Inside Communist China’s War on Faith—USCIRF Commissioner Nury Turkel, Born in a Chinese Re-Education Camp
Nury Turkel was born in a Chinese re-education camp where his mother was imprisoned at the height of China’s Cultural Revolution. Now, he’s a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
The Chinese Communist Party has been waging a war on faith, Turkel says. Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang are being treated as less than human and forcibly sterilized, religious believers are forced to study Xi Jinping thought, and Falun Gong practitioners are being killed for their organs.
What is the Chinese regime doing to religious believers behind closed doors?
Jan Jekielek: Commissioner Nury Turkel, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Nury Turkel: Thank you very much for having me on.
Mr. Jekielek: To start with, in this recent report that you just put out, you single out China and the Chinese Communist Party for particular attention. Tell me why?
Mr. Turkel: USCIRF as a bipartisan federal government agency established under the mandate of International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. Year after the USCIRF was established, China was added to the country of particular concern list.
So it’s been as long as you USCIRF in existence, we’ve been calling up China for its human rights abuses. And this year we also recommend that China to be designated as a CPC country. Simply because in the year 2020 as has been widely reported, human rights abuses, particularly China’s Communist Part targeted attack on religious minority.
That includes Uyghur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, China’s Christians and Falun Gong practitioners have been worsened. Chinese in a way sinicizing engaging in a sinification project. Making it, not a religion, but also worshiping Xi Jinping, studying communist ideology as a religion.
So there have been as a former ambassador for International Religious Freedom have perfectly put China has been in war on religion, on faith a number of years, but it got significantly worse in last year with state department’s recognition of ongoing atrocities as a genocide and crimes against humanity.
Mr. Jekielek: The sinicization of religion, when you said that, it kind of chill down my spine, because basically you’re talking about turning religions into something else.
Mr. Turkel: Absolutely. For the Chinese Communist Party, by believing in any religion or having a spiritual life is considered as a potential threat or sign of disloyalty. So, the communist party find a way to make their religion in line with their own ideology. So instead of worshiping God when you go to the places of worship, you worship Xi Jinping, You study, Xi Jinping thoughts.
So they are engaging in human re-engineering with this terminology that they’ve been widely using, transformation. Thought transformation in a way of saying that we cleansing somebody’s religious belief out of their mind or that their soul and replacing it with the communism and Xi Jinping thoughts.
Mr. Jekielek: Thought transformation, another set of words that sent a chill down my spine. This is basically completely antithetical to any faith really, right?
Mr. Turkel: Yeah. The Chinese government particularly the current government under Xi Jinping leadership see anything that creates resentment against the Chinese government or anything different than what they’ve been promoting specifically in an ideological front, the term that they use a lot can be seen as a source for potential unrest. Calls for future instability to the Communist Party.
To the Chinese State, stability is a paramount concern. They will do anything that they will help. It will help them to achieve this superficial stability. Let me just use this example Turkmenistan-North Korea are very stable, why? It’s a dictatorship.
Mr. Jekielek: So now you make a distinction between the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese nation, perhaps even the state, what’s the distinction exactly?
Mr. Turkel: When policy makers are people who are criticize the Chinese government’s behaviors need to know that both domestic and international policies being formulated, implemented domestically and internationally has a lot to do with the Communist Party.
So we need to focus on the Communist Party much more than what we have particularly last three, four years, because if you’re not careful with the rhetoric, with the way that you put together your criticism towards the government, it may create backlash against the Chinese Americans, particularly in this country.
And also if you don’t recognize the danger, the CCP is posing to the stability, civil rights, human rights, religious freedom around the world. You will not be able to formulate an effective foreign policy to tackle a CCP threat. So the recognition of the CCP, China’s ambition around the world, is a baby step into the right direction. Without that kind of recognition, it’s impossible to formulate an effective long lasting foreign policy agenda.
Mr. Jekielek: You mean that you have to understand what the Chinese Communist Party is about as opposed to China as a nation, is that-
Mr. Turkel: Absolutely. This nation is run by a group of communist party project. Without really focusing on what they have been saying, there’s a document, number nine document that was secretive initially been now public. If you read the lines carefully, it shows that this is all about CCPs future. So it goes to the heart of what Xi Jinping government has been formulated implemented domestically under the guise of social credit system, which is a way of monitoring Chinese citizens.
That China has been effectively managed to put a place, the most draconian surveillance system domestically, and now they exporting it. This is a way of exporting and expanding the CCP influence around the world. So this is a much different type of threat that people need to recognize and reckon with.
Mr. Jekielek: To build on this point a tiny bit. It’s really difficult for a lot of people to imagine that the preservation of the Chinese Communist Party the CCP could be the paramount purpose of this whole government. You know.
Mr. Turkel: It is mind boggling sometime when you hear people saying, “Oh, China is the most powerful country. We have a strong economic ties.” But they almost forget the very weakness of the Chinese State that is, it’s struggle to preserve the authority of the CCP, to preserve this superficially, this system that they established not to serve the people, but to serve the communist party.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, and you have frankly personal experience with their realities of what the CCP is all about. And I actually want to take a moment to get you to tell me a little bit about that, because a lot of people, again, just can’t even imagine some of the things that you yourself have actually experienced.
Mr. Turkel: I always use two words to describe my life, no escape. I was born in a re-education camp during the height of the cultural revolution, where my young mother was detained because of her relationship with her dad, my grandfather, who was a Uyghur nationalist. And also my dad, my father university educated father was sent to a labor camp for three years in a countryside.
So not only newly vetted couple being separated by the government, but also my mom, my mother, who was pregnant with me when she was taken into the re-education camp, went through physical, verbal abuses and delivered me while she was injured, while she was in cast chest down.
I was born in such a horrific circumstance, but after coming to the United States, establishing my professional life, establishing a happy family life. I never thought until summer 2018, that I would even mention the way that I was born to this world, because people need to know that this is not something new. This has been ongoing as long as they have been breathing. But the circumstances compelled me to come out and say, “Look, I’ve seen this movie before, I ask you to pay attention, but you did not know we have a much bigger problem.”
The Chinese Communist Party managed to establish or build industrial scale of concentration camps on the world’s watch. Making never again, a meaningless vow and sadly, no one is raising a finger until the United States government starting 2019 speaking up publicly and responding with some unprecedented historic measurements. This has been part of the Uyghur life for a long time.
The Uyghur people around the world, NGOs, human rights activists had been sounding the alarm that this need to be something that people should take it seriously, but it took a genocide in Uyghurs’ home on East Turkestan, and approving of a democracy rule of law in Hong Kong, and most oppressive ways to repress the religious minority in China, to a world community and national community to realize CCP is a threat to a civilization. It’s very sad reality, but it should not take a genocide for the national community to realize what CCP is about.
Mr. Jekielek: And the measure, you of course, you mean the genocide designation as how we were talking about?
Mr. Turkel: Genocide designation was one of the most significant policy responses by the United States government. But before, even that decision from October 2019 through January 2021, the previous administration announced over 70 sanctions. I’m talking about the individual sanctions that includes blacklisting of entities under the statute that the commerce department was authorized to do.
And also sanctioning of, four Chinese senior government officials, including the current Chinese Communist Party secretary of XUAR, Chen Quanguo and also Xinjiang Production & Construction Corp, which is a paramilitary unit reportedly has over 800,000 shell companies around the world and also visa restrictions that you aware of.
That was the policy responses. This does not even include the legislative responses that we’ve been seeing in the US Congress. The general decision is the strongest policy response announced by former Secretary of State, Pompeo, endorsed on the same day by the new Secretary of State, Blinken.
This shows the seriousness of the United States government. USCIRF as we noted in our report, and not only asked the State Department to look into this to evaluate and determine if the atrocities, martyr, genocide and crimes against humanity, but also we support this bi-partisan decision.
This should send a message to Beijing that they cannot play division game with American people. This is a matter of value and principle. United States government just like the Chinese government is a signatory to Genocide Convention that our country ratified in 1988. Since 1988, there has been only five decisions adding the Uyghurs. There have been only six instances that US government made a similar decision.
I need to highlight something very important in this respect, the United States, well, any country does not lightly or casually go out and accuse somebody, or government, or government entities for committing genocide.
This is a very serious, serious awards, accusations, if you will. But when you look at the way that this was done, through analysis, relying on the fact, and also fulfilling our obligation on the international law is something that the United States government, particularly Secretary Pompeo deserves a lot of credit.
He was a bold decision, and Secretary Blinken also deserves credit for acknowledging, endorsing it and taking additional measures, including the coordinated sanctions announced in March along with our allies. And now we see in this expanding Canadian parliament recognize it as a genocide, so that the Netherlands parliament or the UK parliament we’re also expecting others joining the force.
So the United States have shown true leadership on this. This has been a bi-partisan, and this should be a strong message to China that this is not something that we will take lightly. And this is a matter of a conscience, a matter of principle. This is not only a moral obligation, but the United States is legally obliged to respond on these kinds of atrocities.
Mr. Jekielek: A genocide designation is a huge process. I don’t know how many lawyers were involved. I don’t know how many policy makers and so forth. And of course it creates very, very real requirements. So what are the requirements for these countries now that have basically followed the US’s is lead and saying, “This is genocide.”
Mr. Turkel: At least so four of those five requirements articulated in the genocide convention meets in the Uyghur Genocide, particularly the purposeful, deliberate attempts to prevent population growth.
In 2019 alone the Chinese government managed to prevent the Uyghur population growth by 25%. In the previous three years, 84%, I mean, this is based on the open source information available on China’s government’s websites. And they were bragging about this. German scholar, Adrian Zenz profiled, and investigated, and wrote, and published report. A credible report.
This is the one aspect that I think woke up the United States government officials, particularly on the senior level. We live in a country that even abortion is something still in debate, being debated, let alone sterilizing a woman who are in their mid 50s go through this sterilization is something that is not acceptable. That’s so inhuman this egregious practices. So that was one of the most compelling reason for the policy makers in the United States government, both in Congress and executive branch and legislative branch to seriously look at it.
And the second thing is the forcible removal of Uyghur children from their parents. We’ve talking about more than half million Uyghur kids. We live in the city with a population of 750,000. I’m talking about nation’s capitol.
Just imagine the entire population in the city has been removed or been emptied out. We’re talking about that many number or that many Uyghur children taken into the state run orphanages that the China’s government shameless is calling boarding school. We’ve seen the images as reported in the media, so that’s the second significant amount.
And also the Chinese government’s attempt to destroy in whole, or part of the Uyghur population. There is a slogan if you’re looking to a report published by AFP, former report of Ben Dooley now works for the New York Times. And that there’s a line, a quote actually from the Chinese government officials, “Break the lineage, break the roots, break the connection.” These are the official lines.
And also their intention is also very clear in the leaked documents published through New York Times in 2019 statements by Xi Jinping specifically said, “Absolutely no mercy.” And then the same guide that I was referring earlier, Chen Quanguo, said that, “Everyone should be arrested, should be taken into the camps.” I’m paraphrasing, but he said similar lines in Chinese.
People should look at the Chinese original meaning of some of those words, it’s bone chilling. So the intention is clear for the Chinese government to destroy this nation in part and whole. And the evidence is overwhelming. Their targeted attack, destructive policies against the Uyghur woman and children. It’s not that difficult.
So it’s almost offensive to me and many other genocide victims direct/indirect that some individuals from the think tank, media opinion. I have a message for them. They can hold on to their thoughts and writing projects until after we stopped the genocide.
Even if this kind of conversation taking place in the good faith, that can be misused by this opportunistic regime in Beijing, actively engaging in this information campaign. And they can inject these good faith conversation into the official propaganda. In the case of this professor in Columbia University recently because his distasteful views towards the United States government, he made a case of whataboutism. And the Chinese minister of foreign affairs spokesperson have been circulating in social media.
We’ve got to be very careful. It’s the same case with the economist piece, same case with this op-ed published in the Washington Post by someone who works for a think tank here in town. Yeah, freedom of speech is wonderful thing. I wish we can say the same thing in China.
Those who are taking advantage of our freedom of speech for their propaganda campaign should look into the mirror and say, “Okay, this is a good thing. Maybe we should allow our citizens to speak their mind, so we will not have this problem.” This conversation needs to stop. Whatever the reason that might be, we need to stop the genocide. This is very serious.
The international community in the last 10 years, if you look back 2012, when we find out about the genocide against Yazidi. Have experienced at least three known genocidal campaigns against religious ethnic minority in less than 10 years, First Yazidi and then the Rohingya Muslims, now the Uyghur. At least two of those genocide are still ongoing. So how much more that the religious and ethnic minority had to suffer before they got the attention from the policymakers who can start this behaviors?
Mr. Jekielek: But just this whole discussion, frankly, like you’re saying, the details, is it really genocide? How close is it to genocide? I was reading a piece, I think by Maura Moynihan from 20 years ago, where she’s talking about-
Mr. Turkel: She’s a dear friend
Mr. Jekielek: The different characteristics of… Basically how many of these characteristics, some of which you just mentioned apply to the Tibetan people. There was this China tribunal recently, which looked at the forced organ harvesting question, which I also like to discuss a little bit. But essentially they said, “Well, it may not be exactly genocide against Falun Gong practitioners because of a profit motive.”
Mr. Turkel: Yeah.
Mr. Jekielek: That was a mind blowing thing to me because… Okay, fine. Maybe it’s not genocide. Right? But, it’s darn close and it’s always about eradicating or eliminating a group of people. And none of these things are acceptable, so why debate the terms, right?
Mr. Turkel: Yep. The Chinese government, we talked about CCP. The CCP is minority policy. CCPs policies towards somebody who’s others. Falun Gong practitioners, the Tibetans and the Catholics, the Uyghur have always been motivated by the criminal intent. I would call it crimes against humanity.
When you look back the way that they treated Falun Gong practitioners, starting in early 90s to organ harvesting, and also as Dalai Lama put it several years ago on CNN that whatever the Chinese were doing, he was very mild in the statement, amounts to cultural genocide.
But if you a lump all together and carefully look at the motive, the Chinese authorities have always been on something to commit a crime against these religious and ethnic minority who are vulnerable. Who are in a situation either to become a compliant, give up their way of life, give up their religious practices, embrace communist ideology, or sacrifice themselves. To some, most people been in a ladder situation, either being taken to the concentration camp. The concentration camp concept also is not something new.
Concentration camp has camps that we learned about in China, and those in history that we read in the books, and saw on the movies have several commonalities. One, the concentration camps built in China is extrajudicial. They take people in based on their religion, ethnic background. And two, there’s no legal process.
By setting up these camps, not only the new ones, the old ones don’t go through the criminal procedure, articulated to laid out in their criminal law and procedures. And then three, when they’re taken in, none of them been explained or told why they’re there. And once they are released, manage to release either ill, or dead, or walking out, never apologize or compensated.
These are the commonalities of the concentration camps we’ve seen in history, whether it be Dachau or or Auschwitz, or the concentration camps in Cuba, Cuba set up by the Spaniards, with the others that we have seen other parts of the world. The camp, the collective punishment has been one of the most effective criminal behaviors by the Beijing authorities for years.
The international community sadly, just finding out about it. This has been ongoing process, the organ harvesting. In the 90s, when the Falun Gong practitioners, first group of victims brought this to the floor and asked them for help, they did not get the necessary attention. But now we’re talking about much shorter wait time, there must be more available organs. Then the demand as has been the case, this has also been commercialized.
I usually have no problem expressing myself, but this is one of the instances that I could not come up with a proper word to express how outrageous, how inhuman this is, that the Chinese government using the organs of prisoners of conscience for profit.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s dig into the organ harvesting piece a little bit here. I just want to make sure we have the timeline, right? So I actually did my first reporting on organ harvesting in 2006, when I realized essentially that it had to be real, because of wait times and a whole host of other things, which David Kilgore and David Matas, these two Canadian lawyers said had kind of figured out. But you’re talking about this happen even earlier than that. So tell me a little bit about that.
Mr. Turkel: Just like the way that the international community found out about the concentration camps years after it’s been in practice, the organ harvesting, were something, part of the official punishment, commercialization of the political prisoners way back. It goes to early 90’s. Uyghur doctor based in the UK have profiled this, testified about this. Actually him himself, he himself participated in this practice when he was a physician. It’s reasonable to say that this goes way back to early 90s.
Mr. Jekielek: Yeah. And then it just went kind of industrial once they put, I don’t know, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Falun Gong in the camp to the point.
Mr. Turkel: Yeah. It got to the point of the establishment and promotion of a hospital in Beijing through a video presentation that I saw with my own eyes. People speaking Arabic and the hospital is promoting this particular service. The question becomes, who are you marketing these services? Where are you getting the organs to supply the demand for this kind of health issues?
I don’t know if that video is still available online, but it was quite disturbing.There was a patient speaking Arabic apparently, and a very comfortable looking hospital. It’s almost like a medical tourism type of situation that we see for other type of medical services that can be found in some countries.
For example, in Thailand, people go there to do some medical checkup that is expensive in other parts of the world. So, yeah, I feel comfortable stating that the organ harvesting this kind of egregious practices were an existence way back in the early 90s, I would say.
Mr. Jekielek: So one last bit on the forced organ harvesting. I’ve seen actually, there’s been a bit of a legislative activity around this. The Texas State Senate has passed resolution, basically outlining some direction basically on how to try to stop this. A resolution, and there’s actually legislation in the house and the Senate by bipartisan legislation to stop forced organ harvesting act, I believe it’s called. What are your thoughts about this?
Mr. Turkel: I don’t think that the United States or other countries have necessary tools to prevent this kind of practices from continuing. I commend these members of Congress, have put in place at legislation to stop this. And also the other countries should also look into this kind of model to stop it, because this has become international business. This has become a very profitable business. We’re talking about millions of people being taken to the camps.
Sometime people argue that the China is not engaging in mass killing. You don’t know that. No one knows that. CCP did not allow cameras to be allowed in the camps or the hospitals that they’re performing these procedures. So it’s premature for those people who are trying to normalize these behaviors.
The best way to tackle this is through legislation. We need to ban it. We need to make it illegal so that people who are inclined to be part of these kinds of egregious inhuman practices will be stopped. So we need a good governance. We need to have an additional tool. So I commend the Congress for looking to the legislative mandate.
Mr. Jekielek: One of the things that’s in the report is a discussion of how effective China or the Chinese Communist Party has been essentially exporting its repression beyond its own borders, into other countries, both in the west, and also to countries that are basically adopting some of the technology they use, for example, the surveillance technology. So tell me about what you’ve found?
Mr. Turkel: In late 2018, there was a column in one of the Chinese state run publications, which literally said, “Look at us, we find a way to deal with the world’s Muslim problem.” So they are promoting the repressive methods that they were able to put in place testing, implementing, and expanding in East Turkestan, in Tibet and other parts of China. And trying to make this as new normal for the supporters.
China does not have an ally like the United States, or other liberal democracies have, but they have client states. They have countries they have been bought by the Chinese money under the diplomatic pressure. So they exporting these technologies, these techniques as a way to deal with societal political resentment against those oppressive regimes. They’re also trying to use this as ways to expand the CCP China’s influence.
We organized a hearing on this particular issue not too long ago. One of our witnesses, a very experienced, respected scholar who is specialized on Chinese surveillance technology, and influence operations, told us that over 80 countries have already adopted or in the process of adopting Chinese surveillance, they should be taken as a warning sign by those who have been somewhat skeptical about the criticism of Chinese technology, particularly the big names that have been engaged in the discussion for the 5G namely Huawei.
This is not about a particular company or technology. This is about Chinese using technology to expand its influence. Imagine that the Chinese way of surveilling its own population becomes new normal. What does it mean for democracy? What does it mean for civil liberties? What does it mean for religious freedom around the world?
The countries that have been adopted, or in the process of importing Chinese surveillance technologies include some of the countries that we monitor at your surf. That includes Pakistan for example, they include some central Asian countries, nations. That includes countries like Cuba includes North Korea.
So this is a serious problem. This is not about the United States concerning about the certain China’s technology or Chinese firm. This is about something coming our way to threat democratic norms in the national system, particularly privacy.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, so maybe you can build a little bit about on this, back in the Soviet Union, the Stasi was the gold standard of invasive surveillance.
Mr. Turkel: Yeah.
Mr. Jekielek: How does that compare? How does what’s happening with the CCP is doing now and exporting compare and what are the implications for religious freedom?
Mr. Turkel: Two thoughts come to mind when I mentioned these things, when I talk about these things. For example, I mentioned cultural revolution. What is happening in China today with respect to religious ethnic minorities with this repressive environment that they set up.
Some people liken them to open their prison. Is literally a cultural revolution on the steroids. And also when you talk about the surveillance, this is east German Stasi with artificial intelligence preemptive policing capabilities. So this is how serious these issues are.
If it’s not taken seriously, if it’s not stopped, this will become a much more serious problem for a religious minorities around the world. That many oppressive governments, authoritarian regime, dictatorship have already been using their own means and tools to suppress.
I would say this, that whatever is happening to religious ethnic minorities in China no longer about their human rights, their religious freedom. This is about us as a free society. How to prevent, this is becoming new normal in the world. This will create much bigger problem for us to handle down the road.
Mr. Jekielek: One of the things that that has been developing over past years is this International Religious Freedom Alliance, right? How significant is this development in actually countering what you’re describing right now, or where are we at?
Mr. Turkel: The United States government recognizes religious freedom as an essential way of protecting national security. If you’re not tackled, if you’re not handled religious freedom properly, if you target religious minorities as the case in China elsewhere, actually that the oppressive policy will create more instability, creates more resentment, creates more problems. May even radicalize some people, so that is this national security concern.
For the United States government, the way that we’re focusing on these issues, not only moral obligation, but also by promoting these, a basic freedom, fundamental freedom, we actually helping these countries that we are publicly calling up, criticizing. We want countries to be successful. At USCIRF, we monitor 26 countries, we work with some of them.
For example, we have an ongoing working relationship with government of East Pakistan, for example. There are a few others who have been also engaging with us, recognizing that we’re not going to go away. We’re not going to stop calling them out. We’re not stop speaking for those religious practitioners who have been unfairly treated and thrown into jail.
So we’re resolved to continue this effort, the previous administration for its credit put this in front and center of foreign policy agenda, organized three ministerial during the annual gathering of heads of state in New York in late 2019. Secretary Pompeo, Vice President Mike Pence, and President Trump organized Religious Freedom Summit. Traditionally, historically speaking by practice, we can say that religious persecution is a crime against humanity, and that can be a precursor for genocide.
We have seen similar practice keep coming back. And oftentimes when you look at it, the subject, the persecuted happened to be religious minority. And also we are not promoting one religion over another religion through our work. We are promoting international law, UN Declaration of Human Rights.
We also promote individual rights, not to believe in any religion. So any government trying to take away that right, interfere with the private communication with the almighty need to stop these practices. It’s not helping them domestically and it’s not helping their relationship with our country.
Mr. Jekielek: You mentioned some of these countries that USCIRF has relationships with. There were, I think, three countries that were highlighted or there were moved off of the list of concern. Just maybe you could just briefly mention, I think, Sudan in particular, I was reading to some very kind of positive developments.
Mr. Turkel: Yeah.
Mr. Jekielek: Maybe give you a chance to talk a little bit about that before we finish.
Mr. Turkel: Yeah. Some of those countries that I referenced, inviting commissioners to visit, laying out some of the reform package that they have been considering or implemented. We welcome that kind of good gesture, and we have some countries stonewalling, denying, even saying, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” And those are the countries, for example, China, they have been the CPC countries since 1999.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s Country of Particular Concern just for our viewers to understand that.
Mr. Turkel: It is basically as the worst of the worst. And state department has been maintaining their own list as well. They monitor the entire universe, every country, but we monitor 26 countries that have the worst human rights in religious freedom or religious persecution records. So we engage with the governments here in town.
Sometime we go to countries for fact-finding missions, because of COVID that arm of our practice work has been put on hold. But we welcome any governments, any countries reaching out to us or work with us. We can share our expense experiences. We also have model countries that have been engaging with us legislatively, administratively.
Again, we want the countries to be successful. We’re not in a business to criticize governments or nations unfairly. We’re there to help them so that they will be fair to their religious and ethnic minorities.
Mr. Jekielek: For example, I guess, Sudan, or I think Bahrain was one of the countries that was removed. Give me an example of something they accomplished that got them off the list?
Mr. Turkel: Some of them revised their criminal code. They released religious prisoners. We have a database for religious prisoners for conscience. We have a project called RPOC. We add names of religious prisoners, and we also adopt a specific religious prisoners in countries.
I recently adopted a RPOC, religious prisoners of conscience in Tajikistan. One of my commissioners, Johnnie Moore adopted Jimmy Lai whom we all know through his work advocating democracy and human rights in Hong Kong. Happened to be a religious practitioner himself and devout Catholic.
So we looked at the practices specifically, police behavior, for example, how they tolerate. In some countries even reciting… I’m talking about the Muslim countries. Saying things in Arabic, or reciting Arabic verses of Koran not sanctioned by the state, can be subject to criminal punishment. This is more so in the countries in Central Asia.
So we looked at legislative initiatives, reform package, administrative decisions, police behaviors, prison population, particularly RPOC. Those are the indications that we look at. And also we look at the intention. If it’s just a window dressing, and some governments have a tendency of doing that. And we look at, evaluate and then make the recommendations accordingly.
Mr. Jekielek: At least it’s good to see that things moving in a positive direction in some places in the world. Do you have any final thoughts before we finish up Nury?
Mr. Turkel: I would like to note that when we talk about China, particularly human rights issues, your audience need to be reminded of that this is about who we are as a country. The religious freedom, particularly the first human rights. The declaration of independence states religious freedom is a human rights.
And also as a society, we’re dealing with a monumental challenge. The slave labor produce products are in our marketplace, in our homes, and maybe in our bedrooms. Even the baby pajamas reportedly being produced by enslaved Uyghurs.
The PPEs that we use to save lives at hospitals and the society reportedly being made by Uyghur slaves. The beauty products that has been that have been promoted as a black gold targeting African American community have been made of Uyghur prisoners’ hair. This also reminds us what happened to the 6 million Jews. And also we are dealing with another international stage, or event, global event that the CCP may use to normalize its behavior.
So I call on the American consumers to be mindful that the products that they’re using, may have been produced by enslaved Uyghurs. We’re talking about a significant number of consumer products that includes Campbell Soup, the sports outfit, any cotton products.
And also, I want athletes, policymakers to be mindful that the Beijing authorities may use next year’s winter Olympics as a global stage to normalize as the case of Hitler in 1936, in the backdrop that he already had Dachau concentration camps built. Jewish woman were subject to sterilization, forced labor, and three years later, Hitler invaded Europe. So we need to be mindful that history does not repeat itself. We allow history to repeat.
Mr. Jekielek: Well. So I’m going to build a little bit on this, because this issues is very close to my heart. My father-in-law’s a Holocaust survivor. I’ve been very careful to try to not create any false equivalency between what happened during the Holocaust and what Nazi Germany perpetrated and what’s happening in China.
But recently, there’s just so many commonalities that it’s very difficult to not see them, frankly. And we have, of course, Holocaust survivors, as well as various Jewish groups, stepping up to basically condemn what’s happening in Xinjiang, and other actions by the Chinese Communist Party. Where do you kind of stand on this?
Mr. Turkel: The Holocaust Award should be reserved for the Jewish people. It’s not Holocaust, but similar genocidal actions being taken against the Uyghurs or other Turkic Muslims in China. Full stop. It’s not a Holocaust, but similar criminal acts being committed.
What is similar is that the CCP leaders studied the Holocaust very carefully, Nazi policies very carefully. When I was shown the China Cables reported about two years ago, the first thing comes to mind is the Hitler’s playbook, very similar method, dehumanization, sexual violence, separation of families, making that individual feel less of a human. Very similar. And this collective punishment idea.
The Chinese documents use this word, Jizhong (集中). Jizhong means collection. So they had something in mind that had already occurred in history.
Because of China’s influence around the world, because of the way that they made the world to believe that you cannot criticize China because of the potential consequences, the international community’s response in the face of this industrial skill, concentration camps, the ongoing genocidal campaign, even the promise such as never again, ring shallow, because international community have failed to respond, even if those responded and those responses can be tepid meandering.
So this is not about the CCP anymore, this is about us who can make difference. If you don’t stop this, who knows, we might be dealing with another religious minority who has been seen as an institutionalizing force or a potential source for unrest or threat to their existence. So we have to be very, very bold and responses to these crimes being committed, Meets, what cries out for global condemnation individual collective responses from liberal democracies.
Mr. Jekielek: You mentioned that Beijing is likely to try to use these upcoming Olympics to normalize all of this behavior that you just described, which I know about, but again, sent chills up my spine as you described. Some people are calling this, the genocide Olympics they’re advocating for a boycott, your thoughts?
Mr. Turkel: I agree with the terminology. Historians and some Jewish people, supporters of the Jewish people called 1936 as Nazi Olympics. Similarly, when you look at the practice, the way that the government is preparing and utilizing these kinds of events, in the case of 2008 Summer Olympics, and now the next year’s Winter Olympics. Should teach us some lesson that we cannot normalize. We cannot allow a regime such as the one in Beijing to use this kind of games that promote unity, friendship, spirit for advancement of their are political repression.
What kind of message that the international community will send to Beijing? If the international community nations repeat the same mistake as they did in 1936, more than 40 countries, including the United States attended the Berlin Olympics. We may see similar attendance next year, but what kind of reaction that the Chinese will have and what kind of oppressive policies that they may even formulate in response that can be military societal, political, diplomatic? So this is on us.
And also this game, if that happen as a normal international sports games or activity, will be unfair to the athletes who will be competing in the backdrop of genocidal actions, in the backdrop of industrial scale concentration camps. So what do we do about it? I think we should consider moving this Olympic to another country that does not commit genocide, or postpone it.
The Summer Olympics in Tokyo was postponed because of the pandemic. It’s not something unusual. The circumstances does not allow Beijing to continue to have this platform to promote its interest and normalize its behaviors.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, Commissioner Nury Turkel, it’s such a pleasure to have you on.
Mr. Turkel: Thank you very much for having me. I enjoyed our conversation.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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