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“Modern-Day Slavery”: China Is Forcing Muslims into Forced Labor, Prison & Indoctrination Camps

Web ExclusiveJanuary 09, 2020
Media Options

We look at the systematic oppression of Muslim minorities in China, from labor programs pushing Uyghurs and Kazakhs into low-wage work in Chinese factories to the indoctrination camps where at least 1 million adults from the Uyghur community are being imprisoned. In Part 2 of our discussion, we speak with Austin Ramzy, New York Times reporter who co-authored a recent exposé headlined “Inside China’s Push to Turn Muslim Minorities into an Army of Workers,” and Nury Turkel, a Uyghur-American attorney and board chair at the Uyghur Human Rights Project.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn to Part 2 of our discussion looking at a shocking new exposé revealing that Chinese authorities are systematically forcing Muslims — mostly Uyghurs and Kazakhs — into labor programs to supply Chinese factories with a cheap and compliant workforce.

The New York Times investigation, headlined “Inside China’s Push to Turn Muslim Minorities into an Army of Workers,” is based on official documents, interviews with leading experts and visits to the far-western region of Xinjiang, where about half of the population is Muslim.

What it reveals is a sweeping program to push poor farmers, villagers and small traders into sometimes months-long training courses before assigning them to low-wage factory work. The programs work in tandem with indoctrination camps where an estimated 1 million adults from the Uyghur community are being imprisoned.

AMY GOODMAN: China claims its labor programs are designed to combat extremism and alleviate poverty. Uyghur activists say they’re part of China’s ongoing campaign to strip them of their language and community and carry out nothing short of cultural genocide.

The New York Times obtained rare footage taken inside of one of China’s labor programs.

For Part 2 of our discussion, we’re going to Hong Kong, where we’re joined by Austin Ramzy, New York Times reporter who co-authored the recent exposé. And in Washington, D.C., we’re joined by Nury Turkel, Uyghur-American attorney, board chair at the Uyghur Human Rights Project.

Nury, before we go more deeply into The New York Times exposé, for people who haven’t even heard the term Uyghur, if you could lay out for us where the Uyghur community is based in China, the significance of the Xinjiang area? And tell us about your own family.

NURY TURKEL: The Uyghurs are the other Tibetans that you have never heard of. The Uyghurs predominantly live in the northwestern part of China, that is officially known as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, that Uyghur people call as or refer to as East Turkestan, because of the short-lived two republics that the Uyghurs’ ancestors established in that region in 1933 and 1944 with the same name.

The Chinese government estimate shows the Uyghur population is about 12 million. But the Uyghur diaspora believes that the numbers could be much higher. Outside of China, there is sizable Uyghur population in Central Asian states, including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan. And then there are also a large Uyghur community in Turkey, in Western Europe, here in North America.

AMY GOODMAN: If you can lay out for us, as we hear about camps and numbers of Uyghurs, and Kazakh Muslims, as well, in labor and indoctrination camps, what evidence do you have of this? And what is your estimate of the numbers of people? And what has happened to your family?

NURY TURKEL: There are four types of camps. The first one is the daily re-education that is set up at the workplace, the universities, hospitals, performing art trophies [phon.] and other government entities. So you basically report to work every day, spend eight, 10 hours listening to Chinese propaganda, watch, listen to Xi Jinping thoughts. You’re free to go back home. There’s a fixed time period for you to attend these camps, daily re-education camps.

The second one is the — what’s been described as the internment and concentration camp. You just basically been picked up by artificial intelligence-aided software that compiled your background travel history, past writing, social influence, and that allows the government to round you up or take you away to the camps.

And the third is the actual prison. The actual prison is the one, actually, some people, based on what we heard, is preferred over to the internment or concentration camps, because at least you know what you’ve been charged of and how long you’re going to be spending time in prison.

And finally, the last one is the forced labor camps, that is coming to being surfaced by — through various reports. And this should be talked every day, people should be screaming from the rooftop, because this is modern-day slavery. And this is — this forced labor camp is actually polluted. The products are coming to the United States and elsewhere from China.

If you add all those four camps, I think the number is much higher. So, the 1 million, I don’t think the number — the figure 1 million is not accurate. This number was put out by the U.N. in August 2018. That number has been revised by Adrian Zenz, the German scholar, to 1.8 million, based on the open-source information. But this past May, Pentagon official Randy Schriver said that the U.S. government believes there are up to 3 million Uyghurs being locked up. So, we will not know the actual number, but based on the percentage of the people who disappeared, based on the the size of the camps that they built, and then the numbers of the camps that they built, it’s fair to estimate that over 3 million people have been locked away in these camps. The China, as we speak, is building the largest prison camps, just outside of the regional capital. Based on various reports published in late 2018, some of the camps’ expansion rate is about 465% in a short period of 18 to 12 months — 18 to 20 months. So, these numbers, let me put this in perspective. The D.C. population, Washington, D.C., population, is about 750,000. So, if you say that there are 3 million people that have been taken away, that’s roughly the four times the size, of the Uyghur population who have been affected by these atrocities.

As a result of this hell-on-Earth-like environment that the Chinese government related, the lives of the people like myself, who are living, breathing in free societies, have been destroyed. Because of the Chinese government’s intrusive way of surveilling Uyghur lives, in every aspect of Uyghur lives, the Uyghur parents and relatives cut off their ties to foreign-based family members, because they don’t want to be caught up in the Chinese surveillance, end up being in the camp. We used to have the very basic freedom to check up with our loved ones, through phone calls, text messages, video chat. Even that kind of basic freedom have been taken away from us.

So, this is common right here in the United States. And also, the Chinese government, based on the report that my organization recently published, have been trying to intimidate and harass and also, in some instances, tried to recruit informants to report the political activities of the Uyghur people back to the Chinese government. And also in some instances, they’re threatening those Uyghurs whose family have been detained to stay silent. And it’s working. So, basically, the Chinese arm have reached to the shores of the United States and elsewhere around the world.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Nury Turkely, I want to ask you about some of the technologies that are being used by the Chinese authorities to maintain the system of detention and labor camps. Austin Ramzy alluded earlier, in the first part of our interview, to some of the language that’s been used, like “thought viruses” and also “thought transformation” as what the Chinese government wants to do with the Uyghur population. There’s reportedly an app in China that some have been forced to install, called Xi Jinping thought. And this Uyghur — the Uyghur population is forced, some parts of it, to install this app. So, on the one hand, there’s that. On the other hand, The New York Times had another report earlier this year that the Chinese government is using a secret system of sophisticated facial recognition technology to track Uyghurs. The Times called it, quote, “the first known example of a government intentionally using artificial intelligence for racial profiling.” So could you talk about these technologies, Nury, and also, in the case of this Xi Jinping thought app, the role of U.S. tech companies in developing this technology?

NURY TURKEL: Where do I begin? This is a loaded subject and not getting enough attention. Every aspect of Uyghur lives have been monitored and surveilled by the Chinese state. Initially, when we heard that the Chinese government were collecting iris samples, iris scans, DNA samples, a few years ago, we were scratching our heads and trying to figure out why would they do this kind of weird stuff, that we only read this in science fiction. But it turned out that this was in the building — this was in the making for at least two years prior to the news about the camps surfaced. So, the Chinese government already was very successful building a security — a securitized region into — by 2014. It was already looked like a military zone. One of the former government officials here in Washington said there are two places that are very safe in China. One is Lhasa, and the other one is Ürümqi. Evidently that was not enough.

And then Chinese come up with this counterterrorism claim to set up this nightmare situation for the Uyghurs and committing a genocide, cultural genocide, in a daylight. So what they’re trying to do is to force the Uyghurs to go through this human engineering, with a claim that they are clearing out extremist thoughts. To the Chinese government, extremist thoughts is the Uyghurs’ centuries-old ethnonational heritage, religious practices, the language and way of life. If any government attacking any group or group of people with a very specific mindset to destroy their ethnonational identity, focusing specifically on women and children, this constitutes cultural genocide.

But the Chinese government made — have been making this claim that they have to do this in order to prevent terrorism. Anyone can — you know, we all often hear some of the violent incidents took place during the period of 2012 and '15. But even if that constitutes an act of terrorism, then the government should go after those people, not the entire population. What we're looking at is more than 20% of the Uyghur population have been taken away.

So, last time I checked, none of the governments been attacked by terrorists set up a concentration camp. We live in the United States. Since 9/11, I don’t think that — even after 9/11, the United States government did not end up knocking on the doors and locking up Muslim population. I know it’s not a perfect example. But this government created an imaginary enemy in the Uyghurs, with the mindset of taking a preemptive action, not based on the perceived — the actual threat. It’s created this, basically give the Chinese leaders this mindset that they got to do something to clear out this virus.

And also, this is something very important, that the Chinese government officials, thought leaders, policy advisers think that the Uyghurs’ ethnonational identity is a sign of disloyalty. It’s like it has to be taken out before it becomes a political threat to the Chinese state and Chinese society.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: You said right now that the example of the U.S. and what they did after 9/11 is not a perfect example. But, in fact, isn’t it post-9/11, what America did — isn’t that the example that President Xi Jinping cited when he implemented this policy, that we should do what America did after 9/11?

NURY TURKEL: That is one of the takeaways from the leaked documents reported by New York Times. Even the way that the Americans responded, even the way that the Bush administration responded to the 9/11 attacks were not enough for the Xi Jinping when he ordered his people. He was even instructing the Chinese officials to come up with even harder measures. So that’s why I said it’s not even a perfect example.

But, you know, and sometimes people even calling these camps a re-education camp, that personally makes no sense to me. So, if a government locks up — you know, look at the historic reference, Nazi concentration camps, Japanese internment camps and others. There’s several things in common. One, they’re picked up by their race and ethnicity, indefinitely, without any judicial process. And one of the hallmarks of these camps, people don’t know what — why they’re there and when they will be out. So, the Chinese government set up a concentration camp, with a very specific genocidal intent, under the guise of fighting terrorism. This is very unique, in of itself.

So, sometimes I hear people say, “What about this? What about that?” That’s exactly what the Chinese government is trying to promote. You made a mistake, therefore our mistakes should be accepted as a way to deal with this imaginary enemy in Uyghurs.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to a piece earlier this year, that Nermeen was just referring to, about the Chinese government using a secret system of sophisticated facial recognition to track Uyghurs, the Times calling it “the first known example of a government intentionally using artificial intelligence for racial profiling.” Can you expand on this, Austin?

AUSTIN RAMZY: That was a piece by some of my colleagues. And essentially, it was an effort, an ongoing effort, to try and
use DNA samples that have been taken from the Uyghur population, and try and use those to create a system that would help cameras identify people based on their ethnicity, by their genetic material. You know, it’s not — our understanding is it’s not fully implemented. But it’s an example of efforts to try and use technology and the fringes of technology to try and control a population in Xinjiang. And it is an extreme example. And in many ways it grabs a lot of attention.

And the fact is that there are much more common technologies that are being used in Xinjiang every day. There are police stations in some places that are set up every hundred meters. There are huge networks of cameras. There are devices to pick up cellphones and track people based on their phones and things like that. There’s facial recognition technology used in entryways to buildings and public places, mosques. And so, there’s a wide range of technology — and, of course, humans, you know, huge numbers of people to occupy those police stations and checkpoints and things like that. So, there’s a wide range of surveillance, from sort of the fringes of new technology to the very basic police on many corners, all meant to sort of control the minority populations in Xinjiang.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me turn to some clips from Chinese television. This is Liu Xin, an anchor for the state-run China Global Television Network.

LIU XIN: What’s wrong with rehabilitation? What do you think about rehabilitation for minor offenders of criminal acts? Is there any better way to deal with them than providing deradicalization courses, if they show true remorse for what they did, if they’re willing to learn new skills so they can return to a normal life? This is what China has been doing in Xinjiang over the past three years. But the U.S. House of Representatives has just passed a bill which criticizes China’s policy for its Uyghur population, alleging violations of civil and religious rights. The so-called Uyghur Act of 2019 disregards the efforts as counterterrorism and calls for measures to counter what it calls “arbitrary detention of over 1 million Uyghurs.” This is the same as saying it’s wrong to ask someone in the U.S. to do compulsory community service for the minor crimes they committed.

AMY GOODMAN: Later in the broadcast, Liu Xin says the United States has no right to criticize China.

LIU XIN: What’s happening is an anti-terror struggle but also a process of helping people find their way. In China. such practices have a long history of several thousand years, with numerous stories, anecdotes, dramas and classic literature of families and neighbors coming together to help rescue those who are lost.

The United Nations 2016 Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism blames, among others, poverty, unemployment, the cynical distortion and misuse of religious beliefs, as the backdrop and motivation of violent extremism. The document proposes countermeasures, such as educational and economic opportunities, as well as vocational training resources. China is doing this in good faith.

Ironically, when life returns to normal, Nancy Pelosi and her colleagues are angry, just as they were over Hong Kong. Do they know many of their fellow citizens are doing the same in their communities? What if China passed a law critical of U.S.-style community correction for minor offenders? I only ask: What’s wrong with rehabilitation? Simply because it’s done by China?

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, I wanted to turn to Chinese state media promoting the relocation of ethnic minorities as a way to eradicate poverty. Again, this clip appearing in a New York Times video accompanying the article that was co-authored by Austin Ramzy, our guest.

CHINESE STATE MEDIA: [translated] Promoting the employment transfer of rural and urban surplus laborers from Kashgar and Hotan, and increasing their income reflect the CPC Central Committee, General Secretary Xi Jinping and Xinjiang’s Party Committee and government’s care for all ethnic groups in Kashgar and Hotan.

AMY GOODMAN: Austin Ramzy, if you can decipher this for us?

AUSTIN RAMZY: The Chinese government has not been terribly forthright about these camps. For a long time they denied their existence. And it was only after extensive reporting, by ourselves and other media outlets, by researchers and activist groups, that documented what was happening, that they’ve revealed more. But they still frame them in these terms.

And so, with the CGTN anchor speaking earlier, when she described these as people who have committed minor crimes, you know, I’ve talked to people who have been in camps, I’ve talked to many family — people who have family in camps. There’s been extensive documentation of the reasons that people are put in camps. And most of these things are — do not count as crimes at all. You can be put in a camp for, say, traveling to a Muslim-majority country. You can be put in a camp for having WhatsApp on your phone. You can be put in a camp for having a beer, for being devout, for praying regularly. These are all things that are not crimes. And if a member of, say, the Han majority in China did any of these things, they wouldn’t be put into camps.

And so, the government has become, and the the state media has become, much more active in trying to define the narrative around these camps. But there’s still a lot of inaccuracy in how they describe them. And I feel that they’re trying to mislead the world in terms of what’s happening there.

AMY GOODMAN: And how do you have access to the Uyghur community, Uyghur refugees from Xinjiang? Where have you been interviewing them?

AUSTIN RAMZY: I’ve interviewed people in in Kazakhstan, in Almaty. I’ve interviewed people in Istanbul, Turkey. And I’ve also spoken with people, Japan, Scandinavia, United States. They’re the — as Nury explained, the Uyghur community and other Turkic minority groups have — the diaspora is spread around the world. And none of these people are untouched by what’s happening.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I’d like to bring Nury back into the conversation. Nury, could you talk about what you know is being done, if anything, to limit the access of the Chinese government to these surveillance technologies?

NURY TURKEL: Before I get into that important subject, let me point this out something — point out something so important. Those of individuals and groups and government officials working on the Uyghur issue should be feel gratified by seeing this aggressive narrative and campaign coming out of Beijing. CGTN, Global Times and their English-speaking ambassadors here in Washington, Canada, U.K., have been aggressively speaking out with a claim that the world is not understanding their policies. I don’t think that anyone will understand committing genocide in the daylight. They’re trying — they can try so much, but I don’t think that the world community, international community, is that dumb or stupid enough to believe in their stories.

And also, this is a sign of the — this is a clear sign that the international pressure is working, because the way that they’re coming out, including this person that you showed, I don’t think that she will say the same thing if she’s been taken to the camps because of her family connection to Germany or Turkish people. And with this kind of rhetoric, with this kind of propaganda campaign, with this kind of relentless, aggressive efforts to justify the crimes committed against Uyghur people, I believe that the China, as a country, lost its well-deserved place in the civilization. So, this is wrong in all aspects, all fronts.

And then, to the other question, I think the Uyghurs happen to be the wrong type of Muslim, and the China appears to be the wrong type of adversary for the international community to take on. To this day, only the United States Congress and the United States government have taken some bold actions against the Chinese government’s crimes against Uyghur people, including yesterday’s powerful statements made at the press conference
on the occasion of releasing annual human rights report. That report recognized that the crimes against humanity possibly been taking place in the Uyghur region.

And then, back in August — excuse me, back in October, United States government designated 28 countries under the entity list, entered the entity list, that includes 18 police departments. Basically, the United States government, for the first time, imposed export control on the entire police department in the region, adding to the — and then the other parallel government entity called Xinjiang Construction Corps, that has been building much of the camps around the region, and also some Chinese entities. So, this kind of measure eventually will create a crack in the system and also put pressure on the Chinese government to to correct some of their behaviors.

And legislatively, since late 2018, United States Congress has been considering the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act. On December 3rd, with 407-to-1 vote, U.S. House of Representatives voted out a significant bill, which is currently being considered in the Senate. Yesterday, Senator Rubio and others at the press conference said that this bill has a very good chance of passing and becoming law.

So, the United States government should not be the only government speaking out against these atrocities. We’re looking for leadership in Europe, as well. Especially some of the European countries that have experienced, survived fascism and Nazi Germany, should be vocal. The feigning ignorance, like some of the Muslim country leaders, or staying quiet on the face of this evil is untenable and unconscionable.

Let me highlight that this is no longer the matter only for the Uyghurs or what CCP stands for, the CCP, Chinese Communist Party. This is about us, as a civilization, as a free people. This is a matter of conscience. The business as usual cannot continue. It’s just mind — it’s not only mind-boggling, but it’s disheartening, that some of the world leaders are still shaking hand with Chinese leaders who are responsible for the atrocities committed against the Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in the Uyghur region.

AMY GOODMAN: Nury Turkel, can you talk about your own family? How much access do you have to them? Are you able to communicate with them?

NURY TURKEL: I came to the United States 25 years ago. And in my entire 40-some years of adult life, I only spend first 17 years of my life with my parents. Since my law school graduation year, graduation 2004, I have not seen my parents. They were here in Washington last time to attend my commencement.

After that, we were able to communicate through telephone calls, video chat, but in late 2006, early 2007, Chinese government confiscated by parents’ passports simply because my brother was in the process of marrying Rebiya Kadeer’s daughter, who was China’s public enemy number one from the Uyghur population. So, because of that marriage that my brother entered into back in 2007, the Chinese punished my parents and took away their passport. So I have not seen them in the last 16 years.

And I don’t think that I will see them again, unless Chinese government decides to allow my parents to reunite with their children here in the United States and Europe. My parents have eight grandchildren. They only met three of them. There are still in the region, and they have no one to take care of them since last summer, where I have not been able to talk to them.

As I pointed out earlier on, the Uyghur parents and relatives of those living overseas have been deleting their family members from their phones. And as specific, in some instances, this has been reported by Radio Free Asia and other media outlets, that some parents specifically told their children they should not call.

I’d like to point this out: The government, the Chinese government, did not tell the Uyghur parents that you should delete your foreign-based children’s phone number or you should not call and talk to them. At least we don’t have evidence to that effect. But because of the software, the operating system, IJOP, that the government built to collect personal data, the Uyghurs are being being randomly subject to data scan in the middle of daylight on the streets, street corners. As Ramzy pointed out, there’s a widespread police apparatus established already in the region. So the the Uyghur individuals are afraid of being caught up, if their phone shows some phone numbers, some images or some caches, you know, visiting from some websites. So, that’s part of the reason that the Uyghur parents cut their ties to their foreign-based children or loved ones.

AMY GOODMAN: Austin Ramzy, you did a piece on December 30th, “China is relocating Uighurs and other Muslim minorities to urban areas as part of a contentious labor program.” The Times obtained rare footage taken inside one. Take us through this labor camp. Tell us what you found, how you got this.

AUSTIN RAMZY: The video itself was reported on — obtained and reported on by some of my colleagues in New York. It shows a camp — a facility in a place in northern Xinjiang. And it’s fenced, and it shows people in buildings wearing sort of work suits for work as a street cleaners, essentially.

And there’s a brief interview with one of the people, a man, and he describes not being able to travel back to his home in southern Xinjiang to see his family. He describes the wage, which he says is much lower than he earned before. And, you know, it describes a very difficult picture of — he doesn’t say specifically he was forced to do this, but it seems, from everything, that — in this brief discussion with the person who was taking this video, it seems clear that he’s doing this under some duress, that he’s compelled to do this work.

AMY GOODMAN: You and your co-author start the piece, “The order from Chinese officials was blunt and urgent. Villagers from Muslim minorities should be pushed into jobs, willing or not. Quotas would be set and families penalized if they refused to go along.” Tell us more about this area of Xinjiang, the labor bureau of Qapqal. Is that how you pronounce it? Qapqal?

AUSTIN RAMZY: That’s right. That’s a part of far-western Xinjiang, where they put a large number of documents related to the work program on their website. And it was very useful to us to establish what was happening there. But they were sending people off to other parts of China to work in factories. And it described the orders for local officials to make sure that people complied. And they were to figure out how trustworthy these people were, based on their willingness to do this work. And people who were unwilling were told to be turned into people who were made willing. And the explicit — the exact punishments weren’t listed out, but it became very clear that the officials who were tasked with these responsibilities had to make sure that this happened, that they met their quotas and they sent enough people off to these work programs.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to go back to Nury Turkel. Nury, you mentioned earlier — we played a few clips of Chinese state media justifying these internment and labor camps. And you said that that indicates that international pressure, in part, is working, which is why the Chinese government is becoming more defensive and engaging in this media campaign. But you’ve also said that if any other country, and especially the United States, locked up a million or even a thousand Muslims in a labor or detention camps, there would be far greater outrage globally, certainly from Europe, but also from elsewhere. And you say that that’s not happened sufficiently in the case of China. Could you explain why you think that is? China’s increasing economic power, not just in Asia, although there it’s substantial, but also its leverage with Europe as a result. And then I also want to ask you about why it is that Muslim countries have, for the most part, either not said anything or, in the case of Saudi Arabia, and not just Saudi Arabia, the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman coming out and saying that it is China’s right to do what it’s doing with the Uyghurs. This was last year.

NURY TURKEL: About two decades ago, when the West, especially the United States, tried to bring China into the international community, with providing technology and trading opportunities and others, with the mindset that this will make China more free, more open, conversely, China become very powerful country with lots of money, lots of diplomatic influence, global influence. But instead of changing the society into a free society, they are trying to restrict or imposing exporting their version of authoritarian governance around the world, through technology, through economic influence, through diplomatic pressure.

So, Ramzy’s paper, New York Times, reported in May that around 18 — about 18 countries have already adopted Chinese surveillance techniques to monitor and surveil their own citizens. And Chinese are using their money to bribe or buy out silence around the world. For example, the Turkey being Uyghurs’ closest relative, culturally, linguistically, historically, have been very quiet officially, simply because they needed Chinese economic aid, if Turkish economy tanks. There’s several examples like this. And also on international bodies, like at the United Nations, they have been rallying support, not only to stay silent, but also managed to have about 55 countries to sign a joint letter rebuking another joint letter by 22 countries from the West plus Japan criticizing the Chinese government.

So, the Chinese money, China’s diplomatic influence and willful ignorance of some world leaders in the business and government have given a sort of green light to Uyghurs’ tormentors, the Chinese Communist Party.

They have changed some of their behaviors. For example, they — because of mainly as a result of the international pressure. I mean, the United States public speak, publicly condemning and speaking out with probably the strongest language. The Chinese government has changed some of its behaviors, for example, released several Uyghurs, high-profile Uyghurs. But there are millions that are still languishing in Chinese prison.

You know, just it is mind-boggling why the Muslim communities appear to be hypocritical. When the West, the United States does something, says something against the Islamic faith or Islamic people, you see street protests all around the world. But when it comes to the Uyghurs, some reason, they either just being ignorant or don’t want to take up, pick up a fight with the Chinese.

But in all fairness, we’re seeing some change in the public support for the Uyghurs in some Muslim streets, mainly because of this German soccer star. Mesut Özil. about two, three weeks ago, tweeted out a very powerful message, calling attention to the Uyghur crisis, while shaming the Muslim countries and governments around the world for remaining — either remaining silent or supporting the Chinese regime. With Mesut Özil’s tweet, social media, he has a total of 75 to 80 million followers around the world. He’s one of the most well-known soccer stars around the world. The New Zealand athlete by the name Sonny Williams also came out, tweeted, posted a tweet, a message on his Twitter account. So, there’s — and then, maybe because of that, some Muslim countries start seeing street protests. The Indonesia, we’ve seen some people showing up, and in even Palestine. We’ve seen the Bahrain parliament condemning the Chinese government.

The one significant country needs to take up the leadership, and this is the Turkish government. The Chinese government cares so much about what happens in Ankara. It does not appear to be like that. But there’s an enormous public sympathy and support for the Uyghur people. If China loses Turkey, I don’t think their BRI project in Eurasia continent, Belt and Road Initiative, will be successful. For what’s worth, Turkish government is still very influential government in the Muslim countries around the world. President Erdogan, for what’s worth, is still very influential individual in the Muslim streets, in Muslim societies. If someone like him comes out, publicly condemn, this will change the landscape.

AMY GOODMAN: Austin Ramzy, I want to —

NURY TURKEL: But this —

AMY GOODMAN: I just want to ask you, before we lose your satellite, about the Hong Kong protests and if protesters in the streets of Hong Kong ever raise this issue of the Uyghurs. And also, just separately, we’ve seen, up to this day, something like 7,000 protesters arrested. If you can talk about the state of the protests now, as you’re in Hong Kong?

AUSTIN RAMZY: Hong Kong protesters have raised what’s happening in Xinjiang. A few weeks ago, there was a rally in solidarity with Uyghurs, Kazakh and other Turkic people in Xinjiang. And you often see graffiti to the effect of, you know, “If we don’t fight, Hong Kong will be the next Xinjiang.” This is, in many ways, the sort of fundamental concern that animates what’s happening in Hong Kong, that they feel their freedoms are being restricted, and if they don’t fight back, Xinjiang is the worst case — worst-case scenario of what could happen in China in terms of surveillance and control.

The protests, in general, have slowed a bit, which is not to say the protest movement is over by any means. There are still quite large protests. There was a march on January 1st that saw tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people. The anger is still quite high with the government, with the police. And so, we are now looking to see what the next stage of this will be. I think there will be less activity on the streets. But there will be — you know, there’s there’s still a lot of anger with the government, and the government is in a very difficult position. They’re sort of — they’re quite unwilling to respond to any of the demands of the protesters. And that means that it’s very hard for them to do anything, because trust is so low. So, the protest movement and the effects in Hong Kong are by no means over.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And before we conclude, Nury, I want to ask you, as a prominent voice of Uyghurs, as a Uyghur-American attorney here in the U.S., do you have concerns for your own safety?

NURY TURKEL: Frankly, yes. We all should be concerned about our safety, especially a powerful government as the Chinese government, the PRC, that is capable of reaching to the shores of the United States with its intimidation and harassment activities. Everyone should be careful. I should — everyone should be concerned, especially when they’re put on a defensive position. They try to justify the crimes.

Sometimes it just bothers me when our media outlets describe the Chinese TV personalities or someone who says something on the paper as a journalist. They’re not journalists; they are propaganda spin doctors. So, it’s working. They’re doing a better job, sadly, than us. So, there’s a lot of misinformation. Misinformation is around. And the disinformation campaign has been very effective. So it could provoke someone or somewhere. Yeah, it is concerning.

We’ve seen this in how activists or the government critics end up. Let’s don’t forget what happened to The Washington Post journalist in Istanbul. Let’s don’t forget about the Russian activists in the streets of Moscow or elsewhere. So, you know, people should be mindful, especially when dealing with governments like the Chinese government.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you both for being with us, Nury Turkel, Uyghur-American attorney, board chair at the Uyghur Human Rights Project. And thank you so much to Austin Ramzy, Hong Kong reporter for The New York Times, co-author of the investigative series looking into the forced labor of Chinese Muslims. His most recent piece, “Inside China’s Push to Turn Muslim Minorities into an Army of Workers,” we’ll link to it.

Go to Part 1 of our discussion at democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Thanks so much for joining us.

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