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January 1, 2016

China’s expulsion of French journalist
underpins its repressive Uyghur policy

By Dr. Habib Siddiqui

As I have noted a few times before China is in the denial process, very much like Myanmar. Just as in Myanmar (former Burma) the Buddhist people - from top to bottom - are in the denial of their Rohingya population (an indigenous people who has lived in the northwestern part of the country  bordering Bangladesh for millennia) the same goes for China where its authorities are in the denial of the Uyghur (Uighur) people that live in their ancestral homeland of East Turkestan (now called Xinjiang province) in China's western frontier.

Beijing does not want the world to know of its horrendous crimes and abuses of human rights against the persecuted Uyghur people - how they have been made a third class citizen inside China and a minority in their own ancestral land of East Turkestan.

What these Uyghurs face is simply unacceptable by any civilized norm or standard. What the Chinese government is doing to them is simply racist, discriminatory and criminal to the core. Through a very calculated policy of politicalrepression, social dehumanization, economic strangulation and religious persecution, it wants to Hanify (or Sinicize) the Xinjiang region so that theUyghurs are marginalized as a people with no rights of their own in their own homeland setting the necessary backdrop for their forced exodus. As part of this policy, the Uyghurs aredenied the same opportunities and privileges that are bestowed on the majority Han. Thus, they are forced to settle for a life of humiliation and uncertainty, which includes among others: lack of education, denial of employment and healthcare services, upward mobility, safety and security.  (It is worth pointing out here that in its zealotry towards Hanification of the region, the Chinese government has closed down Qur’anic and Uyghur language schools. This is also done partly to cut down their Islamic and cultural ties with other Muslims. Because of the Mandarin-based educational policy of the state, the Uyghurs can’t pass and find jobs in their own land. Consequently, their upward mobility in the society is almost impossible.) The party-state has institutionalized discrimination based on Uyghur’s distinct religion, habitus, physiognomy, language culture and socioeconomic status.

All these draconian policies against the Uyghurs are simply bizarre and inexplicable! After all, Xinjiang remains a very mineral rich territory where no Uyghur should live unemployed, undereducated or starved. And yet, they are forced to settle for a life of unemployment while the ethnic Hans from other territories are brought in droves into the job markets that the Uyghurs could do.

Rather than redressing the legitimate grievances of the Uyghurs, the Chinese authorities have beentreating Xinjiang as their colony and are guilty of imperial itch in militarizing the territory. They are bent on changing the demography of the restive territory as if that measure would subside Uyghur sense of belonging and ethnic identity.

In the last few decades Beijing’s concerted Hanification efforts have only planted unfathomed mistrust and widened the animosity between the indigenous Uyghurs and the Han settlers. Tension has led to violence and brutal reprisals. Routinely, simple protests are brutally repressed. Even the moderate voices within the community asking for more inclusion have faced long prison terms.

Beijingis very crafty in exploiting terrorist events elsewhere to her advantage. Ithas often used the tragic events like the 9/11, Spain and London bombings by allegedly radicalized and misguided Muslim youths to justify its gruesome tortures and abuses of the Uyghur people. So, it was nosurprise thatitwould again use the latest tragic events in France to unleash its unfathomed terror on the Uyghur people.

The matter was not overlooked by the veteran French journalist Ursula Gauthier, a Beijing-based correspondent for French magazine L'OBS since 2009. She wrote in an article published on November 18 -- less than a week after coordinated attacks killed at least 130 people in Paris -- that China had no basis in drawing parallels between the international pledge to fight against terrorism and its own version, that she calls "the merciless crushing of the Muslim Uyghur minority."

"In other words, if China declares its solidarity with nations threatened by Islamic State, in return it expects the support of the international community in its own entanglements with its most restless minority," she added.

In her article, Gauthier wrote that shortly after Chinese President Xi Jinping assured French counterpart Francois Hollande of China's commitment to fight against terrorism, Chinese police announced the capture of the leaders of a September 18 attack that claimed some 50 lives at a remote coal mine in Xinjiang's Baicheng County.

“But, bloody though it was, the Baicheng attack had nothing in common with the 13th November attacks," Gauthier wrote, according to an English translation of her original report published by China Digital Times. "In fact it was an explosion of local rage such as have blown up more and more often in this distant province whose inhabitants, Turkman and Muslim Uyghurs, face pitiless repression."

Chinese authorities and state media presented a different version of the event. They said security forces, along with local officials and residents, carried out a 56-day operation against a group of "violent attackers" responsible for ambushing police and civilians at the mine.

All the alleged attackers were killed by November 12, according to the police.

While the Chinese police did not specify the ethnicity of the alleged attackers, Gauthier said they were a small group of Uyghurs "pushed to the limit, probably in revenge for an abuse, an injustice or an expropriation."

"But so long as the Uyghurs' situation continues to get worse, China's magnificent mega-cities will be vulnerable to the risk of machete attacks." Gauthier wrote.

The piece drew strong criticism from the Chinese authorities. The Chinese authorities say they're not renewing the press credentials for her whose recent reporting questioned Beijing's "ulterior motives”. They want her  out of China.

In a statement posted by the Chinese Foreign Ministry Saturday, spokesperson Lu Kang said Gauthier's article "overtly advocates for acts of terrorism and killings of innocent civilians, and caused public outrage among the Chinese people.” “Given that Gauthier failed to make a serious apology to the Chinese people for her wrongful speech advocating for terrorism acts, it is no longer appropriate for her to continue working in China.”

Human rights observers accuse China of being heavy-handed and treating the Uyghurs unfairly by restricting their freedom of religion and speech.

Gauthier is the first high-profile foreign journalist to be expelled from China since Al Jazeera's Melissa Chan in 2012.

On Gauthier's expulsion, Chan tweeted, "Gauthier was told she could stay in China if she publicly apologized for... yep, you guess it: hurting the feelings of the Chinese people."

Foreign journalists in China complain authorities are increasingly restricting press freedom in the country, making it harder and harder for them to report freely. Chinese officials deny the claim, and instead insist foreign journalists should play by the same rules as Chinese journalists and refrain from violating laws and regulations when reporting.

Well, that is how the authoritarian regime in China has been managing its business - crush it when it can, smile with a poker face when it suits and then expel when one cannot be touched by its draconian laws! Ms. Gauthier is expected to leave China on Thursday.

If China is serious about peace in the restive province it would be to her interest to listen to Gauthier’s advice and redress the grievances of the persecuted Uyghurs. The sooner the better!

Dr. Habib Siddiqui has authored 11 books, five of which are now available through His latest book - Devotional Stories is published by A.S. Noordeen, Malaysia. Dr. Siddiqui is an alumnus of the prestigious University of  Southern California, Los Angeles, where he earned his Ph.D