Exiled Uighurs fear spread of coronavirus in China camps

A guard tower and barbed wire fences are seen around a section of the Artux City Vocational Skills Education Training Service Center in western China’s Xinjiang region. (AP Photo)
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Updated 13 February 2020

Exiled Uighurs fear spread of coronavirus in China camps

  • So far, official figures give no major cause for concern over the COVID-19 outbreak in the northeastern region of Xinjiang that is home to the Uighurs
  • Over 1,100 people have died in China due to the coronavirus epidemic although most of the deaths and infections have been in central Hubei province

PARIS: Members of China’s Uighur minority living in exile are sounding the alarm over the risk of the coronavirus spreading in camps inside the country, where NGOs say hundreds of thousands of people have been rounded up by Beijing.
So far, official figures released by Chinese state media give no major cause for concern over the COVID-19 outbreak in the northeastern region of Xinjiang that is home to the Uighurs, a Muslim minority who speak a Turkic language.
It is far from the epicenter of the outbreak and just 55 cases have been reported in the region so far. The first patients to fully recover in the region have already left hospital, according to official media.
Over 1,100 people have died in China due to the coronavirus epidemic although most of the deaths and infections have been in the central Hubei province, whose capital, Wuhan, is the epicenter of the outbreak.
But representatives of the Uighur diaspora warn there is real reason to fear a rapid spread of coronavirus in the controversial Chinese camps.
The virus spreads from person to person through droplets disseminated by sneezing or coughing, and confining large groups of people together, possibly without adequate access to germ-killing soap and water, will increase the likelihood of an outbreak.
China has rounded up an estimated one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities in internment camps, NGOs and experts say, and little is known about the conditions inside them.
Beijing insists the camps re “vocational training centers” necessary to combat terrorism.
“People are starting to panic. Our families are there, dealing with the camps and the virus, and we do not know if they have enough to eat or if they have masks,” said Dilnur Reyhan, a French sociologist of Uighur origin.
A petition posted on Change.org signed by over 3,000 people urges the closure of the camps to reduce the threat.
There have also been social media hashtag campaigns such as #VirusThreatInThecamps and #WHO2Urumqi to urge the World Health Organization (WHO) to send a delegation to the city of Xinjiang.
“We must not wait until news of hundreds of coronavirus related deaths in the camps before we react,” the petition says.
“As China continues to struggle to contain the virus in Wuhan, we can easily assume the virus will rapidly spread throughout the camps and affect millions if we don’t raise the alarm now.”
Regional authorities in Xinjiang did not respond to a query from AFP about measures taken to prevent the spread of the virus in the camps.
The World Uyghur Congress (WUC), one of several groups representing Uighurs outside China, said it was very concerned “that if measures are not taken to further limit the spread of this virus, it could rapidly infect large numbers of people” in Xinjiang.
“These people are in a vulnerable and weakened state due to the Chinese government’s abuses and mistreatment,” said its president Dolkun Isa.
“This has just further compounded the suffering of the Uighur people, as our friends and family are now in even greater danger.”
French immunologist Norbert Gualde said it was impossible to say “precisely under what conditions the Uighurs and other detainees are living in Chinese camps.”
“There are good reasons to think that their detention is synonymous with imposed promiscuity, stress and fear — all circumstances that favor the transmission of a virus between those obliged to remain incarcerated,” he said.


Duterte: Hold me responsible for killings in Philippines’ drug crackdown

Updated 20 October 2020

Duterte: Hold me responsible for killings in Philippines’ drug crackdown

  • ‘If there’s killing there, I’m saying I’m the one ... you can hold me responsible for anything, any death that has occurred in the execution of the drug war’

MANILA: The Philippine president has said he accepts responsibility for the thousands of killings committed during police operations in his crackdown on drugs, adding that he was even ready to go to jail.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s televised remarks Monday night were typical of his bluster — and tempered by the fact that he has pulled his country out of the International Criminal Court, where a prosecutor is considering complaints related to the leader’s bloody campaign.
The remarks were also a clear acknowledgement that Duterte could face a deluge of criminal charges. Nearly 6,000 killings of drug suspects have been reported by police since he took office in mid-2016, but rights watchdogs suspect the death toll is far larger.
“If there’s killing there, I’m saying I’m the one ... you can hold me responsible for anything, any death that has occurred in the execution of the drug war,” Duterte said.
“If you get killed, it’s because I’m enraged by drugs,” said the president known for his coarse and boastful rhetoric. “If I serve my country by going to jail, gladly.”
He said, however, that drug killings that did not happen during police operations should not be blamed on him, alleging that those may have been committed by gangs.
Duterte has made a crackdown on drugs a centerpiece of his presidency. At the height of the campaign — which has often targeted petty dealers and users along with a handful of the biggest druglords — images of suspects sprawled dead and bloodied in the streets were frequently broadcast in TV news reports and splashed on the front pages of newspapers. Tens of thousands of arrests in the initial years of the crackdown worsened congestion in what were already among the world’s most overcrowded jails.
UN human rights experts and Western governments led by the United States have raised alarm over the killings, enraging Duterte, who once told former US President Barack Obama to “go to hell.”
There have been widespread suspicions that police engage in extrajudicial killings in the crackdown, allegations that they and Duterte deny. In 2018, a court convicted three police officers of murdering a 17-year-old student after witnesses and a security video disproved their claim that the suspect was shot after violently resisting, a common reason cited by police officers after drug suspects are killed.
At least two complaints for crimes against humanity and mass murder in connection with Duterte’s campaign are being examined by an ICC prosecutor, who will determine whether there is enough evidence to open a full-scale investigation.
When the complaints were made, Duterte withdrew the Philippines from the world tribunal two years ago in a move that human rights groups said was a major setback in the country’s battle against impunity. The ICC prosecutor has said the examination into the drug killings would continue despite the Philippine withdrawal.
Duterte reiterated his defiance of the court’s probe Monday by asking, when did “drugs become humanity?”
Instead, he framed the drug menace as a national security threat, as he has in the past, comparing it to the communist insurgency that the government has tried to quell for more than a half-century.
“If this is allowed to go on and on and if no decisive action is taken against them, it will endanger the security of the state,” said Duterte, a former government prosecutor.
“When you save your country from the perdition of the people like the NPAs and drugs, you are doing a sacred duty,” he said, referring to communist New People’s Army insurgents.
Police have reported at least 5,856 drug suspects have been killed in raids and more than 256,000 others arrested since the start of the crackdown. Human rights groups have accused authorities of considerably under reporting the deaths.