Weekly Brief March 2nd

World Uyghur Congress, 2 March 2018

20 Relatives of Uyghur Journalist Detained

This week it was widely reported that 20 relatives of Gulchehra Hoja, a journalist working at Radio Free Asia, who were still living in East Turkestan were detained by Chinese police and sent to ‘re-education’ camps. Gulchehra has worked for Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur service for 17 years and has reported extensively on the numerous human rights violations being perpetrated by the Chinese government against the Uyghur people. The arrest of her relatives was likely done in retaliation to her efforts to draw attention to these issues.

Since January 2018, Gulchehra Hoja has been unable to contact her 72-year-old mother Chimanguli Zikeli sand her father Abduqeyum Hoja (77 years old). Both of her parents require medical attention, as her mother suffers from diabetes and heart disease and her father had recently been partially paralyzed following a stroke. Her brother, Kaiser Keyum, was detained by the authorities in October 2017 and his whereabouts and well-being are uncertain. Other family members who have been recently detained are her seven cousins – Elshat Abduwali, Gheyret Abdurahman, Daniyar Abdukerim, Madina Mutalip, Mirzat Mutalip, Gulpiya Almas, Izhar Almas, who were detained by Chinese authorities on 31 January 2018 and are reportedly being held at the Ghulja Yengi Hayat Prison, apparently due to being in contact Gulchehra Hoja through a WeChat group. Five other Uyghur journalists, including Shohret Hoshur have also reported that their relatives have gone missing.

The arrest and arbitrary detention of relatives of journalists, activists and dissidents living abroad is sadly not a new phenomenon, although it has certainly escalated in the past year. WUC President Dolkun Isa’s brother was detained by Chinese police this past year and he can no longer contact his father. In 2017, approximately 30 relatives of noted Uyghur activist Rebiya Kadeer were also detained in China. Almost every family in the Uyghur diaspora have reported loved ones or friends going missing this past year, as hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs are being sent to ‘re-education’ camps. These detentions are clear acts of reprisals meant to punish Uyghur activists, journalists and dissidents and a clear violation of international law and human rights norms.

Interpol ‘Red-notice’ on WUC President Dolkun Isa Deleted

Through the persistent work of Fair Trials, the World Uyghur Congress welcomed the deletion on the INTERPOL Red Notice issued against our President, Dolkun Isa. Such a decision provides vindication for the two decades in which Isa has been falsely accused of criminality by the Chinese government and forced to live under intense scrutiny on account of spurious claims, but also highlights the entrenched politicization of international institutions that are often seen as legitimate, impartial arbiters of justice.

Isa was first issued a Red Notice by INTERPOL on the insistence of the Chinese government in 1997, only getting word himself of the notice two years later in 1999 by German police. Although a serious charge, German authorities came to the conclusion that Isa presented no threat and he became a German citizen in 2006. Despite this, the notice has remained a particular obstacle for Isa, inhibiting international travel and hindering activism.

This case clearly illustrates that China’s narrative concerning dissent is a broken one, one that has been used for decades to frame the opposition as violent and unlawful. Dolkun Isa has worked since the 1980s when he was a student activist to shed light on the serious issues that he witnessed in East Turkestan. Because of his activism, he was forced to flee the country and has continued to press for basic respect of international human rights norms.

The Chinese government has consistently relied on the narrative of terrorism to justifying its aggressive policies in East Turkestan. Recent Counter-Terror and Anti-Extremism legislation, roundly criticised by the international community for being excessively broad and vague, has allowed China to label peaceful dissenters as terrorists.

Report Highlights Role of ‘Big Data’ on Crackdown on Uyghurs

A detailed Human Rights Watch report published this week highlights the role of massive data collective through dense surveillance networks and the use of ‘predictive policing’ by Chinese authorities in the massive crackdown on Uyghurs in East Turkestan.

Massive amounts of information gathered from CCTV scanners, facial recognition software, public databases and police checkpoints and is analysed using artificial intelligence in massive data hubs. The artificial intelligence analyses the data and predicts who is likely to partake in ‘criminal activity’. In this way, the Chinese police have established a dystopian system of ‘predictive policing’ in which they act on this analysis and arrest large numbers of Uyghurs based on its results.

The intertwined security and surveillance systems have effectively made East Turkestan a police state and open-air prison, where the entire Uyghur population is closely monitored and innocent people are regularly being detained without due process and due to ‘predictive policing’ from artificial intelligence. It is a truly dystopian model of security that may have lasting impact beyond East Turkestan, as it may soon be used as a model of repression by other authoritarian governments.

Uyghur Student in US Faces Down Chinese Threats to ‘Turn Him In’

The issue of Chinese student groups in the USA, Australia and other countries being controlled and mobilised by the respective Chinese embassies has surfaced again, after a Uyghur student in a US University was verbally attacked by his Chinese classmates after he used the term ‘East Turkestan’. The Chinese students reportedly threatened to report the Uyghur student to the Chinese embassy for using this term. Such incidents are sadly becoming more commonplace, as the Chinese government is utilising Chinese students to shut down debates on sensitive issues in Chine in foreign universities. This constitutes a significant attack on right to freedom of speech by the Chinese government, outside of its own borders.

Conference at US Congress Highlights Heavy Restrictions on Uyghur Cultural and Religious Freedom

On 26 February 2018, the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), along with the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO), the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) and the Uyghur American Association (UAA) organised a conference entitled “Uyghur Religious Freedom and Cultural Values Under Siege”. The event was held at the US Congress and assembled members of the Uyghur diaspora community, human rights activists and academics to discuss the rapidly deteriorating situation in East Turkestan and the current situation on the ground in East Turkestan. High-level panellists included Sean Roberts (George Washington University), Mr. Teng Biao (University of Politics and Law in Beijing, visiting scholar at New York University), Mr Alim Seytoff (Director of RFA Uyghur Service), Tina L. Mufford (United States Commission on International Religious Freedom), Chen Pokong (Chinese writer, critic and democracy movement activist) and Ms Nicole Morgret (Uyghur Human Rights Project).

Human Rights Groups Call on States to Hold China Accountable at UN Human Rights Council

The WUC joined nearly 20 other human rights organisations in publishing a joint letter sent to UN Member States ahead of the 37th session of the Human Rights Council, calling on China to be held for its rollback on human rights domestically and at the Human Rights Council itself. The private letter highlighted a number of recent cases of arbitrary detentions and political prisoners, as well as drawing attention to China’s attack on the work of the Human Rights Council.