By: Angélique FORGET|Antoine VÉDEILHÉ
In China’s northwestern Xinjiang region, more than one million ethnic Uighurs are believed to be held in internment camps. The authorities call them “re-education through labour camps”, but victims say the reality is forced indoctrination for Uighurs held in alarming conditions. From China to Canada, via Turkey and France, our reporters Angélique Forget and Antoine Védeilhé investigated the plight of the Uighurs and gathered rare testimony. This is their exclusive report.
Human rights groups are calling it the largest mass incarceration of the 21st century. In the Chinese province of Xinjiang – three times the size of France – houses, streets and sometimes entire villages have been emptied of their inhabitants. Accused of religious extremism, they are sent to “re-education through labour camps” or “vocational training” centres, as the authorities call them, without any form of trial.
According UN experts, more than one million Uighur citizens – members of a Turkic-speaking, Muslim minority – are held in these camps, which are in reality huge prisons. Detainees are reportedly tortured and brainwashed by the Communist Party. [FULL STORY]
THE WOMAN REMEMBERS the first time she got a smartphone.
Wired Date: May 9, 2019 By: Sobel Cockerall
ABOUT THIS STORY
This article is a co-production with Coda’s Authoritarian Tech channel.
It was 2011, and she was living in Hotan, an oasis town in Xinjiang, in northwest China. The 30-year-old, Nurjamal Atawula, loved to take pictures of her children and exchange strings of emoji with her husband while he was out. In 2013, Atawula downloaded WeChat, the Chinese social messaging app. Not long after, rumors circulated among her friends: The government could track your location through your phone. At first, she didn’t believe them.
In early 2016, police started making routine checks on Atawula’s home. Her husband was regularly called to the police station. The police informed him they were suspicious of his WeChat activity. Atawula’s children began to cower in fear at the sight of a police officer.
The harassment and fear finally reached the point that the family decided to move to Turkey. Atawula’s husband, worried that Atawula would be arrested, sent her ahead while he stayed in Xinjiang and waited for the children’s passports.
“The day I left, my husband was arrested,” Atawula said. When she arrived in Turkey in June 2016, her phone stopped working—and by the time she had it repaired, all her friends and relatives had deleted her from their WeChat accounts. They feared that the government would punish them for communicating with her.
She was alone in Istanbul and her digital connection with life in Xinjiang was over. Apart from a snatched Skype call with her mother for 11 and a half minutes at the end of December 2016, communication with her relatives has been completely cut. “Sometimes I feel like the days I was with my family are just my dreams, as if I have been lonely all my life—ever since I was born,” she said.
Atawula now lives alone in Zeytinburnu, a working-class neighborhood in Istanbul. It’s home to Turkey’s largest population of Uyghurs, the mostly Muslim ethnic minority native to Xinjiang, a vast, resource-rich land of deserts and mountains along China’s ancient Silk Road trade route. [FULL STORY]
CNN Date: May 9, 2019 By: Matt Rivers and Lily Lee, CNN
Almaty, Kazakhstan (CNN) Overflowing toilets in overcrowded cells. Food and sleep deprivation. Forced injections.
As she witnessed horror after horror and was told of others, Sayragul Sauytbay, who says she was a former employee inside one of China’s sprawling network of alleged detention camps in Xinjiang province, vowed to one day tell the world what she saw.
“I knew that all people there were not guilty of anything,” she said. “I could do nothing to help them avoid suffering. That’s why I decided that one day I would publicize what’s happening there.”
Sauytbay shared startling allegations of torture inside the camp during an interview with CNN in Almaty, Kazakhstan. While former detainees have raised the alarm about abuse they say they’ve faced, Sauytbay is one of a very small number of employees to have spoken out in detail.
“China has lied to the international community when it said these are not concentration camps, not prisons, and that they are teaching Muslims skills and trades,” she said. “That’s not true at all because I saw it with my own eyes.”
Sauytbay says she fled her job in a Xinjiang camp in 2018, escaping to Kazakhstan where she was united with her family briefly before being picked up by Kazakh authorities for crossing into the country with forged documents. She is requesting asylum in the country. [FULL STORY]
Chinese police patrol a street in the Peyzawat, a city in the Xinjiang autonomous region, last August. (Ng Han Guan/AP)
The Washington Post Date: May 4. 2019 By: Editorial Board
IN RECENT months, the world has slowly awakened to the extraordinary campaign of cultural genocide China is conducting against Muslims in its western Xinjiang region. As many as 1 million people have been confined to concentration camps where they are forced to renounce their religious practices and memorize the Beijing regime’s propaganda. That gross offense against human rights must be fully investigated and sanctioned. But of equal concern are some of the means China is using to carry out the repression. Xinjiang has become a laboratory for the development of a comprehensive, high-tech system for monitoring people and their behaviors, which poses an unprecedented threat to freedom — not just in western China, but potentially throughout the world.
A report by Human Rights Watch expands on what is known about the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP), the system for conducting mass surveillance in Xinjiang. By reverse engineering a mobile app connected to the system, the group was able to learn more about what data authorities are collecting about every Xinjiang resident, and what information triggers the system to order an investigation — or transport to a camp.
The results are chilling. “The system is tracking the movement of people by monitoring the ‘trajectory’ and location data of their phones, ID cards and vehicles; it is also monitoring the use of electricity and gas stations by everybody in the region,” the report says, adding: “When the IJOP system detects irregularities or deviations from what it considers normal, such as when people are using a phone that is not registered to them, when they use more electricity than ‘normal,’ or when they leave the area where they are registered to live without police permission, the system flags these ‘micro-clues’ to the authorities as suspicious and prompts an investigation.”
The police who follow up collect more data on people, from their blood type to the color of their cars. They examine their phones to see whether they contain one of 51 network tools deemed suspicious, such as virtual private networks and communications programs such as WhatsApp. They judge whether an individual fits one of 36 “person types” meriting special attention, including people who have traveled abroad, have more children than allowed or preach Islam without permission. All the data is sent back to the IJOP central system via the app, where it is stored in a database that also contains facial images and much other data. [FULL STORY]
Red Guards, high school and university students, waving copies of Chairman Mao Zedong's "Little Red Book," parade in June 1966 in Beijing's streets during the Cultural Revolution.
CNN Date: May 4, 2019 Analysis by Steven Jiang, CNN
Beijing (CNN)An unremarkable Communist Party directive has sparked painful memories of past trauma for millions of people across China, with many drawing parallels with one of the most notorious policies of the Cultural Revolution.
The ruling Communist Party’s Youth League detailed plans in late March for 10 million volunteering trips for China’s urban youth to the countryside in the next three years.
Under the guideline, university and vocational school students will be expected to spend their summer vacations participating in technological, medical and cultural development in impoverished villages nationwide to deepen a “rural rejuvenation” championed by President Xi Jinping.
While the scheme is supposed to be voluntary, given Xi’s personal endorsement of the plan it is likely to be seen as compulsory for many university students keen to advance in the party and the government.
Up to 100,000 young migrant laborers will also be encouraged to return to their rural hometowns by 2022 for work, including starting their own businesses with the help of “youth entrepreneur organizations,” set up by local authorities. [FULL STORY]
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A recent speech by Chinese leader Xi Jinping (習近平) to mark the
centennial of the May Fourth student movement has drawn a strong backlash both internationally and from Taiwanese history experts for being an outrageously erroneous interpretation of the spirit of the movement.
The student movement took place on May 4, 1919, in Beijing, where students and intellectuals from 13 colleges stood up for a patriotic protest against the decision of the Versailles Peace Conference. This was against the backdrop of imperialistic expansion from Japan and western countries.
The event inspired a movement that explored individualism, pragmatism, and democracy, and, to some extent, gave birth to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
CNN reported that Xi hailed the event as a “great patriotic revolutionary movement,” intentionally ignoring the core values of the intellectual and sociopolitical reform movement. His speech also made the world’s intellectuals cringe as China today is known for its intolerance and quashing of open dissent.
Chen Yi-shen (陳儀深), Taiwanese professor from the Institute of Modern History of Academia Sinica, at a forum that marks the movement on Friday, said that Chinese authorities have thus far shown no interest in instituting a democratic system of government. He added Chinese citizens who attempt to form independent political parties and use the Internet to express their opposition to the Chinese authorities are targeted for harassment, detention, and imprisonment, as described in a U.S. Congress document 10 years ago.
In recent years, dozens of students have disappeared after advocating for labor or human rights at the campus, including a group of four Peking University students, ahead of Beijing’s May Fourth commemoration event.
Chen also criticized Xi for intentionally misinterpreting the spirit of the May Fourth Movement, and leading the country in the opposite direction. He is doing this, Chen said, by enshrining Xi thought in the country’s constitution and telling Xinjiang residents to worship Xi. “This is evidence of Beijing’s support for anti-intellectualism and anti-individualism.”
Today, the Chinese authorities and Xi see patriotism as something that suits the Communist Party, Chen added. “Taiwan, on the other hand, has succeeded in political modernization after the end of the Kuomintang’s decades-long authoritarian rule and the formation of the Democratic Progressive Party, which is where the spirit of the May Fourth Movement is firmly rooted and has flourished.” [FULL STORY]
Mainland Affairs Council Minister Chen Ming-tong (MAC)
Radio Taiwan International Date: 03 May, 2019 By: Paula Chao
Mainland Affairs Council Minister Chen Ming-tong says Beijing has completely departed from the spirit of the May Fourth Movement. Chen was speaking Friday at a seminar that aims to revisit the movement’s impact on modern Chinese history.
The student-led May Fourth Movement pushed for intellectual revolution and sociopolitical reform in China between 1917 and 1921. The movement’s name comes from a mass demonstration that broke out on May 4, 1919. Protestors were furious at the then-Chinese government’s failure to protect the country’s interests.
On the eve of the demonstration’s 100th anniversary, Chen accused China of deviating from the movement’s spirit of liberalism and suppressing democracy and freedom of speech on campuses.
“Today, China’s assertiveness and powerful military presence abroad have caused concerns and triggered alarms [in the world]. At home, [China] has continued weakening the independence of its civic society. Behind its flashy development and propaganda are endless social paradoxes and management woes. We think these all lie in China’s lack of democratic belief and an imbalance of political reform and economic development. [China] has deviated from spirit of the May Fourth Movement; no where can you find [the movement’s core principles of] democracy and science on the mainland,” said Chen. [FULL STORY]
Future Perfect reporter Sigal Samuel has spent the past year investigating the humanitarian crisis in western China.
Vox Date: Apr 30, 2019 By: Lautaro Grinspan
Over the past year, Vox Future Perfect reporter Sigal Samuel has been investigating China’s campaign of repression against Uighur Muslims, 1 million of whom are being held in internment camps in the northwestern Xinjiang region. On April 26, Sigal did a Reddit Ask Me Anything session, discussing everything from the actions civilians in the US can take to help the Uighurs to the international community’s response to the crisis. Here’s a roundup of some of the most interesting questions and answers, lightly edited for clarity.
1) Why are Uighurs targeted in the first place? Stanislav1: Can you give us a quick history lesson on how this started in China?
Sigal: China has been worried for a long time that the Uighurs will want to split off from China and make Xinjiang an independent homeland (a lot of Uighurs refer to Xinjiang as East Turkestan). The Chinese paint the Uighurs as a separatist threat as well as a terrorist threat. So they claim “de-extremification” in camps is necessary for national security. There’s more background in this link, which you might find useful.
Capitalist_Model: Why are they targeting a fringe and such a specific religion?
Sigal: For China, it’s not fringe. The Uighurs are concentrated in Xinjiang, a very important region, both because it’s oil- and resource-rich and because it’s geographically central to China’s huge new infrastructure project, the Belt and Road initiative. China feels it needs to have tight control over Xinjiang; otherwise, that project could be jeopardized. And China has long feared that separatist Uighurs will try to create an independent homeland in Xinjiang.
2) What exactly goes on in the internment camps? NYLaw: Is there any evidence of violence used in these camps in order to “re-educate” the Uighur folks who are unfortunately subjected to internment? How badly are they being treated?
Sigal: Unfortunately, all the evidence suggests that violence is being used and that the conditions in the camps are very bad. There have been reports of torture and death. We know this from detainees who’ve made it out of the camps, and from former guards there. You can also get a sense of what goes on in the camps by examining the lists of equipment that the Chinese government agencies order for the camps — in one case, that included 2,768 police batons, 550 electric cattle prods, 1,367 pairs of handcuffs, and 2,792 cans of pepper spray. [FULL STORY]
Since President Xi took power in 2012, China has launched an unprecedented crackdown on online freedom.
Aljazeera Date: 25 Apr 2019 By: Madeline Roache
Thirty years ago, Beijing’s Tiananmen Square became a symbol of pro-democracy protests the
world over as the site of several important events in Chinese history witnessed a deadly military crackdown. It crushed the protests led by students, eventually costing more than 10,000 lives.
The crackdown became one of the most censored topics on the Chinese internet. Around this time of the year, certain websites, including Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and some Google services, are either fully blocked or temporarily “blacked out”.
The government aims to prevent discussion of the crackdown and also to erase the event from Chinese history, particularly among the younger generation, according to journalist and author James Griffiths.
“Chinese authorities are afraid of collective action against the government,” said Griffiths, the author of The Great Firewall of China: How to Build and Control an Alternate Version of the Internet.
Since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012, China has launched an unprecedented crackdown on online freedom, submerging the internet in propaganda and punishing journalists who post the “wrong” content.
Under Xi, China has blocked about 26,000 Google search terms and 880 Wikipedia pages. [FULL STORY]
Washington Examiner Date: April 26, 2019 By: Joel Gehrke
Chinese surveillance tactics “pose an existential threat” to the nations of the Western Hemisphere, a senior State Department official warned Friday.
“Citizens living in democracies in the Western Hemisphere could potentially have their entire digital identity under the control and surveillance of an authoritarian government,” Kimberly Breier, the State Department’s top diplomat for the region, told the Council of the Americas.
Breier was chiefly addressing Latin America, with a focus on how China distributes surveillance technology and wireless internet services that leave Westerners exposed to Beijing’s prying eyes. China has been selling its high-tech authoritarianism to dictators such as Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, and even countries friendlier to the United States have been opening their telecommunications networks to Chinese tech companies.
FBI Director Christopher Wray, speaking separately at the Council on Foreign Relations, emphasized the same day that the Communist power is targeting the United States as aggressively as any regional neighbor.
“China has pioneered a societal approach to stealing innovation any way it can, from a wide array of businesses, universities, and organizations,” Wray said. “They’re doing this through Chinese intelligence services, through state-owned enterprises, through ostensibly private companies, through graduate students and researchers, and through a variety of actors working on behalf of China.”
Breier and Wray made their warnings as China is trying to allay international worries about the Belt and Road Initiative, an overseas investment plan that U.S. officials regard as a “predatory” lending scheme to purchase influence over impoverished nations. China is hosting an international summit in Beijing on Friday, convening Russia and other partner nations to tout the initiative. [FULL STORY]