Zubayra Shamseden, UHRP’s Chinese Outreach Coordinator, attended the Twelfth Annual Interfaith/Interethnic Leadership Conference from November 14th to 17th, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan. Organized by Initiatives for China, the conference seeks to promote understanding and cooperation among various religious and ethnic groups to help advance democracy and human rights. This year Professor Ilham Tohti was one of the recipients of the 2017 Citizen Power Award, along with Wang Qiaoling, representing the 709 Lawyers’ families and Makino Seishu, an advocate of human rights in China.
Below is the speech given by Zubayra Shamseden.
The Overall Situation in East Turkistan after the 19th Party Congress
Since the Chinese Communist Party’s control of East Turkestan in 1949, none of the Party Congresses have made any improvement to the lives of Uyghurs in East Turkestan. In fact, the decisions made in each congress have brought extended disaster to East Turkestan and to its people. Although Uyghurs hoped that a leadership change might bring some kind of policy change, each Party Secretary of the region has left Uyghurs more and more disappointed and hopeless with the CCP’s empty promises.
In this 19th National People’s Congress, Chen Quanguo, who has created a security/police state in East Turkestan since his reign in the Uyghur region, was promoted, and clearly stated that Beijing’s policy towards Uyghurs will never change. The Chinese government believes the only way China will feel ‘secure’ is to continue the false claim that East Turkestan has been ‘a part of China from ancient times’ and to control the region by force. In reality, this only makes local Uyghurs feel even stronger about having never belonged to China or being a part of Chinese culture.
This clearly can be seen from the current situation of the Uyghurs. The CCP is turning East Turkestan into a staging of an Orwellian narrative, and we have front row seats. I will go through the highlights of each act in this ‘drama’ the CCP is showcasing:
- Patriotic re-education camps targeting Uyghurs: detaining Uyghurs with the so-called ‘re-education’ slogan started before the CCP’s 19th However it took an extreme form afterwards. According to RFA, there are thousands of Uyghurs detained in the camps; among them young and old, men and women; RFA reports of old men’s’ deaths because of the restrictive and abusive conditions in the camps. Not only are the camps damaging the regular lives of Uyghurs, it is dismantling families, tearing children apart from parents; according to RFA, some children whose parents were locked up the camps were sent to overcrowded, terrible conditioned orphanages, some left on the streets and even some sent to orphanages in mainland China. According to RFA, there are very loose administrative procedures for ‘adoptions’ of the Uyghur children in mainland China. This wave of detaining thousands of Muslim Uyghurs and other Muslim people in East Turkestan is a show of power and control. They can do as they please and we have no way to stop them.
- Spreading fear among Uyghurs both inside and outside country – the countless types of suppressive measures inside East Turkestan are evident; whether it is re-education camps, forced disappearances, humiliation, restrictions on access, sharing, and exchange of information; interfering in every sphere of one’s private life. But the suppressive measures reach overseas as well, forcing people to work for the Chinese government, spying on their own communities; recalling students studying abroad to go back to East Turkestan; threatening families to bring back their student children or anyone who is overseas.
- Suppression with the excuse of ‘counter-terrorism’ – In January of last year the national Counter-Terrorism Law came into effect. The laws caused concern internationally because of the vagueness of its definition of terrorism, and the fact that it could be used to justify repression of legitimate expressions of religious belief and cast any dissent from government policies as terrorism. The “Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Implementing Measures of the Counter-Terrorism Law of the Peoples Republic of China,” which came into effect in August 2016, underscore the fact that these laws are aimed at Uyghurs, further targeting religious expression and forbidding “spreading rumors” and “distorting sensitive cases,” making or reproducing materials with “extremist content,” and allowing the authorities to restrict gatherings and the activities of various organizations. This law may also be used to control any objective reporting on incidents as well as constituting a restriction on the right to free expression. Here, it is crucial to reemphasize that the vague definition of “terrorism” itself and restrictions placed on reporting “terror incidents” constitute the most serious problems with the Counter-Terrorism Law. Observers should apply a high degree of skepticism in any assessment of a transparent implementation of the new legislation in East Turkestan. China prevents and punishes commentary, domestic and foreign, critical of its repressive policies and “counter-terror” measures in the region. An example is the case of Uyghur academic Ilham Tohti, who was arrested by the Chinese government in 2014 and accused of being ‘a brain behind terrorist’ for simply expressing his views on social, economic and cultural conditions of Uyghur people in Chinese language at his Chinese website called ‘Uyghurbiz’. This demonstrates Beijing’s zero tolerance for open discussion of any sort of policy compromise. China seeks regional and global support for targeting its so claimed ‘Uyghur terrorists’ but refrains from backing international efforts to weaken some international terror groups and align with the international standards or definition of terrorism. Moreover, China’s abuse of Interpol’s Red Notice issuance is also concerning. In September 2009, Dolkun Isa, a Uyghur activist, was detained briefly and denied entry to South Korea while traveling to attend the World Forum for Democratization in Asia, to which he was an invited guest. China also has regularly attempted to block or interfere with his human rights work at the UN in Geneva, and recently in New York, he was accused of being a ‘terrorist’.
- Further religious repression through new regulations – The most recent set of regulations, the “Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Regulation on De-extremification” further restricts religious expression, such as how people should dress, how religious ceremonies should be held, and reinterpreting the meaning of “halal,” while remaining vague about what constitutes as extremist religious content or behavior. The vagueness of the law allows local authorities to continue having leeway in interpreting the law as they see fit. The government would prefer to blame religious belief for any dissatisfaction among the Uyghur population, rather than their own policies.
- Violation of Uyghurs’ educational rights – China’s ‘bilingual education’ policy is designed to transition Uyghur students at all levels from education in their mother tongue to education in Chinese resulting in the removal of Uyghur in the classroom and presenting a fundamental challenge to a distinct part of Uyghur identity. Since the 2014 Work Forum, Chinese officials have placed ‘bilingual education’ at the center of its efforts to achieve “ethnic mingling,” an initiative that aims to blur the cultural distinctiveness of the Uyghur people and assimilate Uyghurs into the Chinese nation dominated by the Han culture. Uyghurs do not see this as bilingual at all. In practice, it is a monolingual Mandarin education. Its intent is to annihilate the living Uyghur language and eventually assimilate the Uyghur people into the Chinese culture, thereby eliminating the status of the Uyghur people as the original, indigenous and dominant people in East Turkestan.
- Travel restrictions – Uyghurs have long faced great difficulty obtaining passports and the ability to travel freely overseas, and now even their ability to move freely within East Turkestan has been reduced through the implementation of the “grid-based management system,” which covers every city with video cameras, installing GPS surveillance to the cars and police checkpoints. Uyghurs’ passports have been confiscated in waves since 2006, but this seems to have escalated recently, with passports now requiring annual review and renewal. Most recently, Uyghur students in Egypt, Turkey and Japan were ordered to return home with threats of punishment for their families if they do not comply. The authorities would increasingly prefer that Uyghurs not leave the country at all, even as they transform the region into a transit hub for the new phase of their state led development drive.
- Economic marginalization – More attention is coming to the region as it becomes a crucial point in the Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious Chinese goal to place China at the center of trade routes in the eastern hemisphere. With this project China hopes to both prop up its internal economy and establish itself as a bona fide super power. This is just the most recent of many Beijing-led development campaigns in the region since the fall of the Soviet Union. The build-up of infrastructure, investment and Han migration encouraged by these initiatives have done little to significantly alter economic opportunities for Uyghurs, as they remain outside the planning, implementation and monitoring processes while their region undergoes transformation. While China is often quick to claim it successes in raising large numbers of citizens out of poverty, it remains less vocal about how inequitable this change has become.
In conclusion, the Chinese government has ruled the Uyghur region with deception and repression since its occupation. The government doesn’t like any questioning of its dictatorial regime within China and in its so-called ‘autonomous’ regions. The punishment of 709 Chinese lawyers and accusing most of them of ‘trying to overthrow the government’ is a typical characteristic of the Chinese government – the authorities themselves show contempt of the law. The Chinese government is terrorizing Chinese civilians, and Uyghurs and Tibetans in particular, with such excuses as ‘protecting stability,’ waging a war against ‘terrorism’ and creating a ‘harmonious society.’ In reality, the Chinese government is wiping out any peaceful dissent and dissatisfaction towards its unfair regime.
Taking this opportunity, I wish to emphasize that dialogue meetings of this kind, initiated by the Chinese democratic movement, should take further steps to listen more constructively about the inspirations of Uyghurs, Tibetans, Mongols and other minority groups. Different doesn’t always mean separate; separate doesn’t mean becoming an enemy. We all crave freedom, this is our common goal, and this is what makes the CCP most fearful.