for women’s rights and the most important issues facing Uyghur women today. Ms. Kadeer’s presentation ended with a reminder that despite China’s obligations to meet rights standards for women through international and domestic legal instruments, the government has a record of violating the human rights of Uyghur women.

Remarks by Rebiya Kadeer

I would like to thank the International Students For Liberty for inviting me to speak today. This conference is wonderful opportunity to discuss the progress women have made on the global stage, as well as the great deal of work still ahead of us. It is reassuring to know that a new generation of activists is ready to take up the cause of guaranteeing the rights of women across the world.

Women have customarily assumed a leading role in Uyghur society. The strong position of women in Uyghur life is exemplified throughout history in individuals such as Amannisa Khan, who in the 16th century collected the music and songs of the 12 Muqam that serve as the cornerstone of Uyghur artistry. In women such as Iparhan, the so-called Fragrant Concubine, and Nozugum, a participant in the Kashgar uprising of 1825-26, who both resisted the Qing Dynasty occupation of East Turkestan in the 18th century. And in women such as Rizwangul, a nurse during the defense of the Second East Turkestan Republic from Chinese forces, who died in 1945 protecting Uyghur soldiers.

This tradition of Uyghur women’s leadership and resistance against injustice continues into today. In 2008 over 600 women protested in Khotan over discriminatory Chinese government policies and in 2014 up to 25 women were arrested in Kucha for resisting new curbs on their religious expression. Journalists Mehbube Ablesh and Gulmire Imin were imprisoned in 2008 and 2010 respectively for their writing on Chinese repression. In 2013, Atikem Rozi, a young Uyghur student, was detained after speaking out about the authorities’ denial of her passport application on the basis of her ethnicity.

In the wake of the unrest in Urumchi in July 2009 when thousands of Uyghur men were indiscriminately detained in security sweeps of Uyghur neighborhoods, it was Uyghur women who confronted armed Chinese police to demand information on the whereabouts of their loved ones. In an iconic image from the period, a lone Uyghur woman stands before a looming Chinese armed personnel carrier halting its progress in an attempt to put a stop to the crackdown on Uyghurs in Urumchi.

Patigul Gulam is still looking for her son, who disappeared during the unrest. In response to requests for information, the police have repeatedly “arrested, bullied, insulted, and humiliated her.” To her tormenters she merely says: “I don’t have a gun, I have only my mouth and my tears, and you cannot control them.”

From my own experience, I understand the challenges facing these Uyghur women. In the face of official barriers and corruption, I managed to build a successful trading company and a department store in Urumchi, and while traveling all over my homeland as a businesswoman I witnessed the eradication of my people’s religion, language and identity.

I served as a delegate to the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, as well as a delegate to the United Nation’s Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 in the hope of pushing the Chinese government toward a more tolerant approach on Uyghur human rights.

However, Beijing’s attitude toward me changed when I criticized China’s treatment of the Uyghurs during a National People’s Congress session in March 1997. I had demanded the Chinese government honor the autonomy conferred on the Uyghur people and respect their human rights. I also criticized China’s harsh crackdown of a Uyghur demonstration that had taken place a month earlier in Ghulja.

Following this speech, I refocused my efforts to help my people out of poverty, give opportunities to marginalized Uyghurs and speak out against the injustices. Through the “Thousand Mothers Movement”, which was established in December 1997, I attempted to empower Uyghur women to start their own businesses.

I was arrested in 1999 while on my way to meet with a U.S. Congressional delegation that was visiting East Turkestan to investigate the human rights situation and, following a secret trial, was handed an eight-year prison sentence in March 2000. I spent over five years in inhumane conditions, two of them in solitary confinement. In prison I saw for myself the torture and cruelty enacted on my people by the Chinese authorities, and it is known that Uyghur women are not protected from sexual violence and torture while in detention.

The Chinese government’s efforts to silence my voice backfired as my case received widespread international attention particularly with Amnesty International’s tireless advocacy. In 2000 I was honored by Human Rights Watch and in 2004, awarded the Thorolf Rafto Foundation for Human Rights Memorial Prize. On March 17, 2005, I was released from prison, traveled to the United States and granted refugee status. Without the help of complete strangers, I cannot even imagine where I would be now.

In exile, the struggle to realize Uyghur women’s human rights is represented in the Washington, DC based International Uyghur Human Rights and Democracy Foundation, which I founded in September 2005. In addition to raising awareness on women and children’s issues, the foundation organizes an annual Uyghur Women’s Workshop. Its objectives are to introduce the principles of human rights and democracy to Uyghur women and to encourage them to be more actively involved in the human rights and democracy movement. Prestigious experts, government officials, and human rights activists give presentations and conduct interactive training on democracy and human rights.  The annual workshop is a good opportunity for Uyghur women to participate in civic life and to promote human rights and democracy for the Uyghur people.

In November 2006, I was elected as president of the World Uyghur Congress, which represents the collective interests of the Uyghur diaspora, both in East Turkestan and in countries throughout the world. This work has enabled me to explain the plight of the Uyghur people in meetings with world leaders, such as President Bush in 2007 and 2008 and Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan in 2006. While nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize and the honor of receiving the 2015 Lantos Human Rights Prize have been sources of personal recognition, I think of them as advocacy opportunities to shine a light on the repressive policies targeting millions of voiceless Uyghurs.

In whatever environment I find myself, whether it is with presidents or grassroots human rights advocates, my only concern is improving the condition of the Uyghur people, in particular Uyghur women. As with women in other areas of the world, Uyghur women are subjected to the indignities of human trafficking and to the deprivations of poverty; however, Uyghur women are also subjected to rights abuses that are specific to their situation.

While the Chinese government recruits Han Chinese from other parts of China to take jobs in East Turkestan, the authorities use intimidation, threats, and deception to recruit Uyghurs to participate in a labor transfer program to urban factories in eastern China. The government focuses its aggressive recruitment efforts primarily on young, marriage-age Uyghur women and girls from predominantly Uyghur areas such as southern East Turkestan, which is a bastion of Uyghur culture and tradition. Thousands of Uyghur women and young girls have been removed from their communities and families in East Turkestan and placed into abusive and poor working conditions in eastern China under this program.

Against the backdrop of the government’s intense repression of all Uyghurs’ practice of religion and independent expressions of ethnicity, the authorities have singled out Uyghur women. Local governments have reported efforts to prevent women from wearing head coverings, investigate or reduce the wearing of headscarves, and change women’s clothing habits. In 2013, Kashgar authorities developed an initiative called “Project Beauty,” in which state officials encouraged local women not to wear headscarves or veils. Government workers occupied street stalls in order to detect women wearing the offending clothing in public. Once they had been identified, women wearing headscarves or veils were filmed using surveillance cameras and forced to watch a film on the benefits of unveiling. Officials have also implemented measures to politically train or regulate the activities of Uyghur female religious figures (known as buwi in Uyghur) and impose limits on women’s access to mosques.

The coercive and abusive family planning practices to which Uyghur women have been subjected mean some Uyghur women are not in control of their fertility. Individuals, acting in the capacity of the state, such as family planning officials, have forcibly taken Uyghur women from their homes and have subjected them to forced abortions and forced sterilizations. Uyghur women have suffered permanent health damage or even died as a result of negligent surgery during these forced operations. Population planning officials’ career advancement is routinely linked to their enforcement of set birth quotas and this has created an incentive structure for officials to use strong-arm measures.

Uyghurs, including college graduates who are fluent in Mandarin Chinese, are systematically subjected to blatant and overwhelming employment discrimination for both government jobs and private sector jobs (including private sector jobs publicized by local governments) in East Turkestan. Uyghur women are subjected to discrimination both because they are Uyghur and because they’re female. Online notices for state-sector set forth explicit ethnic and gender requirements that demonstrate a clear bias in favor of Han Chinese applicants and against Uyghurs and other non-Han groups, as well as against women of any ethnicity.

The rights of women are protected in the normative human rights standards outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Under international law, China is obliged to ensure the rights of women through the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. China’s domestic laws, such as the Constitution and the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law, have strong provisions on women’s rights. Despite this international and domestic legal framework, violations are rife. I encourage you to add your voice to realize Uyghur women’s human rights and let Chinese officials know the challenges facing Uyghur women are recognized the world over.

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