CHINA: Uyghur group defends detainee database after Xinjiang officials allege ‘fake archive’

The UTJD said forced witness statements and unsubstantiated claims will not undermine its work.

By Shohret Hoshur and Ekrem, written in english by Joshua Lipes.

Radio Free Asia (11.02.2021) – https://bit.ly/3jWFhMl – An organization compiling information on Uyghurs detained in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) has defended its findings after officials in the region accused it of spreading lies, saying forcing witness testimonies and making unsubstantiated claims will not undermine its work.

 

On Feb. 2, the Propaganda Department of the XUAR held a “Press Conference on Xinjiang-related Issues,” during which it alleged that the Norway-based Uyghur Transitional Justice Database (UTJD) maintains a “fake archive” of detainees in the region’s vast network of internment camps. Authorities in the XUAR are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the camps since early 2017.

The statement provoked a strong response from activists, former detainees, and others in the diaspora who have provided information about their friends and relatives back home to the UTJD, allowing the group to compile a list of more than 5,000 individuals who are missing and believed held in the camps.

Speaking at the conference, Professor Gulnar Obul, a former administrator of Kashgar University who currently works for the XUAR Bureau of Farm Machinery, testified that she was not in detention, despite being listed in UTJD’s archive.

In September 2018, a staff member at Kashgar University’s administration office confirmed to RFA’s Uyghur Service that Obul had been removed from her post along with three other professors for being “two-faced,” using a term applied by the government to Uyghur cadres who pay lip service to Communist Party rule in the XUAR, but secretly chafe against state policies repressing members of their ethnic group.

During a telephone interview, an official in Kashgar told RFA that Obul had been detained for publishing an article about Uyghur culture and history that included her opinions on religious extremism in 2016. The official said that while her views were praised at the time, they were now deemed to “go against government policy,” and that “for this reason, she was accused of being ‘two-faced.’”

Subsequently, an official source in the region told RFA that Obul had been released from detention two to three weeks after the initial report and transferred to work in the regional capital Urumqi.

Also discussed at the press conference was Erfan Hezim—a former member of China’s national youth football team who RFA learned had been detained in February 2018 for “visiting foreign countries” after he traveled abroad to train and take part in matches. Officials with the XUAR Propaganda Department said Hezim is currently playing soccer and that the UTJD, which also lists him in its archive, was promoting falsehoods.

However, sources later confirmed to RFA that Hezim had been released from an internment camp in Dorbiljin (in Chinese, Emin) county, in the XUAR’s Tarbaghatay (Tacheng) prefecture, after a year in detention. He was freed after the Netherlands-based International Federation of Professional Footballers (FIFPro) expressed concern over his confinement.

Officials at the Feb. 2 press conference said Tahir Hasan—a doctor from Aksu (Akesu) prefecture’s Kuchar (Kuche) county whose disappearance and detention for communicating with “suspicious people” was documented by RFA in September 2019—is working “normally” and rejected the claim he is in detention.

They also claimed that Tahir Talib, Anwar Dawut, Ihsak Peyzulla, and Zoram Talib—all of whom are listed in the UTJD—are not currently being held in detention.

The XUAR Propaganda Department additionally spoke about several individuals who have been sentenced to terms in prison in a bid to justify their punishments.

They acknowledged a 25-year sentence for Akbar Imin, a student of jailed Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, who was taken into state custody in 2014 following his teacher’s arrest and subsequent sentencing; a 20-year sentence for Ahat Ghoji, a construction contractor from Aksu’s Bay (Baicheng) county; and a life sentence for Sami Bari, a student who returned to the XUAR from Egypt.

The officials claimed Imin had “founded a mafia group” and that Ghoji had “committed murder,” adding that the inclusion of their names on the UTJD list is “a mistake.”

Forced lies to discredit

Following the press conference, Bahtiyar Omer, director of the UTJD and its associated research and documentation activities, responded that China is forcing effectively captive people who lack freedom of speech to lie about their past, making public claims that counter the efforts of his and other organizations.

He told RFA that Obul had likely been forced to lie about her past, while claims that she, Hezim, and Hasan are currently not in detention does nothing to prove that they were never detained in camps in the past.

“None of the people who made an appearance at the press conference to give testimony, not even Chinese officials themselves, are people who can freely express their opinions,” he said.

“They walk inside the lines that China has drawn for them. They recite things that [China] has written for them.”

Chinese officials have said the camps are centers for “vocational training,” but reporting by RFA and other media outlets shows that detainees are mostly held against their will in cramped and unsanitary conditions, where they are forced to endure inhumane treatment and political indoctrination.

Omer noted that regardless of the status of certain individuals, China can no longer deny the existence of the camps due to the overwhelming amount of evidence that has come out of the region, as well as that the policy of extralegal incarceration has led to countless deaths and the destruction of hundreds of thousands of families.

“Even though they’ve let a small number of people go with all sorts of conditions [placed on them] in order to evade punishment from the international community for locking up millions of Uyghurs under false pretenses, China will never be able to hide this genocide,” he said.

Criticism and pushback

The UTJD’s response came as the Norwegian Uyghur Committee, Hong Kong Committee in Norway, Norwegian Tibet Committee, and the Norwegian Taiwan Friendship Association held a Feb. 9 press conference and issued a joint letter calling on Norway’s government to cancel a proposed free trade agreement with China, end the normalization of bilateral relations, and prioritize human rights over economic interests.

Relations between Norway and China had been strained since the Oslo-based Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to late human rights activist and prisoner of conscience Liu Xiaobo in 2010, but ties were normalized in 2016.

However, amid growing global scrutiny of China’s abuses in the XUAR and Washington’s designation of them as “genocide” and “crimes against humanity” last month, Oslo has seen public opposition to strengthened ties with Beijing increase.

China has gone on the propaganda warpath against its critics in recent months but has been forced to play whack-a-mole as new and damning reports continue to emerge about the situation in the XUAR.

Last week, a report by the BBC included interviews with four women who claimed they were “systematically raped, sexually abused, and tortured” while held in the internment camp system, which China’s Foreign Ministry and state media quickly dismissed as lies, repeating claims that there are no camps in the region and attacking the credibility of the women profiled in the piece.

On Thursday, Chinese state media reported that the National Radio and Television Administration determined that BBC World News had “seriously violated regulations … in its China-related reports, which went against the requirements that news reporting must be true and impartial, and undermined China’s national interests and ethnic solidarity.”

The regulator said BBC World News would no longer be permitted to broadcast within China and that it would not accept the channel’s broadcast application for the new year. Strict controls meant the service was not widely available to the public in China.

 

Photo credits: RFA.org / Social media

 

 




TURKEY: Government steps up its defamation on LGBTI+ citizens

Europe’s leading LGBTI+ rights organisation, ILGA-Europe are alarmed to observe that in the past week the Turkish government has stepped up its systematic attacks on and defamation of LGBTI+ people and calls on President Erdoğan to guarantee the fundamental rights of all minorities without discrimination, as enshrined in the country’s Constitution.

Ilga (05.02.2021) – https://bit.ly/3aFNksF – Over the past week in Turkey, both government and government-supported media have called LGBTI+ people a “disgrace”, “dirty” and “perverts”, which has prompted a wave of hate-speech on social media.

 

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held video conferences on Monday 1 February and Wednesday 3 February denouncing LGBT people and praising his supporters saying: “We will carry our young people to the future, not as the LGBT youth, but as the youth that existed in our nation’s glorious past.”

 

On February 2, Justice Minister and the Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu called LGBT people “perverts” on Twitter. The social media platform has since flagged the tweet as violating its rules against “hateful conduct”.

 

This new campaign takes place in the context of rising hateful rhetoric against the LGBTI+ community by representatives of high-level religious and political institutions in Turkey, as well as actions and legislation attacking human rights defenders and civil society organisations.

 

Crackdown on freedom

 

The step-up in governmental anti-LGBTI+ rhetoric comes as academic staff and students at Boğaziçi University of Istanbul have been protesting the appointment of the University’s new Rector, Melih Bulu, by President Erdoğan on 1 January 2021. Melih Bulu’s appointment is being protested because Bulu is the first appointed rector from outside the University, a move that further extends the government’s crackdown on academic freedom in Turkey.

 

The new Rector is a long-standing ally of President Erdoğan and his ruling party, and has held different positions in the party for years. He has supported anti-LGBTI+ statements from the Erdoğan government. Professors at Boğaziçi University and students alike are concerned about the future of academic freedom, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of association at the University.

 

Using COVID-19 to slander LGBTI people

 

In addition to the systematic attacks and bans that Turkey’s LGBTI+ movement has experienced at the hands of Turkish authorities since 2015, in 2020 the government seized upon the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to slander LGBTI+ people. In April last year, the President of the Directorate of Religious Affairs, Ali Erbaş targeted LGBTI+ people and people living with HIV, equating homosexuality with a disease, stating that “hundreds of thousands of people a year are exposed to the HIV virus caused by this great haram, which passes as adultery in the Islamic Literature,” and blaming lesbian and gay people for COVID-19. He was quickly supported by leading governmental figures including the Minister of Family, Labour and Social Services, and President Erdoğan himself.

 

According to Evelyne Paradis, Executive Director of ILGA-Europe: “The Turkish government has an obligation to protect everyone from hate crime and discrimination, and should not be part of any statements that could encourage hate crimes and target any minority group, including LGBTI+ people.

 

“We recall that as a founding member of the United Nations, Turkey pledged to protect inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family. In addition, as a Member State of the Council of Europe and having ratified the European Convention of Human Rights, Turkey must uphold European human rights law, which prohibits a discriminatory application of human rights.

 

“We call on Turkey to respect, guarantee, protect and fulfil the fundamental rights of the LGBTI+ community without discrimination as enshrined in its Constitution and equality article therein, and ratified by human rights treaty bodies,” Paradis concluded.




TURKEY arrests dozens of students at peaceful protest over LGBT rights

By News Wires

 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday lashed out at Turkey’s LGBT movement, accusing it of “vandalism” following an outbreak of student protests.

 

France24/AFP (02.02.2021) – https://bit.ly/3cviwx1 – Four people were arrested over the weekend for depicting Islam’s holiest site with pictures of the LGBT rainbow flag during a rally at Istanbul‘s Bogazici University.

 

And shortly after Erdogan‘s televised speech on Monday, another rally erupted at the same school with dozens of people detained and social media footage showing police dragging away students who had been protesting peacefully.

 

“We will carry our young people to the future, not as the LGBT youth, but as the youth that existed in our nation’s glorious past,” Erdogan said during a video linkup with members of his ruling AK Party.

 

“You are not the LGBT youth, not the youth who commit acts of vandalism. On the contrary, you are the ones who repair broken hearts.”

 

‘Inciting hatred’ 

 

Rights groups accuse Erdogan of taking the mostly Muslim but officially secular country on an increasingly socially conservative course during his 18 years in power.

 

Homosexuality has been legal throughout modern Turkey’s history.

 

But gay people often face harassment, and LGBT events — including Istanbul Pride — have been blocked under Erdogan.

 

Turkey was hit by a wave of student protests last month after Erdogan appointed a loyalist as the head of Bogazici University.

 

During one demonstration last Friday protesters hung an artwork opposite the new rector’s office depicting the holy site in Mecca and images of the LGBT movement’s rainbow flag.

 

Turkish police accused four people of “inciting hatred in the population”. Two of them have been remanded in custody and the other two placed under house arrest.

 

Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu branded the suspects “four LGBT freaks”.

 

Groups of students once again demonstrated at Bogazici university on Monday despite the presence of hundreds of riot police, demanding the four be freed and the rector stand down.

 

AFP reporters saw several students dragged away by the police and Istanbul’s governor later confirmed 159 people had been arrested.

 

Further afield in the Aegean resort city of Izmir, social media posts showed police scuffling with a small group of rainbow flag-waving students.

 

The rallies have echoes of the 2013 protests that sprang up against plans to demolish an Istanbul park before spreading nationally and presenting a direct challenge to Erdogan’s rule.

 

Erdogan last month accused some of those taking part in the student demonstrations of being “terrorists”.

 

Photo Credits : Reuters / Murad Sezer

 




INDONESIA: Aceh, 80 public flogging of two young gay men

During the flogging, the two, in their 20s, shouted and begged for mercy several times. The mother of one of them passed out on hearing the cries of her son. A “show” that has raised criticism from activists and human rights NGOs. For local officials, sharia-based verdicts must be applied and cannot be waived.

Asianews / Agencies (29.01.2021) – https://bit.ly/3clrexP – A homosexual couple from Aceh, the most conservative Indonesian province and the only one in which Islamic law is in force, were flogged 80 times in a “public show” that has raised criticism from activists and human rights NGOs. The execution of the sentence took place yesterday: both had been sentenced to 80 blows for acts contrary to Islamic morality (relations between people of the same sex).

The authorities refused to reveal the identity of the two, who repeatedly screamed in pain during the lashes, begging the executioner for mercy. The officers called to enforce the verdict continued regardless of the shouts, hitting them on the back with a rattan stick. In a moment of pity, the officers stopped the flogging to allow the two young men, in their twenties, to quench their thirst and then resume with the blows.

During the execution of the sentence, the mother of one of the two passed out hearing the screams of pain and the pleading of her son.

Public official Heru Triwijanarko stresses that sentences under the sharia are final and cannot be waived. The two had been arrested in November, after the landlord of the house they had rented found them half naked in a room. Also yesterday four other people, between 17 and 40 years old, were whipped for drinking alcohol or meeting “people of the opposite sex”.

In the past, activists and human rights groups have called for a moratorium on flogging and President Joko Widodo himself has said he is against this type of punishment. However, it enjoys broad support from the majority of the local population.

About 98% of Aceh’s five million residents are Muslims. Sharia law came into force around 2005 following a peace agreement between Jakarta and the Movement for the liberation of Aceh (Gam), an Islamic separatist group. According to Islamic law, even “hugging” is part of a series of crimes (such as gambling, alcohol consumption or extramarital affairs) punishable by a specific number of whips. Article 63 of the Local Penal Code (Qanun Jinayat) prohibits homosexual practices, considering them acts of sodomy.

In the rest of the country, same-sex relationships are allowed, if they are over the age of consent.

Photo credits: AsiaNews / Agencies




CHINA-EU: Experts Demand Suspension of EU-China Investment Deal

By Maik Baumgärtner & Ann-Katrin Müller

 

Spiegel International (25.01.2021) – https://bit.ly/3ct1IafMore than a hundred experts are demanding an end to the EU-China investment agreement, DER SPIEGEL has learned. They name serious human rights violations and the suppression of democracy movements in China as the reasons.

 

A broad front in opposition to the deal has developed over the last several days. More than 100 renowned China experts, researchers and human-rights activists across the globe are calling for a suspension of the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI). At least for now.

 

“Despite evidence of ethnic cleansing, forced labor, and other gross human rights violations, the leadership of the European institutions have chosen to sign an agreement which exacts no meaningful commitments from the Chinese government to guarantee an end to crimes against humanity or slavery,” reads the open letter to EU institutions, which was provided to DER SPIEGEL prior to publication.

 

On Dec. 30, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the successful conclusion of seven years of negotiations with China. “Today’s agreement is an important landmark in our relationship with China and for our values-based trade agenda,” von der Leyen said.

 

The agreement is to improve access to the Chinese market for European companies and ensure fair competition. The agreement has not yet entered into force and must still be ratified by the European Parliament. The signatories to the open letter are eager to prevent ratification.

 

The deal is “based on a naïve set of assumptions about the character of the Chinese Communist Party,” the letter reads, and “entrenches Europe’s existing strategic dependency on China and runs counter to Europe’s core values.” Even the current degree of dependency, the authors write, is “alarming.” They argue that Chinese state-owned companies took advantage of the period following the 2008 financial crisis “to buy substantial stakes in key European infrastructure.”

 

Arguments presented by supporters of the investment deal, who say that China was forced to make significant concessions on labor rights during the negotiations, are rejected out of hand by the authors of the open letter. The concessions are “so vague as to be essentially useless,” they write.

 

“Immediately Withdraw”

“Furthermore, it is delusional to imagine that China will keep promises on these issues of investment and trade when it has broken its promises so regularly in recent years,” the letter reads. As examples, the authors cite the suppression of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, forced labor camps for the Muslim Uighur minority, the most recent sanctions Beijing has imposed on Australia and sabre rattling in the direction of Taiwan.

 

Among the signatories are researchers from the London School of Economics and from Princeton University in addition to Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, who lives in Germany. Former Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata and Harriet Evans, a professor at the University of Westminster and an expert in gender and human rights issues in China, have also joined the effort.

 

The signatories are calling on the European Union “to immediately withdraw from the China-European Union Comprehensive Agreement on Investment” and to place any further negotiations on hold until “substantial and verifiable” progress has been made on the human rights situation in the country.

 

Andreas Fulda, one of the initiators of the letter and a senior fellow with the Asia Research Institute at the University of Nottingham, says: “The European Commission is acting as though it is possible to separate politics and the economy, which in the case of China is impossible.”

 

China expert Mareike Ohlberg, a senior fellow with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund, likewise accuses Brussels of ingenuousness. “They are trying to sell the agreement as a success. It has thus become apparent that there is a lack of understanding about China’s reliability as a treaty partner.”

 

Jakub Janda, director of the European Values Center in Prague, believes Europe’s sovereignty is in danger and is also critical of Germany’s role in the negotiations. “Germany pushed for the agreement within the EU, thus prioritizing the egotistical greed of certain companies above Europe’s geopolitical security.”

 

The European Commission believes that the treaty will be completed by the beginning of 2022. The precise text is to be made public soon.

Picture credits : Johanna Geron / Reuters