Monday, October 15th 2018
The news, chilling, just came: A doctor honoris causa of the French Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE) has been sentenced to death. He will be executed in two years. This is happening in China, and the researcher in question, Tashpolat Tiyip, is a renowned geographer. His only crime? To be Uyghur. He received the honorary title on November 14, 2008 at the Sorbonne, Paris, to salute his work on the environment in arid zones by satellite remote sensing. His friends and colleagues in Europe are appalled. His crime? He is suspected of being « double-faced », that is to say that Beijing accuses him of nourishing a secret attachment to his culture, this being unjustified since he was a member of the Chinese Communist Party and President of the University of Xinjiang since 2010 (after serving as Vice President from 1996 to 2010).
Tashpolat Teyip, doctor honoris causa of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes and President of the Xinjiang University, disappeared while going to a conference in Germany. Two years later, the news came that he was sentenced to death for having politically incorrect thoughts. Crédit EPHE
According to EPHE President Hubert Bost, Tashpolat Tiyip’s French colleagues saw him for the last time in February 2016. They remember him as a very funny, likeable person, fond of music and singing.
Sources disclosed that his duties as President of Xinjiang University were withdrawn in March 2017. Two months later, while on his way to a conference in Germany, he was arrested at Beijing Airport. His relatives, without news, are very worried. Nobody knows where he is. On the internet, the results of research about him only mention his scientific publications. « They have erased everything from the internet, » says a Uyghur who wants to remain anonymous. Moreover, the Uyghurs of the diaspora avoid doing such research on the web, they know that it can cost the prison or the rehabilitation camp to their relatives left in Xinjiang.
Tashpolat is not the only intellectual to have disappeared without a trace until the sentence is learned: Halmurat Ghopur, President of the University of Medicine of Xinjiang was arrested on April 7, 2017. He, too, has just been sentenced to death. Arslan Abdullah, director of the Institute of Human Sciences, arrested. Azat Sultan, director of the Association for Art and Literature of Xinjiang and Vice President of Xinjiang University, very knowledgeable of Uyghur literature, also arrested in July 2017, as well as Abdukerim Rahman, Rahile Dawut and Gheyretjan Osman, professors of literature, anthropology and history – reportedly arrested in January 2018. Same fate for the writer Yalqun Rozi, who disappeared more than a year ago before one learns his life sentence. Regarding Satar Sawut, the former director of Education, there are rumors about his death in custody. The list of arrested intellectuals continues to grow. Reportedly, according to Radio Free Asia, fifty-six lecturers and researchers have disappeared and are thought to have been sent to camps.
The actors and the journalists are also victims of the same move. According to Radio Free Asia English, Qeyser Qeyum, editor-in-chief of a literary magazine, committed suicide at the end of September 2018 by jumping from the 8th floor because he learned that he will be arrested. Before him, the editor of the Xinjiang Daily and three other directors had been arrested in mid-2017.
Since the end of 2016, Beijing has begun to imprison or to re-educate Uyghurs accused of having politically incorrect thoughts. It seems that the government of Xi Jinping has decided to get rid of the Uyghur elites. A foretaste of it was the arrest in January 2014 of Ilham Tohti, professor of economics, arrest that caused a big stir as well as his life sentence in 2018. « They want us to disappear, » says, bitter, a Uyghur settled in Europe.
Since the appointment of Chen Quanguo as head of the Xinjiang Communist Party in 2016, Uighurs’ ordeal has reached unprecedented proportions: setting up of controls using monitoring devices unique in the world: all three hundred meters surveillance towers with soldiers – there are 1400 wujingzhan only in Urumqi -, facial recognition devices everywhere, control of the phones, incessant identity checks, even at the entrance of supermarkets, cameras, affixing on each house a QR code containing all the information related to the family – the knives of the house are also equipped with these QR codes -, bursts in houses at any time, etc. and then, about two years ago, launching of a massive re-education campaign targeting the Uyghur people to bring them to the main stream: « Almost all Uyghurs from abroad who return to China for the holidays are arrested in Beijing and sent to re-education camps,” disclosed us the source. Since then, they are scared to return to China to see their family. Alas, the government has asked them to send their papers, their employment contracts or student cards, their photographs, etc. otherwise their relatives in China would be arrested. « We are living the darkest, saddest period of our history, » said a Uyghur who agreed on the condition of anonymity. We are nothing else than laboratory mice for the Chinese government.” According to Radio Free Asia English, Xinjiang reportedly recruited in 2016 more than 30,000 new police officers, 89 % being dedicated to the surveillance towers.
The attacks on the freedoms of the Uyghurs are not new. Already in 2007, Rebiya Kadeer, was mentioning a cultural genocide to denounce the exactions of Beijing against her people and claimed: « We live in a huge concentration camp in the open air! » in an interview she gave us in Geneva. But today, the liberticidal system has reached such an extreme that, for the first time, the media publish widely about the alarming situation in Xinjiang. HRW estimates that more than one million Uighurs are interned in camps, this is just over ten per cent of the Uyghur population. The Uyghurs themselves mention the figure of two million, sometimes even three. A village in the Hotan region, Yengisheher, has seen its population decreasing by 40%: according to Radio Free Asia, almost all the adult males of the 1,700 households have been interned.
Little is known about what is going on in the reeducation camps. The NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report in September 2018, “Eradicating Ideological Viruses – China’s Campaign of Repression Against Xinjiang’s Muslims” with first-hands accounts from five people who have been held in detention centers and in reeducation camps. According to the report, prisoners held in the detention centers are interrogated for days, chained on a chair, badly beaten, or hung from the ceiling in order to make them admit anything. Cells are overcrowded with 24 to 35 people in a 12-square-meter room.
In the reeducation camps, the captives are not allowed to speak in their mother tong but in Mandarin Chinese and undergo a military discipline: flag-raising ceremony every morning and singing songs praising Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party. Before meals they must also praise the president and the Party. “They are given a small bread and a bowl of rice to eat, but if you do not speak good Chinese, they do not give you anything. » Prisoners are told they wouldn’t be released until they can speak Mandarin. Even the illiterate and old ones.
According to the same report, the crime of those held in political education camps is to have relationship with people in a list of 26 foreign countries, or to have practiced Islam. The fact of keeping WhatsApp or a VPN on your phone is also a reason to be politically educated.
Mistreatment is not spared to the detainees: There are reports about guards using high-voltage gloves to hit them. All women had their hair cut off. One who had not been obedient enough was put inside a metal outfit. Another one told HRW he was put inside a kind of well where he could not move and where they poured water until he vanished. Punishment for not being capable of learning patriotic songs quickly enough is deprivation of food for one week. Life in camp is unbearable to the point that many try to commit suicide. Moreover, four deaths have been reported in the political camps due to torture and denial of ill treatment, according to the HRW’s report which states that there are probably more cases.
Cut off from their family, the Uyghurs abroad live in anguish of what happens or can happen to their loved ones: « We cannot call each other. Neither mail nor message nor anything. My father called me from China a year and a half ago to tell me not to call or write to him. That would have put him in danger. I have no news, » said the student. Others are not suspicious enough and go back to spend a few weeks in Xinjiang, like this mother of two, who left late 2016 to China for a couple of days. Her daughters have never seen her again. So many families are broken. This does not only affects Uyghurs of Europe. About three hundreds Pakistani husbands are separated from their Uyghur wives and kids for the same reasons, amongst which 38 headed to Beijing to lobby their embassy (Reuters).
Now that the mass internment of Uyghurs in camps could not be hidden anymore and came to surface, China first denied their existence. But faced with the evidences and the accumulation of testimonies, Beijing recently admitted the facts and is now trying to give a legal frame to the political education camps, calling them “vocational training centers” and claiming they are aiming at offering employment opportunities.
Since October 1st, the Chinese National Day, Beijing is suspected to move prisoners to Inner China and rumors are circulating about the construction of underground camps that would be invisible from satellites.
To read the full text in PDF : Uyghur elites eradicated
Tashpolat Tiyip receiving the honorific title of doctor honoris causa in Sorbonne, Paris, November 2008. Crédit EPHE