Jews must speak up for the Uyghurs in China

 

The Jewish people don’t need to be warned about genocide. We know it doesn’t happen overnight. We know it starts with a culture being demonised, and with hate and repression becoming normal. Then people start disappearing. That’s what is happening today in China. It is estimated that over a million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities are being detained indefinitely in ‘re-education’ camps in China’s western Xinjiang Region.

The range of people detained in the camps, from elderly women, to intellectuals, and celebrated artists, undermines the official line that they are being detained in order to receive training. They are being detained as part of a wider effort by the Chinese government to subdue and erase Uyghur culture.

Who are the Uyghurs? They are a Turkic minority, ethnically and culturally very different from China’s Han majority. The majority of Uyghurs – around 11 million – live in Xinjiang, but there are significant communities in central Asia, Turkey, Germany, and the United States. There is a small Uyghur community here in the UK too. Many Uyghurs practise Islam, and do not speak Mandarin as a first language. Since 1949 the Uyghur homeland has been a part of the People’s Republic of China. Decades of Han migration and discriminatory policies towards Uyghur people have led to tensions and sporadic violence.

Repression of Uyghurs has escalated massively since 2016. The Chinese Government say that they are responding to extremism in the Uyghur community. It is true that some Uyghurs have gone to fight in Syria. But the Chinese Government’s response to this has been to punish millions of people, many of whom have been labelled ‘extreme’ for such things as refusing to eat pork, or speaking to a relative overseas.

Life for Uyghurs outside the camps is bleak too. As well as the constant fear of being taken away, the Chinese Government have banned many expressions of Uyghur culture. The Uyghur language is being removed from schools and public spaces. Mosques are empty. Neighbourhoods are being bulldozed.

What can we do? As Jews I believe we have a special responsibility to bear witness to what is happening, and to speak up whenever we can.

The Universal Declaration on Human Rights was co-drafted by Monsieur René Cassin, a French-Jewish lawyer who had lost many family members in the Holocaust. His aim was to establish rights for all of humanity. On being informed that he would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1968, René Cassin replied: “I am very happy”. But, he added, “I would be happier if there were a little more justice in the world”.

René Cassin, the Jewish human rights charity named in his honour, is hosting an event on 9th May to highlight the Uyghur crisis and to ask what solidarity and leadership the Jewish community can offer,  in the hope of bringing ‘a little more justice’ to the world in René Cassin’s name.

China Jailing Uighurs for 15 Years in ‘Re-Education Centers’ for Using Facebook

 

China is sentencing residents of the Uighur Muslim-majority Xinjiang region caught with social media accounts like Facebook on their phone to 15 years in “re-education centers,” where detainees undergo psychological communist indoctrination, Daily Mail reported, citing an activist in the region.

 

On Wednesday, Daily Mail reported:

The blogger known as Kasim claims that in China’s heavily Muslim Xinjiang region those caught with Facebook on their phones are  sent to re-education’ centres to clamp down on their social media use. … He said that people are being sentenced to 15 years there if police catch them with any social media like Facebook or Twitter on their phones.

According to the Daily Mail, the blogger told the Sun Online that he used “specialist sensors” to circumvent Beijing’s restrictions on Twitter.

The blogger reportedly declared:

China doesn’t want you to know what’s happening outside of China, so they’ve built a firewall. Police check your phone looking for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – any app not made in China.

If they catch you with any of these apps, or in contact with someone abroad – even someone from China who has now left the country – they accuse you of hating communism, of hating China.

Almost every police [officer] has handheld equipment they connect to your phone with a USB where they can scan everything on your phone, all your photos, everyone you’ve ever spoken to.

 

The Daily Mail report came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told U.S. lawmakers that China’s “Orwellian” persecution of Muslims and Christians has reached “historic proportions,” citing Beijing’s crackdown on Uighurs and followers of Christ.

Last month, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) noted in its annual report on human rights that Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s administration “significantly intensified its campaign of mass detention of members of Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang).”

China continues to deny its crackdown on Muslims, which DOS and non-governmental groups say has expanded to Christians and non-Uighur Islam adherents.

 

 

 

 

 

‘Never again?’ It’s already happening.

 

Because I write books about Soviet history, and because I often speak about them to U.S. or European audiences, I am frequently forced to confront the problem of Western indifference. Why, I am asked over and over, did British diplomats who knew about the man-made Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933 do nothing to stop it? The Catholic Church at that time was also aware that millions of Soviet citizens were dying because Joseph Stalin’s state had confiscated their food. Why did it not galvanize Europeans to send grain?

Many are intrigued and horrified, as am I, by the story of Walter Duranty, then the New York Times Moscow correspondent, who covered up the story of the Ukrainian famine, though he knew it was happening. Many are impressed when they read about Gareth Jones, the Welsh freelance reporter who told the truth about the famine but was not believed. So fascinating is the contrast between them that a new film (“Mr. Jones”) has been made about them, more than 80 years after Jones’s death.

Usually, when asked why Jones was ignored, or why the Vatican and the British foreign office kept silent, I explain that 1933 was also the year of Adolf Hitler’s rise in Germany, so newspaper editors were distracted. Diplomats were already worried they would soon need Stalin as an ally. “Realists” such as the French politician Édouard Herriot — he made a trip to Ukraine in August 1933 and declared that he had found not hunger but “a garden in full bloom” — wanted their countries to trade with Russia. Besides, Ukraine, a distant Soviet republic, was a place that seemed alien and uninteresting to people in London, Paris and New York, most of whom probably felt they couldn’t do much about people suffering there anyway.

The audiences I speak to are sometimes unsatisfied with these answers. They want to talk about the perfidy of the Left or the New York Times, or they want to blame the U.S. president at the time, Franklin D. Roosevelt. But blame is easy. Far more difficult, both for them and for me, is to admit something more profound: That precisely the same indifference, and the same cynicism, exist today.

Yes, the West looked the other way during the 1930s, when people were starving. But the West is also looking the other way in 2019, refusing to see the concentration camps in China’s Xinjiang province. These camps have been designed to suppress the Uighurs, a Muslim ethnic minority whose status in China in some ways resembles that of Ukrainians in the old U.S.S.R. Like the Ukrainians who did not want to be Sovietized, the Uighurs do not want to be fully absorbed into the Chinese state. Like the Soviets, the Chinese have responded with repression. Previous Chinese leaders sought to flood Xinjiang with ethnic Chinese, the same tactic they used against Tibetans. More recently, the state has grown harsher, creating camps where at least 1 million Uighurs undergo forced indoctrination designed to eradicate their language and culture.

In truth, we know far more about these camps, and about the accompanying repression, than anyone in 1933 knew about the famine in Ukraine. They have been extensively described in the world’s media, including the New York Times and The Post . Government bodies have studied them, too. Canada’s Parliament recently produced an account of the suppression of the Uighurs that is far more comprehensive than anything Jones ever wrote. The report is one of many to describe the massive surveillance program that China has imposed in Xinjiang, using not only old-fashioned informers and police checkpoints, but artificial intelligence, phone spyware and biometric data. Every tool that a future, larger totalitarian state may use to control citizens is currently being tested in Xinjiang.

Under “terrorist” legislation in Xinjiang, anyone can be arrested for anything — for expressing an allegiance to Uighur culture, for example, or for reading the Koran. Once inside the “re-education” camps, arrestees are forced to speak in Mandarin Chinese and made to recite praises of the Communist Party. Those who break the rules receive punishments no different from those meted out to prisoners in the Soviet Gulag: “They put me in a small solitary confinement cell,” said one former prisoner cited in the Canadian report, “in a space of about two by two meters. I was not given any food or drink, my hands were handcuffed in the back, and I had to stand for 24 hours without sleep.”

As in the 1930s, there are explanations for the world’s lack of outrage. Newspaper editors are distracted by bigger, more immediate stories. Politicians and foreign policy “realists” would say there are more important issues we need to discuss with China: Business is business. Xinjiang is a distant place for people in Europe and North America; it seems alien and uninteresting. None of that changes the fact that in a distant corner of China, a totalitarian state — of the kind we all now denounce and condemn — has emerged in a new form. “Never again?” I don’t think so: It’s already happening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uyghur Children Indoctrinated in Camps

 

With one million Uyghur Muslims detained for re-education, what becomes of their children? They are locked in “schools” of Han Chinese propaganda.

 

 

 

The children of the detained Uyghur parents are kept in so-called Loving Heartkindergartens and schools in Xinjiang. They undergo full-time supervision and receive their education in Chinese only. Usually, the iron gates of these Loving Heart facilities are firmly locked. The walls are surrounded by barbed wire, and access is strictly controlled. There is little chance for these children to go outside. The children only get to see their parents once a month during a monthly video call. According to a teacher of one kindergarten, the children always cry after talking with their parents on video.

“Loving Heart” is a euphemistic name given by the Chinese authorities to conceal the nature of the facilities for outsiders. Such names are common in Xinjiang.

As more than one million Uyghurs are locked up in Xinjiang’s “transformation through education camps,” more and more children are losing parental care. There is even a special name for families with both mother and father in custody: “double-detained families.”

Previously, Bitter Winter reported about a shelter house located in the new town area of Qapqal county, in Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture. A “shelter house” is another euphemistic name given by Chinese authorities to facilities housing and indoctrinating children whose parents have been arrested.

This shelter house began operations in August 2018. Unlike ordinary schools, when entering this facility, visitors must register their ID information in a special security room, and personal belongings must pass through a security check.

Heavily-guarded lookout posts, barbed wire on the walls, densely placed surveillance cameras, helmets, and other riot control gear in the first room inside the dormitory building—these seem to tell people that this is not an ordinary school. A map of China is hung in the dorm, and the walls are covered with propaganda slogans, such as “I’m Chinese; I love my country” and “Always follow the Party.” Such displays seem familiar. They are reminiscent of the installations inside transformation through education camps.

The government even allocates a military instructor to provide military training to these young children.

Although there is a full range of facilities in the shelter house, this does not seem to make up for the children’s pain of losing their parents.

According to a teacher at the “shelter house,” as soon as evening comes, the children cry about wanting to go home to see their mom and dad. This is quite a headache for these teachers, who have been forcibly deployed by the government.

A teacher said, “Many teachers have been exhausted. There is no solution. Regardless of whether you are a Han Chinese or an Uyghur, as long as you say something wrong, you will be sent to ‘study’ for an indefinite period of time, leaving your home unattended, and your child sent to this shelter house for education. The policy for this year is to maintain stability instead of working.”

Emotional distress is not an isolated phenomenon. A teacher who previously worked at a “welfare home” (which is similar in nature to a shelter house) in Bole city told Bitter Winter that more than 200 Uyghur children who are housed at that facility had very unstable moods. Some of them even tried to ingest laundry detergent or swallow fish bones to harm themselves. And some asked, “Is this [welfare home] a jail?”

A prison officer in Xinjiang said, “When dealing with the education of the children of ethnic minorities, the government has organized a rigid and isolated education for them. With public security police officers as their teachers, the young Uyghurs are forced to study a uniform Chinese curriculum arranged by the government — they must speak Chinese, eat pork, wear Han clothes, and live according to the Han people’s habits and tradition. They are restricted to this environment, with no chance to contact the outside world. Indoctrinated with such a heavy-handed and mandatory education, these children of ethnic minorities become unconsciously obedient to the Chinese Communist Party government.”

In 2017, similar Loving Heart schools and transformation through education camps have appeared in large numbers in Xinjiang. According to sources, in Lop county alone, 11 Loving Heart nurseries (for children aged 1 to 3 years) and nine kindergartens (3 to 6 years) have been built. Seven Loving Heart full-time nursery classes have been set up in junior and senior middle schools. Among them, Xinhua Kindergarten’s Loving Heart Full-Time Nursery Class teaches 150 toddlers aged 1 to 3 years old. Yudu Loving Heart Kindergarten teaches over 500 children aged 3 to 6 years old. Lop County No. 3 Elementary School teaches more than 900 children (aged 7 to 16) of “double-detained families.” In Lop county alone, as many as 2,000 children are being held in custody.

As the interview was nearing the end, numerous Uyghur children were being sent to the shelter house in Qapqal county. Among them, the oldest is 17 or 18 years old, and the youngest is only three years old. While waiting to register, the children looked into the distance with complex expressions on their faces. Perhaps this is the last free time they will have before being placed in state indoctrination.

 

 

 

 

 

A Death Sentence For a Life of Service

Note: This article written by Amy Anderson is based on interviews with Tashpolat Tiyip’s friends, students and relatives. Their identities cannot be revealed due to obvious reasons. 

 

Sometime after he disappeared in 2017,  Tashpolat Tiyip, the president of Xinjiang University, was sentenced to death in a secret trial.  The Chinese state has provided no justification for this horrifying violation of human rights. Like hundreds of other Uyghur intellectuals, it has simply taken his life away. Drawing on interviews with Tiyip’s students and relatives, this article tells the story of his life and demonstrates the grotesque absurdity of the Chinese totalitarian state. A man who has dedicated his life to furthering the vision of the state and his people appears to have been sentenced to death for this effort.

 

A Geographer with a Dream

Tashpolat Tiyip, born in 1958, came of age during the infamous Cultural Revolution during his teenage years. Upon his graduation from high school in 1975, he was asked to join the “Down to the Countryside Movement” and worked as a Red October tractor driver in the fields of Nilka County, in Ili Prefecture.  After six months of saving his salary he was able to buy an Uyghur-Chinese dictionary. According to one of his relatives, every evening he would memorize at least 50 new Chinese words, which he would repeat over and over again while he was driving the tractor in the field from dawn to dusk.  His favorite thing to do after work was to sit beside the Ili River. From a young age he dreamed of becoming a geographer and exploring the physical landscape of the Uyghur homeland. He had faith in a better future as he studied Chinese and enjoyed the sunset over the Heavenly Mountains.

In 1977, the Chinese state declared that the human catastrophe of the past 10 years was the fault of the “Gang of Four” and the revolution was now over. Many of the youth returned from the villages to their home cities and were given an opportunity to take the national college entrance exam. Tiyip loved the landscape of the Uyghur homeland: the mountains, grasslands, rivers and streams. According to his students, he thought often about the land he had cultivated. He deeply appreciated the dry, bare, sandy, salty environment that generations of indigenous people had cultivated through hard work and, through this, built deep roots. The land was filled with stone, mountains and heat. It was the land where Uyghur ancestors had lived. The farmers he had met had dedicated their whole lives to make a living from it.

As one of his relatives said, recounting the story of his life, Tiyip was thrilled to take the first national college entrance exam after the ten years of chaos, and received an offer to study Sports Education. Although his family and friends encouraged him to pursue this career as he was a talented athlete, he knew he wanted to be a geographer and help his community by learning from scientific advances in water management and agronomy. He spent the next year studying even harder and through this became fluent in Chinese.  In 1978 he passed the exam with flying colors and was able to find a place in his dream major in the Geography Department at Xinjiang University.

 

 

Tashpolat Tiyip guiding fieldwork in Qaghaliq County

 

Saving River Ecology and Improving Soil Fertility

Following his graduation in 1983, Tiyip started his teaching career at his alma mater, the Department of Geography at Xinjiang University. He was deeply  engaged in his research, and began experimenting with the soil in his own front yard. Every summer and winter break he went to do fieldwork throughout the Uyghur homeland, something he continued for 35 years. His goal was to understand and maintain the river ecology and soil by applying remote sensor technology and other systems. In order to formally pursue this passion, he enrolled in a graduate program at the Tokyo University of Science in 1988. When he left, his only daughter was just four years old. According to a friend, her picture was always in his wallet.

As one of his relatives put it, during his time in Japan Tiyip often slept just 4 hours a day in order to focus on his studies. He was not only studying a wide range of professional subjects and conducting his experiments in order to complete Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in the shortest time possible, but also learning Japanese and English in order to gain access to a broader range of research materials. Astonishingly, he finished all of these requirements in four years and earned a Doctorate of Engineering in Applied Geography. By 1992, he became the first Uyghur to earn a Ph.D. in geography in Xinjiang. In a published interview from 2011 he said: “mountains, lakes, deserts and oasis coexist in Xinjiang. The land is abundant with oil, coal, copper and other rare metals. It is a paradise for environmental research. My entire career was contained in Xinjiang.” Continuing he said that while some of his cohort of fellow international students chose to stay in Japan, he was eager to come back, be with his family and continue his research in the land he loves.

Since 1992, he has led more than 17 national and international research projects, published 5 books and more than 200 scholarly articles. His research has primarily focused on ever-fast desertification of Xinjiang ecology, specifically the reasons for the increasing levels of salinity in the soil, the destruction of river ecology and the shrinking of water resources. His publications on a remote sensing assessment ofthe imapact of salinization, environmental changes and human activities in the Taklimakan Desert were published in a number of different languages and received international acknowledgment. His work was particularly important in understanding the degradation of the Tarim River, Kucha River, Ebinur Lake, the essential water sources of the Tarim Basin, and community adaptation to these ecological change. Through their research Tiyip and his students attempted to bolster the sustainability of local communities who were suffering from environmental degradation.

 

A Legacy of Collegial Leadership

As Tiyip rose in leadership at Xinjiang University, his support for collaboration began to stand out.  He took up the responsibilities as chair of the Geography Department soon after he came back from Japan in 1993. Given his track record of research and leadership in the Geography Department, in 1996 he was promoted to vice president of Xinjiang University a position he held for 14 years. Based on his excellent performance both in academics and administration, in 2010 he was promoted to the President and Vice Secretary of the Communist Party of Xinjiang University. Until his arbitrary detention at the Beijing airport on his way to a conference in Germany in late March 2017, he was widely praised for his contribution to the development of the university.

Tiyip built a close relationship with more than 50 universities in 20 countries, including Japan, France, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. He received an honorary doctoral degree from the French Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE) in 2008, in honor of his work on the environment in arid zones using satellite remote sensing. The Chinese state media published articles praising him as a model minority leader. Articles with titles such as “From a Tractor Driver to Doctor of Paris University”, stated that his honorary degree was “not only an honor for Tashpolat Tiyip, but also for Xinjiang University.” He built even closer relationships with high-ranking universities in first-tier cities in China, such as Tsinghua University, and created fellowship programs for minority graduate students from Xinjiang at these institutions. He hoped these academic collaborations would increase the education quality of Xinjiang and contribute to it’s the development and sustainability.

 

Tashpolat Tiyip in Paris, during a ceremony to receive an honorary doctorate from the Sorbonne in November 2008.

 

Like many great leaders Tiyip is charismatic, funny, and smart. He is particularly known for his attention to detail. Many of his students that I spoke with admired how he balanced the administrative work and political duty so well, while at the same time continuing his research scholarship. His special attention to his graduate students made him one of the best advisors at the school, regardless of whether they were Han-Chinese, Uyghur, Kazakh, they worked together with a collegiality that centered on their shared love of geography. When Xinjiang officials first started the “Becoming Family” campaign, which placed mostly Han civil servantsin the homes of rural Uyghur farmers, Tiyip stated  that he believed it was a good policy that would create connections between elites and villagers. According to one of his students, since he was also born and raised in a rural farming family, and he had done in-depth fieldwork throughout the years with farmer communities, he genuinely enjoyed visiting and talking to the elders. In some of his research, he collaborated with the folklorist Rahile Dawut to integrate scientific data with Uyghur traditional ecological knowledge in order to better understand the cause and solution for the desertification of ecology in the Tarim Basin.

 

Being Labeled “Two Faced”

From the perspective of his students, Tiyip  has been a deeply caring mentor. From the perspective of his colleagues, Tiyip has been a wise leader. From the perspective of his family, he has been a devoted father and loving husband. Tiyip’s wife, his partner for 36 years, Venira, is a professor of information technology. She was also a collaborator on a number of his research projects.  From the perspective of his daughter, Tiyip’s only child, he has been and always will be her greatest hero.  According to those who are close to her, she was deeply influenced by her father’s passion for geography. She also pursued a career in the same discipline, earned a doctoral degree and became her father’s colleague. For years, their annual family vacation was fieldwork in the heart of the Taklimakan Desert, carrying sensor technology equipment, setting up their tents, building a fire, sharing knowledge and laughter.

When those that were close to him heard that he had been taken away on charges of being a “two faced” person, they were dumbfounded. The question that was on all of their minds was: “Why was he taken? Where was his ‘other’ face?”  Many people whom I interviewed for this article have known him to be a brilliant geographer, an amazing leader and loving father. One person told me that everyday he carved out half an hour from his busy schedule and took his granddaughter to the playground on the Xinjiang University campus. Many people remarked on how much he enjoyed watching his granddaughter play. He told a friend that he had missed his daughter’s precious toddler years while he was studying in Japan, and now he wanted to spend as much time as possible with his granddaughter.

 

Welcoming remarks at a conference on “Studies of Mazar Cultures on the Silk Road.” From left to right three prominent Uyghur intellectuals who have all been disappeared: Tashpolat Tiyip, Arslan Abdulla & Rahile Dawut. 

 

When I asked interviewees to speculate on Tiyip’s “other face,” no one could explain the logic behind his arbitrary arrest. Instead they repeatedly attested to his character and achievements.

I pressed them further, asking if they could think of anything that may have made him a target. After a long pause, one of his students stated: “the only thing that I can think of is that he used to begin his public statements with a brief greeting in Uyghur language, usually for less than thirty seconds, before he led school meetings in fluent Chinese. Maybe this is why (he was taken).”

As recent reporting has shown, being Uyghur and taking pride in Uyghur language and heritage itself is enough to demonstrate “disloyalty” to the Party. But still, is such “disloyalty” deserving of the death penalty? Articles that praised Tiyip’s achievements are now being systematically deleted from the internet.  His name and legacy are being erased, even from the list of presidents of Xinjiang University. Ironically, Sheng Shicai, the Guomindang leader who ruled Xinjiang from 1933-1944, who was described as one of the most evil traitors by the Communist Party, is still listed as a president of the school from 1942-1944. Yet, there is now no trace of Tashpolat Tiyip’s name.

According to a family friend, Tiyip’s  daughter was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2018, at the age of only 34. This life-threatening illness came after her father’s indefinite incarceration and death sentence. Since extreme stress and depression can result in a weakened immune system, it is possible that her health crisis is connected to the ongoing state violence that has shattered her family, and Uyghur society more generally over the past two years.

As I was writing this article and was presented with overwhelming evidence of Tiyip’s moral character,  I could not stop thinking: in what kind of world is a life of service to one’s country and people deserving of a death sentence? Where can justice be found in such a world?

 

Power by: Arslan Rahman