The Chair (Mr. Scott Reid (Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, CPC)):
Order. We are the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. Today is March 4, 2014, and this is our 15th meeting, which is televised.
Today, we are hearing from Rebiya Kadeer, President of the World Uyghur Congress, and Mehmet Tohti, independent researcher and ex-president of the Uyghur Canadian Association.
We also have with us Alex Neve, the secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, and Kayum Masimov of the Uyghur Canadian Society.
To our witnesses, my apologies for the way in which the House of Commons works. You've come here with testimony that deserves to have a full hearing, and we may have to cut it short. I do apologize for that, but the members of the committee have indicated that we'll try, in the event the bells ring, to extend as long as possible the period for questions and answers.
To the members of the committee, I will have to adjust the amount of time for each question and answer to take into account the fact that time has been cut short. I may have to do that on the fly. I'll try to be as fair as possible.
That being said, we ask our witnesses to begin. Please remember that the more time you take for your presentation, the less time there is for questions and answers.
Mr. Neve will be particularly familiar with that problem, having been here on a number of occasions.
With that said, I ask you to begin your testimony, please.
Mr. Alex Neve (Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada, Amnesty International):
Mr. Chair, it's a pleasure to be here again in front of you, and it's certainly very much an honour to be here with someone who is such a revered and respected defender of human rights as Rebiya Kadeer is.
I'm going to make a few comments, but I really want to make sure you have ample time to hear from her.
On January 25, just about a month ago, Ilham Tohti, a professor of economics at Beijing's Minzu University, was taken into police custody in Beijing. He was then transferred in very short order to the city of Urumqi in western China over 2,000 kilometres away. Urumqi is the capital of China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. To the area's Uighur people, it is east Turkestan.
Why arrest a professor of economics? Why move him so far out of Beijing? I can assure you it had nothing to do with his teaching style. It certainly had nothing to do with his view of economics.
Professor Ilham Tohti is Uighur. He is the founder of a website, UighurOnline, which focuses on Uighur issues, and that is what attracted the ire of Chinese authorities. The fact that he provides a platform for information to be shared about the Uighur population in China, be it about culture and language or politics and human rights, is something not to be tolerated.
One month later, he remains in detention incommunicado. He's facing charges of separatism, and Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience.
It's one example among so many. Going back many years, decades in fact now, the Chinese government has ruthlessly pursued laws, policies, and actions of ethnic discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression against the Uighur people in Xinjiang and in other parts of the country.
Last week's annual U.S. Department of State report on human rights refers to the severe official repression of the freedoms of speech, religion, association, and assembly—it's pretty complete—of the ethnic Uighurs. It all comes at a very fraught time for Professor Tohti, because of course just earlier this week there was a terrible violent attack in Kunming railway station during which armed assailants with knives went on a rampage and killed at least 29 passengers and wounded over 130 others. That is now widely being reported as an attack having been carried out by proponents of Uighur separatism and independence.
That will not bode well for Uighur activists and leaders such as Professor Tohti. In the aftermath of that horrifying attack, the long-standing tendency of Chinese authorities to characterize any and all advocacy or concern about the Uighur people as being tantamount to terrorism will almost certainly increase now in the coming days and weeks.
It also does not bode well for a Canadian citizen of Uighur origin, Huseyin Celil. Huseyin Celil was arrested and imprisoned in China in June 2006, close to eight years ago now. He too has been through an unfair legal process. He has been sentenced to a life prison term on charges of terrorism and splittism.
The Canadian government has tried valiantly to work for his release. The Chinese government refuses to recognize his Canadian citizenship and will not allow Canadian officials to even have consular access. Certainly I hope one of the things you will take on board today as you hear from Rebiya Kadeer is how important it is to call for and press for renewed Canadian action on behalf of Huseyin Celil.
Last, I suppose the big question in front of you today after hearing from Rebiya Kadeer about the situation of the Uighur people in China will be what Canada can do about that. I would put that into the larger question of what Canada can be doing to help more effectively push and promote human rights reform in China.
It's not an easy challenge. China's obviously a powerful and influential country. Amnesty International and many organizations that make up the Canadian Coalition on Human Rights in China have been urging for quite some time now that Canada really does need to adopt a comprehensive, across government, human rights strategy for the Canada-China relationship. We don't have one.
Right now human rights issues are largely the responsibility of hard-working staff within the China division at the Department of Foreign Affairs. There are so many other opportunities and openings and moments of influence that Canada has in dealings that happen through Industry Canada, through Natural Resources, through university exchanges, and through a whole host of ways in which we have dealings with China.
I close by repeating the recommendation that has been made many times now to the government. There is an urgent need for an across government, all governments, comprehensive human rights strategy for the Canada-China relationship. To put it into the context of today's session, that is something which in our view would help ensure that Canada's voice is as strong as it can be in pressing for the rights of the Uighur people to be protected.
Mr. Chair, I do have a slightly longer statement that I had intended to deliver today, but with the aim of saving some time, I'll simply leave the longer statement with you and leave my remarks at that.
Mr. Mehmet Tohti (Independent Researcher, Ex-President, Uyghur Canadian Association, As an Individual):
Ladies and gentlemen, I'm very happy to be here, she said. She also wants to highlight the main bullet-point issues, which raise particular concern for exiled Uighurs and their home.
Point one is the arbitrary detentions and extrajudicial killings. The number of convictions of endangering state security, or ESS, charges, according to the Dui Hua Foundation based in California, in the United States, has dramatically increased. In 2013 alone, the Dui Hua Foundation said that the convictions of ESS charges are more than 296 for Uighurs. It is 70% of the total number of convictions in China.
For a comparison, in Tibet, according to the Dui Hua Foundation, there are just 20 cases of ESS charges, endangering state security, reported from the high court, but the Uighur Autonomous Region reported more than 296.
I will give you one example of what ESS charges are. On March 26, 2013, Kerem Mehmet was sentenced to 10 years by the Bayingol Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture intermediate people's court for inciting splittism. Allegations against him included disseminating information about ethnic separatism, religious extremism, etc. Also, he was found guilty of possessing illegal books and mobile storage devices containing reactionary propaganda. These kinds of vague charges cost him 10 years' imprisonment.
According to the Dui Hua Foundation, as I said, the majority of endangerment of state security defendants appear to be Uighurs.
The second point I would like to stress is the enforced disappearance of Uighurs in China.
Freedom House, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and others documented large numbers of cases of Uighurs who have disappeared since July 2007. For instance, Human Rights Watch issued a 44-page report that documented the enforced disappearance of 43 Uighur men and teenage boys who were detained by Chinese security forces in the wake of the July 5 Urumqi massacre.
On December 17, 2010, Freedom House issued a report about the disappearances of 20 Uighurs who were deported from Cambodia to China after secret business deals were concluded between the two countries, resulting in an estimated worth of $1.2 billion.
Amnesty International issued a report, “Disappearing China’s Uighurs”, on July 4, 2012. They quoted Wang Mingshan, the chief of the Urumqi public security department. He is reported to have said that he had received more than 300 requests from families for help in locating relatives, most of them disappeared.
Despite daily threats and harassments, more than 40 Uighur families bravely came to the RFA, the Radio Free Asia reporter, and provided detailed information about their disappeared loved ones. We received extremely horrifying information about the families of disappeared members in the southern part of east Turkestan. Government security forces threaten the family members to stop inquiring about missing members of their respective families. In our conservative assessment, the actual number of disappeared Uighurs is much larger, more than 1,000, and it is under-reported.
Point number three is religious persecution. It is well covered by many human rights organizations. I would like to mention a couple of things. The persecution of Uighurs for their religious beliefs has expanded since 9/11. It now applies to those men who grow a beard, a moustache, or wear traditional clothes. For women, it is extended to those who wear head scarfs and veils, and so on. Hospitals, schools, buses, banks and other common service areas have put up signs which deny services to those Uighurs who have the above-mentioned appearances. These punishments and restrictions are surprisingly applied to Uighurs only.
Door-to-door surveillance, compulsory lunch services, and other forms of intimidating controls have been very common during Ramadan months for Uighurs to identify and punish those who have fasted. Now armed security forces randomly storm Uighur houses and search for unpermitted pregnancies, religious books, or other materials.
Just two months ago, on New Year's Eve 2013, four Uighur women in Qira County of Hotan Prefecture were forcefully taken to hospital and had forced abortions of six-to-eight-month-old babies.
Point four is extrajudicial killings by police. I would just like to read the news reports instead of giving my intake.
In the middle of February in Uchturpan County of Aksu region, police killed eight Uighurs, according to a New York Times report.
Radio Free Asia reported on December 18, 2013 that police raided one house and killed 16 people, including six women. Radio Free Asia also reported on November 22, 2013 that authorities said that nine ethnic Uighur youths armed with knives were shot dead in the Siriqbuya—in Chinese, Selibuya—police station in Kashgar.
On August 28, 2013, Radio Free Asia reported more than 22 Uighurs were gunned downed by a police helicopter in Karghilik County. Up to 12 Uighurs were shot to death by police during the raid on a Xinjiang munitions centre, Radio Free Asia reported on September 27, 2013. A Uighur fruit seller was shot to death by police in an open bazaar in Urumqi, reported on September 11, 2013. The list goes on and on.
Last year alone more than 36 bloody incidents were reported across east Turkestan, and more than 300 Uighurs were shot to death by police or security forces. In our conservative assessment, the actual number of incidents and victims is far greater than this number. The reason is that most of these reported incidents came to the surface due to foreign media reporting, and it is not difficult to realize that many more incidents might have been unreported as the government strictly controls the news flow.
Amnesty International concluded that Uighurs are the only ethnic group in China facing execution by the government for political and religious reasons. Now it is a well-known fact that Uighurs are the only ethnic group in China who are arbitrarily killed in massive numbers without any questions being asked or without being subjected to any judicial process.
Point five is the case of Canadian Imam Huseyin Celil. In the information we have received, Huseyin Celil's family has no access to visit him in prison, while the Chinese government continues to keep him in solitary confinement. Therefore, we urge the Canadian government to continue to put pressure on the Chinese government to secure his release, or secure family visits, including consular access for Huseyin Celil. The Chinese government just wants the Canadian government to forget this case, but we should refuse to forget the case of Huseyin Celil.
Professor Ilham Tohti was already covered by Mr. Alex Neve.
Another thing I would like to mention is Chinese state-sponsored cyber intimidation and espionage cases. Right after the 2007 Urumqi riots, the Chinese government shut down Internet, wireless, and phone services for almost two years in the region. The mere fact of restricting access to the means of communication constitutes a collective punishment of the population.
It is a public secret that the Chinese state is very active in cyber intimidation and espionage. The persecution of political dissidents does not end in China proper but expands far beyond its physical boundaries. We know that e-mail correspondence of exiled Uighur diaspora leaders is monitored, their websites are hacked, their phones are listened to, and their communications are constantly infected by sophisticated malware. It is safe to assume in this testimony that I can be hacked by a third party in China at any time.
Point eight that Ms. Kadeer wants to make is regarding policies of intimidation and hostage taking. The day she was elected as the leader of the World Uyghur Congress, her two children were taken to jail and continue to serve prison terms in China due to her activism.
She wants to give some recommendations to the Canadian government.
We call on the Canadian government to stand firm in defence of universal human rights and to use the UN and other international platforms as a loud voice for voiceless people.
We call on the esteemed committee members to set up a permanent bipartisan body to focus on China's human rights records and issue an annual comprehensive report, just like the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China or EU Parliament do.
Also, we recommend that the Canadian government and its executive branch, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, emphasize and stress the importance of protecting the rights of Uighurs, Tibetans, and Mongols in their bilateral relations with the PRC, People's Republic of China, which in fact is in full accordance with the proclaimed Chinese constitution and would ensure the minorities' rights are to be respected.
Also, if possible, set up a friendship group for Uighurs, Mongols, and Tibetans, just to send a signal to the Chinese government to respect the rights of those minorities.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs should follow up closely the case of imprisoned Canadian Huseyin Celil. In the case of Ilham Tohti, we should stress that he is an academic person. He raised the case of the human rights violations with respect to the Uighurs in China. He wants to find a solution within the legal framework of China's constitution. His rights should be protected.
We also recommend that the Canadian government pay particular attention to the growing cases of Chinese state-sponsored campaigns of intimidation directed on exiled citizens in Canada. Take note of the growing cases of cyber espionage.