Category Archives: exile

“Lunch with the FT: Chen Guangcheng”

FT sits down with Chen, who has now been in America for a few months:

Lunch, ordered in by Chen’s minders, is an excellent, enormous Italian meal of pasta, pizza and salads from Otto Enoteca Pizzeria on nearby Fifth Avenue. Before we start eating, he asks if he can hold my digital recorder. “I have a deep fondness for audio recorders,” he tells me, as he examines my device with his fingertips. “I was given one in 2005 that I used to document accounts of the government’s violent family planning practices. It survived countless confiscation raids on my house and I still have it today.”

When I ask whether he’s worried about becoming irrelevant back home, as has happened to other dissidents once exiled to the west, he disagrees forcefully. He can, he says, still communicate with people in China. “When I was in prison I couldn’t even call my wife on the telephone, except for once a month,” he says. “But did I have more influence when I went into jail or when I came out? Do you think my communication with friends in China will be easier or harder now than when I was in prison? I believe I’ve answered your question.”

Chen’s “first demand”, as he calls it, is that the Chinese government obeys its own laws and its own constitution, which ostensibly guarantees human rights, freedom of speech and many other values that are taken for granted in the west. “When you read China’s constitution, you realise that if we could only fulfil those basic requirements then China would be a great country,” he says. “China’s laws themselves are not the problem, the problem is that they are not properly enforced in real life.”

This is both what makes Chen’s case poignant and what makes him so dangerous for China’s rulers – his activism is based on simply asking the authorities to live up to their own pronouncements.

He continues, emphatically: “China will see democracy, I’m one hundred per cent sure – it just needs time. If everyone makes an effort to build a more just and civil society then it will come faster and if everyone stands by and does nothing, then it will come slower but is still inevitable. Whether the authorities wish it to or not, the dawn comes and the day breaks just the same.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Chen Guangcheng, democracy, exile

“2011: The Uyghur Human Rights Year in Review”

Uyghur Human Rights Project manager Henryk Szadziewski has a piece up on HuffingtonPost summarizing how last year passed in Xinjiang. It wasn’t good:

Calls for independent and international investigations into Chinese claims of Uyghur terrorism receive very short shrift from Beijing. It therefore follows that whenever a serious incident occurs in East Turkestan (Xinjiang), which Chinese officials blame on a coordinated Uyghur terror threat, skeptics are never far away. That China uses the Uyghurs’ Islamic faith to engineer accusations of terrorism in order to justify unremitting crackdowns only compounds the doubt.

The incident became another example of the lack of clarity in Chinese government accounts of Uyghur terrorism, as well as an illustration of the binary nature in interpreting such disturbing events. What seems to be agreed upon is that another violent and bloody chapter in the region’s history has been played out and that we are nowhere nearer to resolving Uyghur issues. This conclusion could also be applied to two violent attacks that happened in the dusty summer streets of Khotan and Kashgar.

A growing number of countries surrounding China found it acceptable to forcibly repatriate Uyghur refugees in 2011. Prior to 2011, Uyghurs were refouled from a variety of states in China’s vicinity, such as Cambodia, Laos, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Burma and Nepal. In 2011, it was the turn of four other countries. On May 30, Ershidin Israel was forcibly repatriated from Kazakhstan despite an offer of settlement from Sweden. Israel had fled from China on foot in September 2009 after informing Radio Free Asia reporters about the beating to death of Uyghur Shohret Tursun. Tursun was beaten to death in September 2009 while in detention for his alleged involvement in the July 2009 unrest in Urumchi. Chinese authorities accused Israel of involvement in terrorism and demanded his return.

In all these cases nothing has been heard of the refugees since their return to China. In a September 2 Human Rights Watch press release, Refugee Program director Bill Frelick said, “Uighurs disappear into a black hole after being deported to China.” He added that “China appears to be conducting a concerted campaign to identify and press for the return of Uighurs from countries throughout Asia…China should stop pressuring other governments to violate the international prohibition against forced return.”

With such a long reach across the Asian continent and dominance over society in the Uyghur region, 2012 brings little to dismiss the fear that Uyghurs will find any respite from Chinese government attention, even across international borders. The pressure that China has exerted on surrounding governments to forcibly repatriate fleeing Uyghurs seems ever more irresistible given current political and economic realities. The possible evolution of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization into an economic grouping should keep Central Asian states firmly focused on the assistance China requires to keep activist Uyghurs silent.

Leave a comment

Filed under ethnic conflict, exile, human rights, Xinjiang

More Violence Against Uyghurs in Xinjiang

The Chinese government has been claiming that their police were forced into a shootout by Islamic terrorists in Xinjiang three days ago:

Police officers killed seven people they accused of being kidnappers in a remote mountainous area of Xinjiang on China’s turbulent western frontier, according to state-run news organizations on Friday.

A spokesman for the Xinjiang government told the Xinhua state news agency that a group of “violent terrorists” abducted two people in Pishan County. The area is in the restive Hotan Prefecture, which is dominated by Uighurs, a Turkic people who practice a relatively moderate form of Islam. The Han make up less than 2 percent of the population in Pishan.

Xinhua did not specify the ethnicity of the people who were killed by the police, but Radio Free Asia, which has a Uighur-language service, quoted local residents as saying on Thursday that all of the victims were Uighurs.

Doubts have been raised in recent years over the official versions of events in Xinjiang. In 2008, officials said two Uighur men were responsible for killing 16 paramilitary officers in the city of Kashgar by hitting them with a truck, setting off homemade explosives and attacking them with machetes. But foreign tourists who witnessed the event and took photographs of it said that there were no explosions and that the men wielding the machetes appeared to be wearing uniforms.

As is always the case, locals and exile groups are contesting this story, and it doesn’t sound good for the official narrative being pushed by the Beijing propaganda department:

Radio Free Asia has now reported that the “Terror Gang” was in fact a group of people, men, women and children, from Mukula village in Pishan county. The group, it is reported, had been attempting to flee to a foreign country where they could practice their Muslim religion unhindered. One of the dead had been previously imprisoned for three months for “illegal” religious activities.

RFA claims that two of the dead were women and that “Five of the captives are children aged seven to 17 years of age. One child is an elementary school student in second grade. They are being interrogated by the county.”

According to the RFA report the village chief said authorities had been keeping details of the incident under wraps in order to “maintain stability” in the community. He said the village was under a security clampdown.

It would seem obvious then that a group of Uyghurs, more than likely containing a family group, had attempted to leave China illegally. Their reason for leaving would overwhelmingly appear to be as a result of religious persecution.

Having been stopped by police they have reacted contrary to directions, or the police acted inappropriately towards the women of the group, as alluded to in the RFA report, resulting in what can only be described as a massacre. The fact that the dead policeman died as a result of knife injury would attest to the fact that the Uyghurs were not carrying weapons such as guns.

The initial story that they had “kidnapped” two shepherds is possibly correct to the extent that they required guides to get them to the border. Whether the shepherds helped voluntarily will not be known, but it is more than likely, and their status as “kidnapped” has been used by the Chinese authorities to justify the intervention and consequent, and what would appear, excessive use of lethal force against a group armed with little more than traditional Uyghur daggers.

We’ll see as more details come in- but I’ll just say that I would be extremely surprised if Beijing manages to provide any supporting evidence whatsoever for its claims.

Leave a comment

Filed under ethnic conflict, exile, violence, Xinjiang

“Walking Out on China”

Chinese wrtier Liao Yiwu made news a few months ago by going into exile in Germany during the tail end of the Jasmine Crackdown here in China. In the New York Times he relates the story of his escape- the entire thing is worth a read, but here are some bits:

Until earlier this year, I had resisted the urge to escape. Instead, I chose to stay in China, continuing to document the lives of those occupying the bottom rung of society. Then, democratic protests swept across the Arab world, and posts began appearing on the Internet calling for similar street protests in China.

An old-fashioned writer, I seldom surf the Web, and the Arab Spring simply passed me by. Staying on the sidelines did not spare me police harassment, though. When public security officers learned that my books would be published in Germany, Taiwan and the United States, they began phoning and visiting me frequently.

In March, my police handlers stationed themselves outside my apartment to monitor my daily activities. “Publishing in the West is a violation of Chinese law,” they told me. “The prison memoir tarnishes the reputation of China’s prison system and ‘God Is Red’ distorts the party’s policy on religion and promotes underground churches.” If I refused to cancel my contract with Western publishers, they said, I’d face legal consequences.

Then an invitation from Salman Rushdie arrived, asking me to attend the PEN World Voices Festival in New York. I immediately contacted the local authorities to apply for permission to leave China, and booked my plane ticket. However, the day before my scheduled departure, a police officer called me to “have tea,” informing me that my request had been denied. If I insisted on going to the airport, the officer told me, they would make me disappear, just like Ai Weiwei.

I kept my plan to myself. I didn’t follow my usual routine of asking my police handlers for permission. Instead, I packed some clothes, my Chinese flute, a Tibetan singing bowl and two of my prized books, “The Records of the Grand Historian” and the “I Ching.” Then I left home while the police were not watching, and traveled to Yunnan. Even though it was sweltering there, I felt like a rat in winter, lying still to save my energy. I spent most of my time with street people. I knew that if I dug around, I could eventually find an exit.

WITH my passport and valid visas from Germany, the United States and Vietnam, I began to move. I shut off my cellphone after making brief contacts with my friends in the West, who had collaborated on the plan.

At 10 a.m. on July 2, I walked 100 yards to the border post, fully prepared for the worst, but a miracle occurred. The officer checked my papers, stared at me momentarily and then stamped my passport. Without stopping, I traveled to Hanoi and boarded a flight to Poland and then to Germany.

After I settled in, I called my family and girlfriend, who were questioned by the authorities. News about my escape spread fast. A painter friend told me that he had gone to visit Ai Weiwei, who is still closely watched. When my friend mentioned that I had mysteriously landed in Germany, Old Ai’s eyes widened. He howled with disbelief, “Really? Really? Really?”

China’s loss, Germany’s gain.

Leave a comment

Filed under exile, Jasmine Revolution

“Kathmandu is turning into a dangerous place for Tibetans”

Kate Saunders of ICT has a piece out in The Sunday Guardian about the increasing difficulty Tibetans have in escaping to India:

Beijing’s influence over the Nepalese government, border forces, the judicial system and civil society at a time of political transition in Nepal signify that Tibetans in Nepal are increasingly vulnerable, demoralised and at risk of arrest and repatriation. Last year, Tibetan refugees, mainly women and including two sick children, had to hide in a forest in Nepal while Chinese armed police searched for them — after Nepalese police had started to transport them back to the Tibet-Nepal border. Tibetans in Nepal — the world’s second largest Tibetan community in exile after India — are experiencing harassment and extortion, more restrictions on their movements and greater difficulty securing education and jobs than ever before.

In one well-known incident in 2003, 18 Tibetans under UNHCR protection were taken from prison in Kathmandu by the Chinese embassy and driven to the border and into Tibet. Some months later, I met one of the young Tibetans among this group in a transit centre providing temporary shelter and food for Tibetans who arrive in exile. Among the mattresses on the floor and the sole possessions of the refugees in paper bags and plastic suitcases somehow carried across the most forbidding mountain ranges in the world, a young Tibetan boy was curled up in a corner, studying English letters in a notebook. Eighteen-year-old Gyaltsen told us that right after they were taken across the border, he and the rest of the group were manacled and driven to prison. He was beaten and tortured, and forced to carry out hard labour. After he was released, he risked further imprisonment by making the long journey into exile via Nepal again — determined to join his parents, who had arrived safely in India.

Despite his bleak surroundings, Gyaltsen looked immaculate in a smart, buttoned-up grey waistcoat and pressed trousers. I wrote what he said in my notebook: “Living in Tibet is like being in a very dark room, with just a glimmering of light that is the possibility of escape to India. I had to walk towards that light.”

Nepal is an essential gateway for Tibetans to escape from persecution into exile. Since a violent crackdown was imposed in Tibet from March, 2008 onwards, the number of Tibetan refugees reaching Nepal has decreased dramatically from around 2,500-3,500 a year to less than a thousand a year. Now, they are not only in danger on the Chinese side of the border, but also face new risks to their safety on the Nepalese side — despite an existing agreement with the UNHCR that should guarantee their transit to India.

Increasingly, there are indications that many of those in Nepal’s professional elite are concerned about China’s assertive actions in Nepal’s sovereign territory, recognising that acquiescence to Chinese demands directly threatens the integrity of Nepalese processes and institutions. Within Nepalese civil society, there are some moves to create legislation on the issue of status of Tibetans in Nepal and refugee rights.

Nepalese human rights monitors who are supportive of the Tibetans’ plight point out that their government’s actions run counter to close cultural and religious ties between the Nepalese and Tibetans dating back to the 6th century.

Again, this is one issue where American and Indian and UN pressure could counter Chinese efforts relatively easily, and produce real-world results for people who already have enough problems as is. I’d also hope that the Nepalese public might get a bit more active on rejecting Chinese influence- the gifts Beijing hands out always come with a huge price.

1 Comment

Filed under exile, Nepal, refugees, Tibet

“Hunting Uighurs Across Asia”

The subheading of this WSJ piece puts it best: “China outsources human rights abuses to its neighbors.”

Last week the Malaysian government deprived 11 Chinese citizens of their right to seek refugee status and deported them back to China. That Kuala Lumpur failed to honor its obligations to respect refugee rights is no surprise: The men were Uighurs, an ethnic minority who had fled the restive territory of Xinjiang to escape political persecution.

Over the last several years, East Asian and Central Asian countries have bowed to Beijing’s pressure and returned Uighurs to China with no questions asked. Once there, they disappear into the prison system where they are often tortured and can face execution.

The trend seems to be accelerating. Earlier this month Thailand deported a Uighur man, Nur Muhammed, and Pakistan sent back five Uighurs, including a mother and two small children. Vietnam, Laos, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have also repatriated Uighurs in recent years.

In 2009, Cambodian officials assured the U.S. ambassador that they would not repatriate a group of Uighur asylum-seekers, only days before the police took 20 of them at gun-point and put them on a “VIP plane” to China. China pledged the legal proceedings against them would be transparent but reneged on that promise. Two days later, it granted Cambodia $1.2 billion in aid, more than the cumulative total in the previous 17 years.

China is using its diplomatic and economic clout to outsource its human rights abuses against Uighurs to its neighbors’ territories. But even as it extends the reach of its secret police, it is also giving those neighbors an education in the ruthlessness of its methods. It’s no wonder that they are increasingly worried by China’s rise.

It’s really time for them to take collective action, because the alternative is to be bullied one by one. Perhaps none of them care enough about the plight of Uighur refugees to take a stand, but countries dealing with the “U-shaped line,” for example, have an interest in protecting each other.

Leave a comment

Filed under ethnic conflict, exile, refugees, Xinjiang

“Tibet Today, as I saw it”

Tashi Phuntsok, an exile Tibetan and dean of a private school in Connecticut, writes about his experience touring his homeland for the first time in 2007 here at Phayul. His experiences talking to Tibetans rings extremely true- I’ve had conversations just like these at various places in Amdo and Kham:

I later learned that I had to introduce myself by showing my American passport to convince them that I was a fellow Tibetan from exile. The moment they learned that I was a genuine fellow brother from exile, unvented emotions poured out. My guide in Kandze introduced me to a young man who spent two years in prison for taking part in a peaceful demonstration; he’d witnessed the execution of two of his friends who were accused of organizing the demonstration. A nomad in Tromgyal, a village several hours from Kandze, moaned that his son was still serving in prison for participating in a demonstration in Kandze. On our way from Tromgyal to Nyishul, plain-clothed Chinese police stopped our minibus and searched the bus for a Tibetan woman, whose photo was held in one of policemen’s hand.

We arrived at the Nyoshul Monastery. There were no Chinese in this remote and 4500 meter elevated region. I distributed Chaney, holy grains blessed by the Nechung Oracle in India, to the monks and nuns in Nyishul monastery. As they scrambled for Chaney, they asked me how His Holiness the Dalai Lama was. Amidst the rugged Khampa vernacular, I heard a nun speaking to me in an immaculate Lhasan dialect. I later asked her how she ended up in this part of Tibet. She’s one of the singing nuns, who defied the Chinese authority by singing a song declaring their allegiance to the Dalai Lama in the Draphci prison in Lhasa. With pressure from the Chinese authority, she was not accepted back to her nunnery after being released from the prison. In pursuit of her spiritual quest, secretly she moved to eastern Tibet, outside of TAR, where there is slightly more freedom to practice religion. I heard similar sad stories from individuals in Lithang, Nyarong, and Nagchukha. These are the region outside of TAR.

The situation in Lhasa, the Capital City of Tibet, was even more tense. This tension was not noticeable until I began interacting with the local Tibetan communities, which I wouldn’t have been able to do without my faithful guide. Tibetans were desperate and frustrated to see that they are becoming second class citizens in their own country. The majority of Tibetan youths are illiterate or semi-literate. Except for Barkor Circuit Bazzar, major portion of the city was overtaken by the migrant Chinese. When I asked my guide why Tibetans didn’t take loans from the Government to start up businesses to compete with the Chinese settlers, he grumbled, “That’s easy for you to say, you live in a free country.” He took me to the new Lhasa Railway Station; it was an impressive structure that you would think any resident of Lhasa would be proud of. “This used to be residences and an agricultural field,” said my guide. “They were thrown out of here with a compensation of only twenty-eight thousand yuan. They’re now begging in the streets of Lhasa. The Chinese called this a development, but for us Tibetans it’s a nail in the coffin. The train brings over three thousand Han Chinese to Lhasa a week, and most of them will stay here for good, because of the Government subsidy.”

Beijing claims that Tibet is still over 90% Tibetan, but I don’t know anyone who has been there and come away with even the slightest inclination to believe those numbers. Again, this isn’t about the individual Han who move to minority regions- who can blame them for seeking a better way of life, especially when they may not be aware of what the Tibet problem really is? This is about a government which only speaks to minorities in the language of violence, and whose attempts to “integrate” these regions with China by way of massive Han settlement is aggravating the issues.

Leave a comment

Filed under ethnic conflict, exile, Tibet, torture