China says interning Muslims brings them into ‘modern’ world

In this Nov. 4, 2017 file photo, Uighur security personnel patrol near the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar in western China's Xinjiang region. (AP)
Updated 17 October 2018
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China says interning Muslims brings them into ‘modern’ world

  • Despite growing alarm from the US and the United Nations, China has maintained that Xinjiang’s vast dragnet of police surveillance is necessary for countering latent extremism and preserving stability

BEIJING: China on Tuesday characterized its mass internment of Muslims as a push to bring into the “modern, civilized” world a destitute people who are easily led astray — a depiction that analysts said bore troubling colonial overtones.
The report is the ruling Communist Party’s latest effort to defend its extrajudicial detention of Central Asian Muslim minorities against mounting criticism.
China’s resistance to Western pressure over the camps highlights its growing confidence under President Xi Jinping, who has offered Beijing’s authoritarian system as a model for other countries.
About 1 million Uighurs, Kazakhs and other minorities have been arbitrarily detained in mass internment camps in China’s far west Xinjiang region, according to estimates by a UN panel. Former detainees say they were forced to disavow their Islamic beliefs in the camps, while children of detainees are being placed in dozens of orphanages across the region.
The report by the official Xinhua News Agency indicated that key to the party’s vision in Xinjiang is the assimilation of the indigenous Central Asian ethnic minorities into Han Chinese society — and in turn, a “modern” lifestyle.
Xinjiang Gov. Shohrat Zakir said the authorities were providing people with lessons on Mandarin, Chinese history and laws. Such training would steer them away from extremism and onto the path toward a “modern life” in which they would feel “confident about the future,” he said.
“It’s become a general trend for them to expect and pursue a modern, civilized life,” Zakir said, referring to the trainees. He said the measures are part of a broader policy to build a “foundation for completely solving the deeply-rooted problems” in the region.
China has long viewed the country’s ethnic minorities as backward, said James Leibold an expert on Chinese ethnic polices at Melbourne’s La Trobe University.
Leibold described Beijing’s perspective on minorities as: “They’re superstitious, they’re deviant, they’re potentially dangerous. The role of the party-state is to bring them into the light of civilization, to transform them.”
Despite growing alarm from the US and the United Nations, China has maintained that Xinjiang’s vast dragnet of police surveillance is necessary for countering latent extremism and preserving stability. The Turkic-speaking Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gurs) have long resented restrictions placed on their religious practices. They say they experience widespread discrimination in jobs and access to passports.
In the Xinhua report, Zakir said authorities provide free vocational training in skills geared toward manufacturing, food and service industries. Zakir said “trainees” are paid a basic income during the training, in which free food and accommodations are provided.
The report appeared aimed at disputing accounts provided by former detainees, who have said they were held in political indoctrination camps where they were forced to denounce Islam and profess loyalty to the party.
Ethnic Uighurs and Kazakhs have told The Associated Press that ostensibly innocuous acts such as praying regularly, viewing a foreign website or taking phone calls from relatives abroad could land one in a camp.
Zakir said the training centers were for people “who are influenced by terrorism and extremism, and those suspected of minor criminal offenses” who could be exempted from criminal punishment.
Zakir did not say whether such individuals were ever formally charged with any crime or provided a chance to defend themselves against the allegations. The report also did not say if attendance was mandatory, though former detainees have said they were forcibly held in centers policed by armed guards.
Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the system deprived detainees of basic legal protections such as access to lawyers.
The authorities’ attempts to justify the camps “illustrate what the ‘rule of law’ in China means — that the party bends it to its will and uses it as a weapon against perceived political enemies,” Wang said in an email.
Zakir did not say how many people were in such courses, but said some would be able to complete their courses this year.
Zakir seemed to try to counter reports of poor living conditions within the camps, saying that “trainees” were immersed in athletic and cultural activities. The centers’ cafeterias provide “nutritious, free diets,” and dormitories are fully equipped with TVs, air conditioning and showers, he said.
Omir Bekali, a Xinjiang-born Kazakh citizen, said he was kept in a cell with 40 people inside a heavily guarded facility.
Bekali said he was kept in a locked room with eight other internees. They shared beds and a wretched toilet. Baths were rare.
Before meals, they were told to chant “Thank the party! Thank the motherland!” During daily mandatory classes, they were told that their people were backward before being “liberated” by the party in the 1950s.
The idea that one’s beliefs can be transformed through indoctrination dates back to the Mao Zedong era, when self-criticisms and public humiliation were routinely employed to stir up ideological fervor.
The program’s philosophies can be traced even further back to the late imperial era, when Xinjiang’s “natives” were seen as requiring education in the Confucian way, according to Michael Clarke, a Xinjiang expert at Australian National University.
Amnesty International called the Xinhua report an insult to detainees and the families of people who have gone missing in the crackdown.
“No amount of spin can hide the fact that the Chinese authorities are undertaking a campaign of systematic repression,” the human rights group said.


UK prime minister in last-minute push to win Brexit support

A European flag and a British Union flag hang outside Europe House, the European Parliament's British offices in London, Monday, March 18, 2019. (AP)
Updated 15 min 31 sec ago
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UK prime minister in last-minute push to win Brexit support

  • May aims to try a third time this week if she can persuade enough lawmakers to change their minds
  • May’s spokesman, James Slack, said Monday that the government would only hold a vote if there is “a realistic prospect of success”

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May was making a last-minute push Monday to win support for her European Union divorce deal, warning opponents that failure to approve it would mean a long — and possibly indefinite — delay to Brexit.
Parliament has rejected the agreement twice, but May aims to try a third time this week if she can persuade enough lawmakers to change their minds. Her aim is to have the deal agreed before EU leaders meet Thursday for a summit in Brussels.
But there was no sign of a breakthrough, and the government faces a deadline of the end of Tuesday to decide whether they have enough votes to pass the deal, so that a vote can be held on Wednesday.
May’s spokesman, James Slack, said Monday that the government would only hold a vote if there is “a realistic prospect of success.”
May is likely to ask for a delay to Brexit at the Brussels summit. If a deal is approved, she says she will ask the EU to extend the deadline until June 30 so that Parliament has time to approve the necessary legislation. If it isn’t, she will have to seek a longer extension that would mean Britain participating in May 23-26 elections for the European Parliament — something the government is keen to avoid.
May’s goal is to win over Northern Ireland’s small, power-brokering Democratic Unionist Party. The DUP’s 10 lawmakers prop up May’s Conservative government, and their support could influence pro-Brexit Conservatives to drop their opposition to the deal.
Still, May faces a struggle to reverse the huge margins of defeat for the agreement in Parliament. It was rejected by 230 votes in January and by 149 votes last week.
Influential Conservative Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said he would wait to see what the DUP decided before making up his mind on whether to support May’s deal.
“No deal is better than a bad deal, but a bad deal is better than remaining in the European Union,” he told LBC radio.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Monday he saw “cautious signs of encouragement” that the deal might make it through Parliament this week.
After months of political deadlock, British lawmakers voted last week to seek to postpone Brexit. That will likely avert a chaotic British withdrawal on the scheduled exit date of March 29 — although the power to approve or reject a Brexit extension lies with the EU, whose leaders are fed up with British prevarication.
EU leaders say they will only grant it if Britain has a solid plan for what to do with the extra time.
“We have to know what the British want: How long, what is the reason supposed to be, how it should go, what is actually the aim of the extension?” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters in Brussels. “The longer it is delayed, the more difficult it will certainly be.”
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders agreed, saying: “We are not against an extension in Belgium, but the problem is — to do what?“
Opposition to May’s deal centers on a measure designed to ensure there is no hard border between the UK’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland after Brexit.
The mechanism, known as the backstop, is a safeguard that would keep the UK in a customs union with the EU until a permanent new trading relationship is in place. Brexit supporters in Britain fear the backstop could be used to bind the country to EU regulations indefinitely, and the DUP fears it could lead to a weakening of the bonds between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK
Talks between the government and the DUP are aimed at reassuring the party that Britain could not be trapped in the backstop indefinitely.
May said in an article for the Sunday Telegraph that failure to approve the deal meant “we will not leave the EU for many months, if ever.”
“The idea of the British people going to the polls to elect MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) three years after voting to leave the EU hardly bears thinking about,” she wrote.
But May suffered a setback Monday when former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson refused to support her deal.
Johnson, a staunch Brexiteer, used his column in the Daily Telegraph to argue that the backstop left the UK vulnerable to “an indefinite means of blackmail” by Brussels.