Dissidents Call for the Incoming U.S. Administration to Push China on Human Rights Abuses

A large panel of dissidents called on the incoming Trump administration to reevaluate the U.S. approach towards China in a hearing before the Congressional Executive Commission on China on December 7. Each participant offered advice for President-elect Trump, and all seemed to sense that the US-China relationship is at a turning point. Increasing tensions between the two nations have been mostly due to trade policy and national security. However, the human rights situation in China has deteriorated under Xi Jinping as lawyers and activists are imprisoned and religious and ethnic minorities suffer increased repression. Commission Chairman Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey said he is among those whose hopes that liberalizing trade with China would lead to increased freedom for the Chinese people have been disappointed.

Ms. Rebiya Kadeer spoke on the situation faced by the Uyghurs, emphasizing the codification of repression in the series of laws Beijing has recently passed including the counter-terror and cyber security measures which have elements clearly aimed at the Uyghur population. She called on the incoming administration to be critical of the Chinese authorities’ assertion that repression of the Uyghurs is a necessary part of fighting radical Islam.

See the video of the hearing and a transcript of Ms. Kadeer’s testimony below.

Dissidents Who Have Suffered for Human Rights in China: A Look Back and A Look Forward

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Testimony by Ms. Rebiya Kadeer, Uyghur Democracy Leader

Since my release from a Chinese prison in 2005, I have reported to the Commission the continuing human rights violations targeting the Uyghur people. As the Commission has noted in its annual reports, political freedoms in East Turkestan are among the most limited in China. The right to association and assembly is prohibited and freedom of speech is punished severely, as the case of imprisoned Uyghur academic Ilham Tohti illustrates. Economic discrimination, erosion of language rights and religious restrictions add to the already depressing condition of Uyghur human rights.

President Xi Jinping has attempted to codify these violations in a series of repressive laws, such as the ones on counter-terror and cybersecurity. Implementation measures of the counter-terror law at the regional level in East Turkestan are a clear indicator of who China intends to target with these draconian measures.

Nevertheless, China believes it should go further with its repression. Arbitrary detentions, forced disappearance and extra-judicial killings continue. Recent media reports indicate the Chinese government has implemented a policy to confiscate passports in East Turkestan to limit the international movement of Uyghurs. This is the formalization of a policy that Uyghur human rights groups have documented since 2006.

Islam is a cornerstone of the Uyghur identity. China has adopted a series of religious laws at the national and regional level (2015) that curb Uyghur rights to freedom of worship. Private communal religious education has been targeted for several years under these measures; however, this year Chinese authorities adopted rules to report parents who encourage their children to undertake religious activities.

During the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations my colleagues and I have worked hard to bring Uyghur issues to the attention of the U.S. political community. Our organizations regularly brief State Department officials and legislators at the U.S. Congress. We have managed to mainstream the Uyghur issue into U.S. government reporting on human rights. Most notably, I was privileged to meet President George Bush on two occasions; the first time in June 2007 and the second in July 2008. These meetings placed Uyghurs at the center of U.S. policy concerns over human rights in China.

China’s heavy handed policies towards Uyghurs are creating instability and desperation among the Uyghur people. These policies have become self-fulfilling in some respects, as some Uyghurs have become radicalized in their effort to oppose China’s repression. The United States should be concerned about these developments as it is in the nation’s interest to support the democratic aspirations of the overwhelming majority of Uyghurs. Stability in East Turkestan, China and the Central and East Asian regions offers the opportunity to spread American values such as freedom and rights.

The administration of President-elect Donald Trump should continue support for Uyghur democrats and step up public concern over rights conditions in East Turkestan with Chinese officials. Any sign that the United States is ready to relinquish its commitment to raising human rights concerns in favor of achieving policy gains elsewhere will be a victory for China.

Furthermore, the incoming administration should exercise extreme skepticism regarding China’s narrative that increased militarization and securitization in East Turkestan are justified in fighting radical Islam. The repression that accompanies security measures enables China to keep firm control of the region and suppress legitimate Uyghur claims for greater political, economic, social and cultural freedoms. The Trump administration should understand the situation in East Turkestan in similar terms to the Tibet. It is a struggle for cultural survival in the face of formidable assimilative actions by the state.

Let us be clear. Pressure works. My presence here today is testament to the success of pressurizing Chinese officials. My colleagues and I will continue to put forward the Uyghur case to the international community. It is the responsibility of concerned governments to take this case directly to China and urge reform. The Uyghur people greatly appreciate the United States’ support of our plight.; however, we ask the incoming administration to publicly raise the Uyghur issue with China.

In conclusion, I offer these recommendations to the Trump administration:

1. Prioritize Uyghur issues, especially during the Human Rights Dialogue and the Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

2. Urge China to allow foreign diplomats and journalists unrestricted access to East Turkestan to independently document the conditions in the region.

3. Call on China to free Ilham Tohti and his students and all writers and reporters.

4. Ask China to change its repressive policy, which is root cause of all bloody incidents in Uyghur region.

5. Meet Uyghur leaders and activists at the White House

6. Create a special coordinator office at the State Department for the Uyghurs

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Forbidding Children from Participating in Religion is Nothing New in East Turkestan

Last week the government of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region announced a new education law that will come into force on November first in the region’s state media (for full Chinese text, see here). The most widely reported aspect of the new law was the provision that parents and guardians are forbidden to “encourage or force” their children to participate in religious activities and saying that any “person or group” has the right to put a stop to such activities and report the parents. Those who are reported can have their children taken away and sent to “specialist schools for rectification.”

This law does indeed have disturbing implications, encouraging citizens to spy upon one another and increasing intrusion of the state into familial relationships. The law encourages reporting of parents who push their children into “extremism, terrorism and underground scripture studies,” lumping legitimate religious expression together with extremism, thereby casting the widest possible net. This is in line with previous laws encouraging people to report one another, such as this one listing 53 different proscribed behaviors.

Unfortunately the education law is not a departure from policies that have existed for decades. In 1993 the “Implementing Measures of the Law on the Protection of Minors” outlawed parents and guardians from allowing children to engage in religious activities, and signs prohibiting the entrance of those under 18 years of age are posted outside every mosque in East Turkestan. The regulation was updated in 2009, restating that parents were not permitted to “lure or force” children to engage in religious activity. The national level Law for the Protection of Minors contains no such clause, suggesting that these regulations are aimed specifically at Uyghurs.

It should be noted that these laws seem to contradict the rights laid out in the Chinese Constitution, as well as Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which China as a member of the General Assembly is obliged to observe. Children elsewhere in China, including Muslims, are permitted to engage in legally sanctioned religious activity. There is some evidence that restrictions elsewhere are tightening, at least on an informal basis; take for instance the government of Gansu reiterating that religion was not permitted in schools after a video of a Hui girl reciting the Koran went viral and prompted an Islamophobic backlash online. For more on restrictions on freedom of religion please see our report “Sacred Right Defiled: China’s Iron-Fisted Repression of Uyghur Religious Freedom.”

Children at an anti-extremism class in Akto County. Photo from China Daily.

Children at an anti-extremism class in Akto County. Photo from China Daily.

Schools are an important site for indoctrination across China, and in XUAR this takes on anti-religion message that is pointedly related to national security. The dangers of religious activity are taught in XUAR schools beginning at the elementary school level, at least in schools with mostly minority students. On the 12th of October a meeting was held in Urumqi to discuss the morality and ideology curriculum, attended by leaders from the education departments not only of XUAR but also Inner Mongolia, Guangxi, Qinghai, Hainan and Guizhou- all provinces with significant minority populations, suggesting that the experience of the XUAR education department perhaps holds lessons for them.

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International Community, Please Do Not Let the Uyghurs Become Hopeless

By Ilshat Hassan, the Uyghur Human Rights Project Chinese Translator and Research Assistant,Translated from Chinese by N. Morgret


By chance I recently had the opportunity to meet with a Uyghur intellectual from East Turkestan who is worried about his country and people.

During our brief conversation I listened to his description of East Turkestan’s situation as hopeless and tragic; we were silent for a while, then I asked him whether or not he could answer a few questions. He quickly replied, “Ask me, brother, and then I will see if I can answer or not.”

I asked him whether in the hopeless, harsh and almost suffocating system of dictatorial colonial control he described, if there was any opportunity and the courage for ethnic issues to be freely discussed in private, and to explore the Uyghur people’s future path.

He looked at me and seemed to clearly answer: “Of course, in our private gatherings we still discuss ethnic issues. Remember, brother, it’s the same as when you still lived in your homeland; whenever Uyghurs gathered together in private they discussed ethnic issues, and their future direction.”

I again asked, “What do Uyghur intellectuals in East Turkestan think about East Turkestan and the Uyghur people’s future?”

He paused for a moment and said “After 7/5, most Uyghurs lost hope in the Chinese government, including those who previously believed that even if local Han officials were bad, the central government authorities were good; if only the central government authorities knew that there were problems with government policies in East Turkestan, there would be changes. Even those Uyghurs who had a bit of hope in the Communist authorities, who were called Communist lackeys by other Uyghurs, have completely lost hope.

He continued, “Therefore, no matter whether they are farmers, workers, students, intellectuals or even policemen, soldiers or civil servants, all Uyghurs are thinking about their people’s future. Most Uyghurs, when they see the changes in everyday life- every street and ally, school, and barracks filled with soldiers, aircraft and tanks; when they see thousands of Han settlers flowing out of every train station and airport and every government office at every level full of Han officials; when they see every intersection in the city, every corner, village and pasture having checkpoints and cameras, they seemingly give up hope. But there are a few Uyghur intellectuals who have a firm belief that there is hope for the future, that if only the international community supported us, the Uyghur people would have hope for attaining their freedom.”

I asked him “How do Uyghur people and intellectuals view the sentencing of Professor Tohti to life in prison? Surprise, disappointment, despair?”

He looked at me for a moment and said “They fell all that- surprise, disappointment, and despair, and also anger! It was extremely disappointing and seemingly hopeless, and also enraging. In my circle, there was not one person who believed that Professor Tohti would get life in prison.   A sentence of life imprisonment is beyond what most Uyghurs, including government officials, expected.”

He continued “You could say the 7/5 Urumqi massacre made the boundaries between Uyghur and Han sharply divided; Professor Tohti’s life sentence made those Uyghur officials and intellectuals who had a fantasy that Xi Jinping and Zhang Chunxian’s taking office meant a new government completely disillusioned.”

“As soon as we heard that Professor Tohti had been sentenced to life in prison the first thing a large group of Uyghur intellectuals, myself included, did was wipe our computers, delete all articles that had to do with Ilham Tohti or with ethnic issues. With Professor Tohti’s sentence the government gave Uyghurs, especially Uyghur intellectuals, a very clear message: no matter the circumstances or place, do not discuss the government’s ethnic policies.”

I asked him “What do Uyghurs inside the country understand and think about the Uyghur freedom movement outside the country?”

He said “ Uyghurs inside East Turkestan seem to have little understanding of the Uyghur freedom movement outside the country; they get little news and restrictions are very harsh. As you know, the first news they got of the Uyghur freedom movement was from Radio Free Asia’s broadcasts. The Chinese government has increased electromagnetic jamming, and radio signals are almost impossible to hear. Secondly in some areas there was confiscation of Uyghur families’ radios and therefore there is little chance to hear RFA’s news about the Uyghur freedom movement.”

“The other method of understanding the Uyghur freedom movement a few years ago was to go on the internet using software to get over the Great Firewall. Now the government controls it more tightly, there are internet police everywhere and as soon as they notice that a Uyghur is getting around the Great Firewall to read content on overseas Uyghur websites or listen to Radio Free Asia programs, they are quickly arrested, sentenced and everyone is made to feel insecure. Now, in order to avoid unnecessary bother, there are many Uyghurs who do not even use smart phones.”

In the past Uyghur intellectuals understood the Uyghur freedom movement outside of the country through a third channel, the essays written by so-called “anti-secession researchers and scholars” criticizing the overseas Uyghur freedom movement. Even though the critical essays’ news was a little lagging some was still useful, and people paid attention. Now they don’t even have that! Those essays written by “experts and scholars” are only circulated internally and not published or are circulated in a limited way.”

“You can now say that there is only one means of getting information on the overseas Uyghur freedom movement left: from those Uyghur friends who come from abroad or return from visits abroad.”

“How is the overseas Uyghur freedom movement viewed? Brother, Uyghurs inside the country place all their hopes in the outside, on the US-led free world! There only needs to be a little news about the outside Uyghur freedom movement to enter, about the convening of the World Uyghur Congress, a Uyghur American Association meeting, America publishing a report on human rights or freedom of religion, or a relatively large demonstration to make us excited for a while.”

“Since the beginning of this year, the news that Professor Tohti might win the Sakharov Prize was quietly spreading; Uyghurs, especially intellectuals and some government officials were excited. They hoped the news was true and that Professor Tohti would win the Sakharov prize, and hoped he might even win the Nobel Peace Prize. That kind of major international prize might not immediately change the Uyghur’s situation, but everyone knows that it would at least show that the international community hasn’t forgotten about the Uyghurs and that there is still justice in the world! Uyghurs are not alone, and Uyghurs are not fighting for their freedom alone! It would be a great encouragement!”

I am silent, being a Uyghur who has lived in the West for decades and struggled in the heart of the overseas Uyghur freedom movement for nearly ten years. Having seen that in recent years Western countries have paid lip service to the Chinese government’s wanton trampling of human rights, but for the sake of their economic benefit have shortsightedly closed their eyes, what can I say?

I quietly pray in my heart that the European Parliament lives up to the hopes of the brave Uyghurs in East Turkestan who live under the dark rule of the CCP, and that the Sakharov Prize for Human Rights will be awarded to Ilham Tohti! Do not let the Uyghur people’s last hope be lost!

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