From camps to factories: Muslim detainees say China using forced labor

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Petitioners with relatives missing or detained in Xinjiang hold up photos of their loved ones during a press event at the office of the Ata Jurt rights group in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on January 21, 2019. (AFP)
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Gulzira Auelkhan, who spent close to two years trapped in China, speaks during an AFP interview at the office of the Ata Jurt rights group in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on January 21, 2019. (AFP)
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Gaukhar Kurmanaliyeva attends an AFP interview at the office of the informal Almaty office of the Atajurt volunteers organisation, which helps victims of China's crackdown in Xinjiang, in Almaty on April 17, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 07 May 2019
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From camps to factories: Muslim detainees say China using forced labor

  • More than a million people from Muslim minorities — mostly ethnic Uighurs, but also Kazakhs like Auelkhan, Kyrgyz and Hui — are being held in internment centers across Xinjiang

ALMATY, Kazakhstan: As Gulzira Auelkhan toiled stitching gloves in a factory in China’s troubled Xinjiang region, her managers made no secret of where her production would be sold.
“They told us openly that the gloves will be sold abroad, so we should do a good job,” Auelkhan recalled of a labor stint she says was enforced by Chinese “re-education” officials.
Auelkhan, a 39-year-old Chinese citizen of Kazakh descent, says she was part of a network of mostly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang who pass from what China calls “vocational training centers” to factories where they are forced to work for far less than the local minimum wage.
China says the education centers are part of its efforts to fight terrorism and separatism in Xinjiang — a region populated by mostly Muslim minority groups — and denies any use of forced labor.
But rights groups, and former workers like Auelkhan, say the practice used against Chinese minorities is widespread and at least one foreign company has dropped its Chinese supplier over the concerns.
Auelkhan says she was transferred to the glove factory at the Jiafang industrial estate in Xinjiang’s Yining county after spending 15 months in two different “re-education” facilities.
More than a million people from Muslim minorities — mostly ethnic Uighurs, but also Kazakhs like Auelkhan, Kyrgyz and Hui — are being held in internment centers across Xinjiang, according to a United Nations panel of experts.
Auelkhan has residency rights in Kazakhstan but had traveled to China to see family when she was detained and put into a re-education center.
She said life in the camps was brutal, with residents struck over the head with electrified batons for spending more than two minutes in the bathroom.

So even though they were not free to leave, it was an improvement when she and hundreds of other camp inmates were transferred to work at the factory, Auelkhan told AFP in Kazakhstan’s biggest city Almaty.
“Every day we were taken to and from a dormitory three kilometers from the factory,” she said, hugging the five-year-old daughter she didn’t see for nearly two years.
“When we were studying at the camp they told us we would be taught a trade and work for three months,” Auelkhan said.
Auelkhan said she was paid only 320 yuan ($48/42 euros) for close to two months’ work before her time at the factory was curtailed in December and she was allowed to return to her family in Kazakhstan.
Xinjiang’s average minimum wage ranges between 820 and 1,460 yuan per month, according to official statistics.
Beijing and officials in the region have fiercely denied any connection between the camps and under-paid labor.
A representative of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region Government Press Office told AFP by email that there was “no labor contract between Education and Training Centers and enterprises” and “no enterprise obtains labor from training centers.”
But rights groups insist the connection exists and some companies have started taking notice.
In January, Badger Sportswear, a firm based in the US state of North Carolina, announced it would stop sourcing clothing from its Xinjiang supplier Hetian Taida over concerns it was using forced labor linked to the “re-education” campaign.
Auelkhan believes she was only released from forced labor because of a public campaign launched by her husband and supported by a Xinjiang-focused rights group in Almaty.

Originally, re-education officials had told her and other center residents that they would be “at (their) disposal” for at least six months, she said.
Oil-rich Kazakhstan’s government is a Beijing ally that positions itself as “the buckle” in China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road trade and investment agenda, a strategy for infrastructure and development projects throughout Asia, Europe and Africa.
Kazakh diplomats have entered into a dialogue with Beijing over Xinjiang, without publicly mentioning the re-education centers or criticizing China’s policies.
In December a representative of Kazakhstan’s foreign ministry said during a briefing that China had allowed more than 2,000 ethnic Kazakhs to travel to Kazakhstan as “a kind gesture.”
The ministry refused repeated requests from AFP to clarify the remarks, which lent hope to many in Kazakhstan that they would be able to bring Xinjiang-based relatives over the border to safety.
For most, however, this has been a crushing false dawn.
During a recent visit to the Almaty office of the Ata Jurt rights group dedicated to supporting relatives of the Xinjiang missing, AFP spoke to several Kazakhs who claim their relatives have merely swapped “re-education” for other forms of confinement.
One of them, Aibota Janibek, 34, said her sister Kunikei Janibek telephoned her from Xinjiang in January after months without contact to confirm she had been “assigned a job” by the state at a carpet factory in Shawan county.
Aibota Janibek has since lost touch with her sister, but heard from other relatives that she was transferred from the carpet factory to another position.
“A relative told me she is now at a factory that makes paper towels for airplanes,” Janibek said.


‘Mother of Satan’ bombs show foreign hand in Sri Lanka bombings: investigators

Updated 21 May 2019
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‘Mother of Satan’ bombs show foreign hand in Sri Lanka bombings: investigators

  • Detectives said the back-pack bombs used in the April 21 attacks on three churches and three hotels were manufactured by local militants with Daesh expertise
  • It was also used in the 2015 attacks in Paris, by a suicide bomber who hit the Manchester Arena in England in 2017 and attacks on churches in Indonesia one year ago

COLOMBO: One month after the Sri Lanka suicide attacks that killed more than 250 people, investigators have told AFP the bombers used “Mother of Satan” explosives favored by the Daesh group that are a new sign of foreign involvement.
Detectives said the back-pack bombs used in the April 21 attacks on three churches and three hotels were manufactured by local militants with Daesh expertise.
They named the explosive as triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, an unstable but easily made mixture favored by Daesh militants who call it “Mother of Satan.”
It was also used in the 2015 attacks in Paris, by a suicide bomber who hit the Manchester Arena in England in 2017 and attacks on churches in Indonesia one year ago.
Daesh has claimed the Sri Lankan bombers operated as part of its franchise. But Sri Lankan and international investigators are anxious to know just how much outside help went into the attacks that left 258 dead and 500 injured.
“The group had easy access to chemicals and fertilizer to get the raw materials to make TATP,” an official involved in the investigation told AFP.
Sri Lankan detectives say the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ), local militants blamed for the attacks, must have had foreign help to assemble the bombs.

“They would have had a face-to-face meeting to transfer this technology. This is not something you can do by watching a YouTube video,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Investigators had initially believed that C4 explosives — a favored weapon of Tamil Tiger rebels — were used, but forensic tests found TATP which causes more burning than C4.
Police have also confirmed that 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of explosives found in January in the island’s northwest was TATP.
They are checking the travel records of the suicide bombers as well as foreign suspects to see when and where bomb-making lessons could have been staged.
“It looks like they used a cocktail of TATP and gelignite and some chemicals in the Easter attacks. They were short of the 100 kilos of raw TATP that were seized in January,” said the investigator.
Sri Lankan security forces have staged a series of raids since the bombings. Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said Sunday that 89 suspects are in custody.
Army chief Mahesh Senanayake said last week that at least two suspects have been arrested in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, underscoring the international link.
On April 26, six militants, three widows of the suicide bombers and six of their children were killed at an NTJ safe house near the eastern coastal town of Kalmunai.
Police found large quantities of chemicals and fertilizer there that was probably meant to make bombs, authorities said.
The government has admitted that Indian warnings of the looming attacks in early April were ignored.
But President Maithripala Sirisena has said eight countries are helping the investigation. A US Federal Bureau of Investigation team is in Sri Lanka and Britain, Australia and India have provided forensic and technical support.
China offered a fleet of vehicles to bolster the mobility of the security forces tracking down militants.

The Sri Lankan who led the attacks, Zahran Hashim, was known to have traveled to India in the months before he became one of the suicide bombers.
Moderate Muslims had warned authorities about the radical cleric who first set off alarm bells in 2017 when he threatened non-Muslims.
He was one of two bombers who killed dozens of victims at Colombo’s Shangri-La hotel on April 21.
Army chief Senanayake said Hashim had traveled to Tamil Nadu state in southern India and been in contact with extremists there.
Hashim, one of seven bombers who staged the attacks, also appeared in an Daesh group video that claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Another bomber who was meant to have hit a fourth hotel, has been named as Abdul Latheef Jameel who studied aviation engineering in Britain and Australia.
Authorities in the two countries are investigating whether he was radicalized whilst abroad.
Jameel blew himself up when confronted at a hideout after the attacks.