Zubayra Shamseden Discusses Uyghur Language Transmission at Academic Conference

This month Zubayra Shamseden, UHRP’s Chinese Outreach Coordinator attended the 46th Annual Mid-Atlantic Region Association for Asian Studies Conference held at Drexel University to discuss the current situation of Uyghur children learning foreign languages overseas. Like other immigrant groups, Uyghur parents want their children to learn the language of the country where they migrated. However, any other foreign language learners, the Uyghur children also face some challenges.


Ms. Shamseden addressed the issue of Uyghur children learning new languages while overseas, pointing out that it can be challenging due to the lack of educational resources aimed at Uyghur speaking learners. Because 1) There is no continuous, supportive environment for the Uyghur language and Uyghur literary documentations to flourish in Uyghurs’ home country of East Turkestan due to Chinese government’s restrictive educational policies directed at Uyghurs. 2) Uyghur diaspora communities tend to be small and spread across the globe, it is challenging for Uyghur linguists or other language related professionals and experts to work continuously to protect the Uyghur language’s authenticity, development, and innovation to encourage bilingual Uyghurs to flourish. And 3) like other immigrants, Uyghur immigrant families sometimes face economic challenges that create additional difficulties in accessing educational resources.

Overseas Uyghur communities lack the financial and organizational capacity to manage and operate independent Uyghur language and culture education-oriented professional organizations, which would support Uyghur children in overseas to overcome foreign language learning challenges. Partly to meet these challenges Uyghur intellectuals have established the Turkey-based Uyghur Academy to help preserve and develop Uyghur language and culture.

Within East Turkestan, China’s the so-called bilingual education policy has made it difficult for Uyghur children to learn any foreign language other than Chinese. “As a translator, I translated for numerous Uyghur children in their asylum or other cases,” said Ms. Shamseden. “According to my conversations with many Uyghur children, the children expressed that ‘they wish that they have never learnt Chinese, because the foreign language has much commonality with the Uyghur in terms of using an alphabet, grammar and expression rather than Chinese’. However, due to their Chinese bilingual education class experiences in China, they don’t either have enough Uyghur or Chinese language proficiency, so they find it is very difficult for them to transmit their language ability to accommodate new language/third foreign language concepts.”

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Students of a Uyghur language school in Turkey

In addition the cultural and identity expression that Chinese government imposes on Uyghurs limits their expression as either completely Uyghur or Chinese. Ms. Shamseden related the story of a Uyghur girl in the US who told her that she identified herself as Chinese from China when she first introduced herself in her ESL classroom. Once the English teacher organized a cultural night for the class, everyone was asked to dress in their own cultural/traditional clothes and bring a representative food; she came into class with absolute Uyghur look with a Uyghur food, which showed complete difference from a Han Chinese who identified herself as Chinese from China. “The real Han Chinese student was overjoyed about the situation, saying that ‘Uyghur, Han we are all one family in China’, but Uyghur girl felt upset at being included in this ‘family member of big Chinese’. So I asked her: ‘then why didn’t you identify yourself as Uyghur in the first place in the classroom?” She said, “I was afraid to say I am from “Xinjiang”/East Turkestan.”

Nevertheless, Uyghur children do well in grasping foreign languages, especially those using an alphabet like English and Russian. Uyghur children are eager to learn new things in an unrestricted learning environment. In order to ensure that this talent pool is able to reach its full potential Ms. Shamseden recommends investing in producing more materials for Uyghur children’s language acquisition such as dictionaries, bilingual story books (Uyghur stories translated into English), bilingual multimedia, and online tools and establishing a systematic, formal education institutions to help Uyghur children to grow up bilingually in foreign countries.

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Zubayra Shamseden Speaks at the United Nations Membership for Taiwan/Keep Taiwan Free March

UHRP’s Chinese Outreach Coordinator Ms. Zubayra Shamseden spoke at the United Nations Membership for Taiwan/Keep Taiwan Free March on September 16th.  Below is the transcript of her speech.

Dear Taiwanese friends and fellow supporters,
I am honored to be here today, to join you in support of Taiwan’s role as a shining
beacon of freedom and progress in Asia.

Many people in Asia have struggled for too long to achieve true democracy and freedom.
Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try, the control of power stays in the hands of
governments such as the CCP, which continues to spread its tyranny as we continue our
resistance. Who will be the victorious in the end? Clearly, justice is on our side, and the
history books leave us with no doubt that the winners are those who fight for justice. In
the long run our struggles will prevail.

I am here today to tell you Taiwanese friends, that your firm stance on protecting your
democracy, freedom and right to progress is a strong hope for people like the Uyghurs,
Tibetans, Mongols and many similar fated people in Asia; Echoes of your loud, strong
voices in expressing how you established your state, your way of life; your desire for
safeguarding what you have right now and your determination to protect Taiwan’s
freedom is an inspiration for many people in the world. Simply, your existence as a
democratic Taiwan is proof that we – billions of Chinese people in China, millions of
Uyghurs, Tibetans and Mongols under Chinese Communist Party control will be free and
be democratic one day.

As a Uyghur, I work as Chinese Outreach Coordinator at the Uyghur Human Rights
Project. My role within the organization is, in fact, to reach out to people like you.
Taiwanese, who truly wish to stay free from the paranoid control of CCP for greater
freedom and to continue as a sovereign state. Chinese democrats, who fight for the
greater freedom of Chinese people inside China, who wish to live a life without fear of
expressing their opinions, to live a human life, to have the opportunity to be secure, travel
and not be hungry. The Uyghur, Tibetan and Mongol people also wish to live peacefully
without fear of imprisonment, torture, death, displacement, discrimination and
disappearance. One who has endured such pain can empathize with those who are
enduring something similar. All of you have suffered and are suffering under Chinese
communism, Uyghurs suffer it too. What can we do? We have all been telling the same
tragic story to each other and to the world for a long time. Have we had any progress in
our struggle? I can say yes and no.

I would like to tell you a little Uyghur story about a prince’s battle: A Uyghur king’s son
came to him and complained about his failures. The son said: ‘father, no matter how hard
I try on the battlefield, I am failing. I know I am wise, skillful, brave and determined, but
I am still failing.’ The King asked him: ‘how are you fighting your battle?’ and he
answered: ‘alone with my own great soldiers.’ ‘I see’, said the King. ‘How about your
other brothers? They are also on the battlefield, with the same enemy, with their own
great fighters. Are they winning their war?’ The son murmured a, ‘No and Yes.’ The
King turned to his son and asked him to bring a bunch of sticks. Then the King started to
break the sticks one by one in front of his son. At the same time, he told the son: ‘See, if
you give me a stick, I can break it easily. Now look – can I break the bunch of sticks altogether at once?’ The King attempted to break the bunch of sticks, but was never able
to do so.

As the story goes, whether we are Taiwanese, Chinese, Tibetan, Mongols, Uyghurs or
other suffering people under communism, as one people, we are all on the same
battlefield with the same enemy. If we all come together, no one will be able to break us;
if we come together as one in fighting for a true democratic China, a free Taiwan, Tibet,
Mongolia and East Turkestan, the victorious tomorrow will be ours.

Thank you!

Zubayra Shamseden, Chinese Outreach Coordinator, UHRP

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East Turkestan Transformed Into the Testing Ground for the Security State

The former head of the Ministry of Public Security and current Secretary of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Meng Jianzhu called for the use of big data and artificial intelligence to fight terrorism in the region during an inspection tour in late August. The Chinese authorities increasingly emphasize the use of new technology in East Turkestan; only Tibet is comparable in terms of the scale of the security presence, and it is the proving ground for many of the security forces’ new technologies.

Much of this new technology was on display at the 13th Annual Xinjiang Police and Counter-terrorism Technology and Equipment Exhibition (第十三届新疆警用反恐技术装备博览会), which took place this August, providing Chinese and international companies an opportunity to advertise their wares.   This year’s theme was “Intelligent Security, High Tech Strong Police,” (智能安防、科技强警) or in English “Smart Security, Intensified Technology.” As the “main battlefield” in the fight against “splittism,” terrorism and infiltration the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is presented as offering huge opportunities for security industry businesses. The number of Chinese companies in this sector has expanded rapidly in recent years according to Amnesty International, from 28 in 2003 to 130 in 2014. The Urumchi trade fair is one of the longest running of its kind in China, and since 2014 has taken place together with the biannual China-Eurasia Security Exhibition (中国-亚欧安防博览会).

The exhibition is designed to promote advanced products and solutions for security and police forces, including high-definition surveillance equipment, drones and robots, particularly to Central Asian countries. Many of the governments in the region are repressive, and China lacks any sort of export controls aimed at preventing these products from being misused by repressive governments.  According to Chinese media reports, 650 enterprises from around the world participated, including from the US.


The conference’s forum on security and big data

The choice of Urumchi as a place to advertise Chinese technological developments and products for security forces is no coincidence. While the oldest security trade fair takes place in Shenzhen, China’s technology and manufacturing capital, the Urumchi exhibition is one of the longest running, largest scale and most influential. The regional Public Security Department (公安厅) and the Quality and Technology Supervision Bureau jointly set up a “Xinjiang Public Security Video Laboratory” (新疆公共安全视频实验室) to provide the public security organs a place to test the use of intelligent video analysis and apps for the purpose of maintaining stability in Xinjiang. The lab is supported by companies such as Haiyun Data, which is developing lip reading technology to “help law enforcement agencies better analyze criminal behavior.”


Technical support unit status awarded to Haiyun Data

Drones were another technology prominently displayed at the trade fair; China is using UAVs to patrol and record areas where permanent cameras would be impractical, particularly along the border, and they are being more widely used by urban police forces as well. Chinese drone manufacturers install systems in private drones preventing them from entering sensitive areas, including in parts of XUAR. Tracking vehicles is a serious concern for the security forces; this February vehicles in Bayingol Prefecture were required to install the Chinese BeiDou satellite tracking system in their cars. Those without the devices would not be able to be refueled or resold. Registration processes can be used as a means of collecting data on individuals. As of August this year, Uyghur and Kazakh residents of Urumchi are being required to undergo extra security background checks to register a car; drivers’ personal information will be checked against a database. In 2016, over 40 Chinese institutions including police, transportation, courts and banks agreed to create a vast pool of information on citizens.


Advertisement for Harwar UAV systems

Residents have also been ordered to bring all their digital devices in for inspection and to have monitoring software named Jingwang installed on them, which will “‘automatically detect terrorist and illegal religious videos, images, e-books and electronic documents’ stored in the phone. If illegal content was detected, users would be ordered to delete them.” The app also logs wifi logins, IMEI cell phone identification numbers, SIM card data and Weibo and WeChat conversations. RFA reported that several Kazakh women were arrested over a WeChat conversation recorded by the app.

DH_iK0EUwAAggwbPolice in Kashgar using a smart phone face scanner @EmilyZFeng

China has incorporated face recognition technology at a larger scale and faster rate than perhaps any other society.   The nation has an estimated 100 million surveillance cameras. Chinese companies have developed car-mounted camera systems that can rotate 360 degrees and recognize individual faces or “one type of person,” as well as scan for license plates and car types. It has been reported that police in Kashgar are now equipped with smart phones which can scan faces and match them with people’s IDs. Train and bus stations in the region were among the first to use the technology, and systems are now being installed in gas stations, as well as the regions numerous security checkpoints.

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Security checkpoint by Unicomp Technology advertised at the trade fair

Many companies are positioning themselves to export some of these technologies, especially to Belt and Road Initiative countries. Amnesty International has criticized China’s export of equipment for law enforcement, releasing a report in 2014 which states that “the export control system of China lacks adequate export assessment criteria, oversight, transparency and enforcement of regulations. As a result, law enforcement equipment has been exported from China to countries where there was a foreseeable and substantial risk of serious human rights violations by law enforcement agencies.” It is unlikely that China will give much consideration for the human rights situation in countries to which it exports this equipment as its own security force are accused of committing human rights violations using this equipment (see pages 17 to 21 of Amnesty’s report). Particularly disturbing are reports of militarized police using the kinds of equipment exhibited at these trade fairs to put down what they call “mass incidents.” The Amnesty report points out that “demonstrations by Tibetans, Uighurs, Mongolians and other ethnic minorities have been harshly repressed through the use of arbitrary and excessive force by police and other security forces, as have protests against the authorities in cases of forced eviction or expropriation of land.”

The Chinese perception of security is holistic; the massive expansion of the police forces and use of technology in surveillance is one facet of the government’s efforts to maintain stability. The flag raising ceremonies and large rallies that take place in the region are also a part of their security strategy, giving local officials the opportunity to monitor the political attitudes of individual citizens. The use of new technologies can make the process more efficient and effective. Given the blatant racial profiling and broad view the government takes towards security threats, these new technologies are particularly worrisome for Uyghurs and other minorities.



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