Oct 19, 2018

East Turkestan: Former Internment Camp Prisoner Denied Visa to Speak at US Congress

Omir Bekali, a former detainee in the China’s “re-education” camps for Kazakh and Uyghur Muslims, has seen his visa application to the USA rejected despite being invited to speak at the US Congress about his experiences. Bekali was interned in and subsequently freed from one of China’s controversial camps; as a result of his courage in speaking out about the human rights violations he witnessed there, he has been subjected to extreme pressure from China and its allies. In the last few months alone, his family was nearly deported from Turkey to Kazkhstan and his father died in an internment camp which has yet to return his body.

The below article was published by The Guardian:

An outspoken former detainee in China’s internment camps for Muslims has said that his application for a visa to visit the United States was rejected even though he had been invited to speak at Congress about his ordeal.

Kazakh national Omir Bekali was asked to travel to Washington in September by the chairs of the Congressional-Executive Committee on China. He said his application was rejected by the US consulate in Istanbul on 2 October after he was questioned about his employment status.

Bekali was one of the first people to speak out publicly about his experience in a camp in China’s Xinjiang region, where an estimated 1 million Muslims, mostly from the Uighur and Kazakh ethnicities, are being detained.

“Why did they invite me and then reject my visa?” Bekali said by phone from Turkey. “I’ve received so many threats after speaking out, I feel like they should be able to do at least this simple request.”

Commission spokesman Scott Flipse confirmed the invitation and said the co-chairs had written to Bekali offering to assist him in seeking a visa.

The state department declined to comment on Bekali’s case, saying US immigration law prohibits it from discussing individual visa applications.

Bekali wants to take his family to Europe or the United States, where he feels they will be safe from China’s reach. Last month, his wife and child were held up at a Turkish airport for more than three days and were nearly put on a flight back to Kazakhstan. He had fled Almaty earlier after he was interrogated by Kazakh police, who he said showed up at his home shortly after he spoke out about the camps. Kazakh authorities did not respond to a request for comment.

Bekali said that even though he has been reunited with his family in Turkey, he will not feel safe until his family moves to a country that can stand up to Beijing’s influence, underscoring the deep anxiety that grips the diaspora of Muslims who once lived in Xinjiang under an intense security crackdown.

“I’m scared China will find some way to hurt me or threaten me,” Bekali said. “Every day I have nightmares, I can’t sleep at night.”

China has come under increasing pressure from western governments about its mass internment of Muslims. The commission, a bipartisan group of US lawmakers, has proposed legislation that would urge Trump to condemn “gross violations” of human rights in Xinjiang. Bekali is named in the proposed legislation as among those who have testified to the indoctrination, humiliation and indefinite detention of internees.

 “In China, the government is engaged in the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities that is straight out of George Orwell,” the outgoing US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said in a speech on Monday. “It is the largest internment of civilians in the world today.”

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.

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.

The Muslim world has remained largely silent, a likely reflection of China’s growing economic and political clout.

In Kazakhstan, Chinese-Kazakh activists say they have been repeatedly warned by government officials not to hold news conferences featuring relatives of people detained in Xinjiang. Beijing has invested heavily in the country and made it a key part of its “Belt and Road” trade and infrastructure initiative.

Even Turkey, once a critic of China’s Xinjiang policies, has fallen silent with the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, telling reporters that Turkey would not allow any “anti-China activity”.

“China’s economic power is so strong, and only getting stronger. Everyone’s scared of the pressure China can exert on them,” Bekali said. “I’ve lost faith in other countries.”

Photo courtesy of AP