Posts tagged: Xinjiang

China Expels French Journalist Ursula Gauthier

By , December 28, 2015

French L’Obs Reporter, Ursula Gauthier (photo courtsey or MSN.com)

In recent years, the Chinese government has taken a passive-aggressive approach with the foreign press, keeping many foreign journalists on pins and needles during the annual accreditation renewal process. But with the impending expulsion of French journalist Ursula Gauthier, the Chinese government has opted for a different approach: downright aggressive.

On December 26, 2015, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) confirmed that it denied Gauthier’s application to renew her press card (official English version here), effectively resulting in her expulsion from China since her journalist visa – set to expire on December 31 – cannot be renewed without a valid press card. MOFA found Gauthier “no longer suitable to continue working in China” because her November 18, 2015 article in the French newsmagazine, L’Obs, “championed acts of terrorism and the slaughter of innocent civilians . . .”

In response, Western social media is ablaze with criticism of the Chinese government, calling its accusations against Gauthier unfounded and an attempt to censor the foreign press. And while these critiques may be true, the question still remains: are MOFA’s acts legal under Chinese law. Unfortunately, with laws and regulations that are increasingly vague and broad, the answer is yes.

Gauthier’s Article: Why the Chinese Government’s Panties Are All in a Bunch

Shanghai’s skyline lit up in memory of the lives lost in Paris in the Nov. 13, 2015 attacks. (Photo courtesy of CNN)

As L’Obs‘ Beijing correspondent, Gauthier witnessed the Chinese government and people’s outpouring of sympathy for the French people as a result of the November 13, 2015 terror attacks in Paris. Chinese students left bouquets of flowers at the French Embassy; President Xi Jinping expressed his condemnation of such “barbarous actions;” and Shanghai lit up its Oriental Pearl TV Tower in the French tri-colors of blue, white and red.

But at the November 15, 2015 G20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey, the Chinese government sought to transform its feelings of sympathy into ones of action. Stating that there can be “no double standards,” MOFA spokesperson, Wang Yi, called on the global community to support China’s anti-terrorism efforts in its far-western province of Xinjiang (pronounced Sin Gee-ang).

In the past few years, hundreds of innocent Chinese citizens have been violently killed in Xinjiang in mass attacks, usually perpetrated by members of the Uighur minority, a Muslim, Turkic-speaking population that dominates the province. Some of that violence has spilled to other parts of China most notably the 2013 suicide attack at Tiananmen Square and a 2014 rampage in a Yunnan bus station.

While this violence cannot be denied, there is significant doubt as to how many of these attacks are attributable to international terrorist organizations – as the Chinese government claims – or are merely the natural result of a Muslim population increasingly frustrated at the Chinese government’s restrictive policies concerning the practice of their religion.[1] The Chinese government references the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, an international separatist movement, as the perpetrators of these domestic attacks. But some Western scholars debate the group’s existence. Although the Islamic State (ISIS) has issued a call for recruits in Mandarin, it is unclear the extent of ISIS’s impact in Xinjiang. And by essentially sealing off independent foreign reporting from Xinjiang, the Chinese government does nothing to ensure that there is greater understanding as to what is really happening in the region.

2013 car bomb at Tiananmen Square (courtesy of the Daily Mail)

With this backdrop, on November 18, Gauthier published an essay in L’Obs highlighting that the Chinese government’s call for the international community to join its fight against terrorism was misplaced (rough English translation here). In “After the Paris Attacks, China’s Solidarity is Not Without Ulterior Motives,” Gauthier rejects the Chinese government’s claim that the current wave of violence in Xinjiang is the result of global terrorism. Instead, Gauthier maintains that much of the violence is likely the result of the Chinese government’s repressive policies toward Uighurs.

For Western readers, Gauthier’s sentiment is neither shocking nor new. Arguably, it has become par for the course. After almost every terrorist attack in the West, articles appear questioning the impact of the government’s policy toward the ethnic minority. After the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks, plenty of articles questioned whether the attacks were also the result of France’s harsh policies toward its Muslim population and difficulty integrating into French society (see here, here and here). After the 2004 murder of Dutch film director Theo Van Gogh, Ian Buruma wrote an entire book analyzing the impact of Dutch immigration and assimilation policies on the murderer’s mindset. Gauthier’s article, while a bit more stinging, was in a similar vein.

But in series of op-eds in the Global Times and the English language version of the China Daily, the state-controlled press criticized Gauthier for having a “double standard” and, by not focusing on the death of innocent Chinese victims in the Xinjiang attacks, devaluing the lives of Chinese people vis-a-vis the French. If the Chinese government left its criticism of Gauthier’s piece at this, it would not necessarily be out of the ordinary or irrational. It wasn’t until after the non-stop press coverage of the Paris attacks and the outpouring of sympathy on social media did it come out that a mere day earlier dozens had been killed by an ISIS-inspired attack in Lebanon. In the U.S., part of the Black Lives Matters movement is to highlight the double standard by the U.S media in covering stories that impact the white population over the black population.

MOFA spokesperson Hua Chunying

But the state-run media did not leave it at that. Instead, it ratcheted up its rhetoric. On December 2, 2015, at a MOFA press conference, spokesperson, Hua Chunying, publicly criticized Gauthier. Over the next few weeks, MOFA met with Gauthier at least three times, demanding that she apologize for her essay. In addition, Gauthier’s address was leaked online even though in some of the responses to the Global Times op-ed, people were threatening her life. On December 26, MOFA denied her application to renew her press card, maintaining that she advocated terrorism and violence, an accusation no where evident in a reading of her November 18 piece.

China’s Recent Attempts to Use the Press Accreditation Process to Censor Foreign Journalists

Regardless of the validity of the Chinese government’s accusations against Gauthier, by denying her press card and thus her ability to report from China, the Chinese government has effectively silenced her. This is not the first time the Chinese government has used the press accreditation process as a form of retribution or an attempt to censor foreign journalists. But even in light of this fact, Gauthier’s case is shockingly different, with the Chinese government, after a ruthless campaign against her, publicly admitting that its decision to effectively expel Gauthier was a direct result of her reporting.

For resident journalists in China, the journalist visa (“J-1 visa”) and the press card are only good for a year, expiring every December.  Beginning in November, every resident foreign journalist begins the renewal process, first re-applying with MOFA for a new press card and then, once obtaining the press card, renewing her J-1 visa with the Public Security Bureau’s (PSB) Exit/Entry Department.  For those who change employers in the middle of the year, the process to renew the press card with the name of a new employer, begins earlier in the year when the employment change occurs.

Aside from the 2012 expulsion of Al Jazeera English’s Melissa Chan, who, unlike Gauthier, did not receive any public condemnation, all of the foreign reporters forced to leave China in the past three years have departed due to an alleged paperwork snafu.[2] These reporters were not denied their press credentials. Instead, MOFA ignored their applications due to irregular or improper paperwork. Conveniently, MOFA did not discover these paperwork issues until the eve of – or in some cases, after the expiration of the reporter’s visa.

Philip Pan, New York Times Asia Editor now based out of Hong Kong

All three of these reporters, Philip Pan, Chris Buckley and Austin Ramzy, were with the New York Times causing most in the West to speculate that these departures were not a simple paperwork issue.[3] Instead, the commonly held belief is that each departure was the Chinese government’s retaliation against the New York Times for its Pulitzer Prize-winning series that exposed the depth of former Premier Wen Jiabao’s finances and the profits his family has acquired over the years.

But it appeared that the Chinese government’s abuse of the foreign journalist accreditation process reached its peak in January 2014, with New York Times reporter Ramzy’s departure. In fact, in its 2015 survey, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) noted that there was a decrease in complaints from its membership regarding the visa and press card renewal process, with 93% of respondents stating that they were issued their J-1 visa within the stipulated time period.[4]

By the middle of 2015, it appeared that the Chinese government was mellowing in its attempt to censor the foreign press through the accreditation process. After Xi’s visit to the United States in September 2015, Chris Buckley, after a three year wait, was finally able to obtain a J-1 visa and return to China. Similarly, also after Xi’s visit, new New York Times China correspondent, Javier Hernandez was able to obtain his J-1 visa after waiting since at least early 2015.

Chris Buckley, New York Times reporter now based in Beijing after a three year wait in Hong Kong.

But the situation with Gauthier isn’t just a step back – it’s a whole new approach. In the past, the Chinese government was coy with its reasons to deny a press card or a J-1 visa. With Chan in 2012, it merely stated that its decision was in accordance with law. With Pan, Buckley and Ramzy, MOFA used the excuse of a paperwork error that it was unaware of for months even though it’s in the business of processing such applications. But with Gauthier, the Chinese government is not attempting to hide its reasons for denying her a press card. It has explicitly tied its decision to her November 18 essay.

 

 

Can MOFA Deny a Press Card for Reporting it Does Not Like?

While MOFA itself has not explained the basis in the law for tying press accreditation to a specific article, an interesting piece published by Beijing Youth Daily heavily hints at the source. The Beijing Youth Daily piece notes that Gauthier, like all foreign journalists, is subject to MOFA’s “Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on News Coverage by Permanent Offices of Foreign Media Organizations and Foreign Journalists” (Foreign Media Regs) (official English translation here). Article 21 of the Foreign Media Regs gives MOFA the power, in serious circumstances, to revoke a foreign journalist’s press card when the journalist violates the Foreign Media Regs.

The Foreign Media Regs, which is more about the process of setting up a foreign media office and obtaining a press card, do not delineate which topics are off limits for foreign journalists. There is no mention about reporting on Xinjiang, Uighurs or even terrorism. But, as the Beijing Youth Daily post notes, Article 4 requires foreign journalists to “abide by the laws, regulations and rules of China, observe the professional ethics of journalism, conduct news coverage and reporting activities on an objective and impartial basis,” and “not engage in activities which are incompatible with the nature of the organizations or the capacity as journalists.”

It is this provision, which if necessary, MOFA will likely cite to for its authority to deny Gauthier her press card as a result of her November 18 article. By “championing terrorism,” MOFA has essentially stated that Gauthier has not reported “on an objective and impartial basis,” thus violating Article 4 of the Foreign Media Regs and granting MOFA the authority – through Article 21 – to deny her press card application.

Under Article 4 of the Foreign Media Regs, MOFA does not have to criminally prosecute Gauthier for a crime or even give her any form of due process (such as appealing the decision). Under the Foreign Media Regs, MOFA is the judge and jury of violations of the Regulations and with Article 4’s broad strokes, it is easy to find a foreign journalist in contempt of the Regulations. So for those foreign journalists who thought the worst was over in terms of the annual visa renewal process, think again. While Article 4 has been on the books for a while, China is now not afraid to use it. Welcome to Foreign Press Accreditation Process Version 2.0.

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[1] For example, in 2015, certain cities in Xinjiang forbade fasting during Ramadan for civil servants, teachers and students. In 2014, Shaya County in Xinjiang forbade men from wearing beards in public and called on the public to report them. In 2015, taking a cue from the French laws, the capital of Xinjiang forbade women from wearing burqas in public.

[2] While not expelled from China, in November 2013, after waiting over eight months for his journalist visa, former South China Morning Post reporter Paul Mooney was denied accreditation.  MOFA merely stated that its decision was in accordance with the law. Because Mooney was applying for accreditation from the United States for his new employer Reuters, this is not an expulsion from China. However, it was a denial and thus, does not fit into the category of “paperwork snafu.” Many in the Western press speculate that Mooney’s press card denial was the result of his hard-hitting reporting on China’s human rights violations.

[3] Pan’s departure from China is the least reported on and thus the least understood. However, if Pan had been denied a press card or J-1 visa, this fact would have been reported in the press. As a result, it is highly likely that Pan’s application was simply not processed due to some other reason such as a paperwork issue.

[4] The FCCC’s “2015 Annual Working Conditions Report” is on file with China Law & Policy.  To obtain a copy, please email fcccadmin@gmail.com.

Will the Chinese Courts Allow Another Mentally Ill Individual be Executed?

By , October 26, 2009
Originally posted on the Huffington Post.
British citizen and Chinese death row inmate, Akmal Shaik

British citizen and Chinese death row inmate, Akmal Shaik

Akmal Shaikh’s story is not unique.  Everyday criminal justice systems across the world deal with the mentally ill, often in disastrous ways and with dire consequences; the United States alone has executed over 100 mentally ill people since it reinstated the death penalty in 1977.  But what makes Mr. Shaikh’s story unusual is that this mentally ill British citizen is now sitting on death row in China, with a potential execution only days away. 

For the vast majority of his fifty-three years, Mr. Shaikh led a rather ordinary life, the kind of life that happily goes unnoticed by the world-at-large.  Running a thriving mini-cab business, Mr. Shaikh was the modicum of middle-class London success, living with his wife and five kids in Kentish Town.  But by the end of 2003, things began to rapidly change and Mr. Shaikh’s peaceful existence would be no more. 

In 2004, Mr. Shaikh left his family and moved to Poland with the goal of starting his own airline business although he lacked both financial capital and any knowledge of the business.  Not surprisingly, left untreated, his mental state continued to deteriorate.  Mr. Shaikh sent over 100 bizarre emails to the British Embassy in Warsaw, Scotland Yard, and even Paul McCartney, often making little to no sense.  However it was in Poland, away from his family, that Mr. Shaikh’s mental illness was preyed upon by a group of international drug dealers that would ultimately trick him into carrying drugs into China, a country that makes the United States’ zero tolerance to drugs look like a joke. 

Promising him a successful music career in China, Mr. Shaikh, who now wanted to become a Chinese pop star although unable to speak any Chinese, was told to fly to the Chinese northwest city of Urumqi with one of the drug dealer’s suitcases.  On September 12, 2007, at the Urumqi airport, Mr. Shaikh was arrested by the police for transporting four kilograms of heroin into China, a charge that is death penalty eligible in China and usually gets it. 

On October 29, 2008, Mr. Shaikh was found guilty and sentenced to death by the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court.  On October 13, 2009, his first appeal, or what is known in China as a “trial in the second instance,” was rejected and his death sentence affirmed.  Mr. Shaikh’s case is now in the hands of the highest court in China, the Supreme People’s Court (SPC).  If they too affirm his death sentence, he will be executed in a matter of days.  But will the SPC take into account, as required under Chinese law, Mr. Shaikh’s mental illness?  Will the SPC see this case as an opportunity to finally establish procedures to determine a defendant’s mental illness, something the Chinese people have desperately been calling for?

Mental Illness and the Chinese Criminal Justice System: A System Not Unlike Ours

There is no doubt that Mr. Shaikh trafficked drugs into China.  Under Article 347 of the Chinese Criminal Law, trafficking more than 50 grams of heroin into China is subject to a prison term of 15 years, a life sentence, or the death penalty; here Mr. Shaikh brought in over 80 times that minimum amount – four kilograms of heroin.  China, like the United States, takes a harsh stance against drugs and often gives the maximum sentence of death for drug trafficking, and here, given the amount trafficked, Mr. Shaikh’s death sentence is far from surprising.  And even though Mr. Shaikh’s crime would not be death eligible in his home country of the United Kingdom, by committing the crime in China, he is subject to Chinese law and his foreign citizenship in no way excuses him from punishment. 

But Chinese law takes into account mental illness when determining a defendant’s culpability.  Article 18 of the Criminal Law eliminates all criminal culpability for those defendants who suffer from severe mental illness. For defendants whose mental illness is intermittent or less than severe, Article 18 allows the court to consider such factors in sentencing, permitting the court to give a lighter punishment than ordinarily required. 

Normatively, the Chinese criminal law, at least in terms of the mentally ill, is not too different from the criminal laws of the United States or the United Kingdom – all of these countries seek to protect the vulnerable class of the mentally ill from the harshness of the criminal law.  But where China differs is in its ability to implement these normative values, and Mr. Shaikh’s case is a prime example of this disconnect between the goals of the Chinese Criminal Law and its actual practice, an example that is becoming all too common in today’s China. 

Lack of Procedures to Determine Mental Illness in China’s Criminal Law

It was not until Mr. Shaikh’s appeal, the trial in the second instance, that the issue of his mental illness was raised by his attorneys.  And although the appellate judges laughed openly in court at Mr. Shaikh’s bizarre behavior in the courtroom, they found that Mr. Shaikh was not mentally ill.  The court based its judgment solely on Mr. Shaikh’s personal testimony that he does not suffer from mental illness and the fact that his family lacked a history of any mental disease.  There was no psychiatric examination of Mr. Shaikh or testimony from mental health experts regarding his mental state.  Instead, the judges merely relied upon their own observation and the testimony from an apparently mentally ill individual that he is completely sane. 

Mr. Shaikh’s case is not an example of the Chinese court subverting proper procedure.  Instead, Mr. Shaikh’s case is reflective of the fact that there is little to no procedures in place to actually determine the mental health of a defendant.  And this is not the first time that the issue of mental health, and the inability of the justice system to implement procedures to protect the mentally ill, has come up.  In fact, in the past three years, two Chinese citizens, Yang Jia (pronounced Yang Gee-ah) and Qiu Xinghua (pronounced Chiu Sing-hua), have both been executed even though questions of their mental health was openly debated by the Chinese legal community as well as by the Chinese public.  Calls from the Chinese people to protect these apparently mentally ill individuals went unheeded by the justice system. 

Instead, the courts have maintained a system that offers little opportunity to question the mental health of the defendant.  Neither the Criminal Law nor the Criminal Procedure Law offer any instruction on how mental health determinations should be made.  And other guidelines, namely the “Provisional Regulations on Psychiatric Evaluation of Mental Illness” and the “Procedural Rules on Forensic Analysis,” offer little else.  As a result, pre-trial psychiatric examinations are not mandated, and instead are left in the hands of the police, the prosecutors or the court to initiate.  As seen in the case of Mr. Shaikh, this often does not happen. The party that has the most interest in conducting a psychiatric exam – namely the defense – is not permitted to initiate such an examination under Chinese law; all the defense can ask for is a re-evaluation only after the prosecution conducts one.  The re-evaluation would still be conducted by experts of the state’s choosing (See Zhiyuan Guo, “Approaching Visible Justice: Procedural Safeguards for Mental Examinations in China’s Capital Cases,” 32 Hastings Int’l and Comp. Law Review, forthcoming).  As a result, too many mentally ill individuals, both Chinese and now a foreigner, are denied the justice and protection they are entitled to under Chinese law.  

The SPC Should Give Life to the Chinese People’s Will

Mr. Shaikh’s future now lies in the hands of China’s highest court.  Because of his citizenship, the British government

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Chinese President Hu Jintao

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Chinese President Hu Jintao

has become involved, with Prime Minister Gordon Brown discussing Mr. Shaikh’s fate with Chinese President Hu Jintao this past September during the G20 Summit. 

But the British government and the international community are not asking the Chinese courts to making an exception for a foreigner or to suspend the application of its laws to a non-Chinese.  Instead, they are requesting that the SPC give life to the Chinese Criminal Law’s promise to protect the mentally ill.

This is not just a foreign request; the Chinese people themselves have repeatedly called upon the courts to offer these protections.  Article 18 of the Criminal Law reflects their sentiment.  Furthermore, during both the Yang Jia and Qiu Xinghua trials in 2008 and 2006, respectively, the Chinese people, through online discussion boards and at the courts themselves, ardently protested the lack of protection for the mentally ill.  The Chinese people understand the need to give life to the promise of justice for the mentally ill found in the Criminal Law; it is now up to the courts to make that a reality. 

The true test of a society’s criminal justice system is how well it protects society’s most vulnerable.  With Mr. Shaikh’s case, the SPC has the opportunity to establish procedures by which the mentally ill can be protected.  By either remanding his case for psychiatric examination or by performing the examination itself, the SPC will not only potentially protect Mr. Shaikh, but also the hundreds of mentally ill Chinese defendants that interact with the Chinese criminal justice system on a daily basis.

6 Uighurs Sentenced to Death, 1 to Life Imprisonment in Unexpected Trial on Monday

By , October 12, 2009

In a development that caught most foreign media outlets by surprise, the Urumqi Intermediate Court tried and sentenced the first seven of over 200 defendants on Monday for crimes relating to the July 5 riots.  After a trial that lasted less than a day, six of the defendants, all of which were of Uighur descent, were sentenced to death; the remaining defendant was given life imprisonment.  All of the defendants were given the uniquely Chinese punishment of lifelong “deprivation of political rights.”

Back in August, the China Daily, an official government newspaper, stated that trials relating to the July 5 riots in

Monday's Trial in Xinjiang

Monday's Trial in Xinjiang

Xinjiang would begin in the middle of August.  The reason for the two month delay remains unknown.  Additionally, while Chinese papers report that the trial was public, that is debatable.  According to the government controlled media, the 400 people in the audience included officials from the Urumqi, representatives from the National People’s Congress (NPC), Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials, relatives of the defendants, and “a group of people of various elasticities and walks of life.”  However, it is questionable if anyone else was aware of the trial as it was occurring; there was no official announcement prior to trial.

In addition to working on the meaning of a “public trial,” the Chinese criminal justice system still has a ways to go in becoming accustomed to an adversary criminal justice system.  Historically, China has had an inquisitorial criminal justice system, one based upon the civil law systems of Germany, France and other continental European countries.  In that system, the judge plays an active and central role, reviewing all evidence the prosecutors amass.  The defense attorney’s role is minor compared to the U.S. system, an adversarial one where the defense attorney and the prosecutor duke it out with the judge and jury remaining very passive.

Neither system is better than the other; both have their advantages and disadvantages and are more a choice of culture than anything else.  However, in 1996, China amended its Criminal Procedure Code to adopt more adversarial-like procedures, moving away from its traditionally inquisitorial system.  But as the trial of the seven Uighurs show, many of those amendments, even 13 years after their adoption, have yet to take hold.  The Chinese press reported that the prosecution presented oodles of evidence including the testimony of eye-witnesses, reports of the incidents, and pictures and video of the alleged events.

Defendant being brought into the courtroom in Monday's trial in Xinjiang

Defendant being brought into the courtroom in Monday's trial in Xinjiang

However this evidence was not subjected to any adversarial testing, a key, if not defining element of an adversarial system.  Instead, the Chinese press reported that the defendants merely told their side of the story with their lawyers offering their own opinions.  Questioning of the prosecution’s witnesses, or calling in experts to analyze any of the prosecution’s evidence was completely absent.  Instead, the defendants and their lawyers reverted back to their roles in an inquisitorial system, passive participants with few affirmative rights.

Nothing could be worse than a system that purports to be an adversarial one but does not allow the defense to perform the essential role of such a system – actually challenging the prosecution’s case.   China is slated to amend its Criminal Procedure Code in the next year or two.  Hopefully it will pull back on adapting more elements of an adversarial system, since as of yet, it has a long way to go before it takes hold.  And there is nothing wrong with reverting back to a more inquisitorial system, a system that works well in continental Europe.

Just For Fun: Uighur Resturant Review – Cafe Kashkar

By , September 4, 2009

In this week’s Just for Fun section, guest blogger Thomas Cantwell, reviews the only authentic Uighur restaurant in all of New York.

Despite having a rich history, the Uighur (pronounced Wii-grrr) have largely flown under the radar of American consciousness until the recent violence in Urumqi which resulted in the death of nearly 200 people. The Uighur, a Turkic Muslim ethnic group living mainly in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in the northwest of China

Cafe Kashgar

Cafe Kashgar

dominated the region for nearly a millennium before falling under Chinese control. Absent an arduous journey through rural China, the closest one can get to Uighur culture in New York is a visit to Cafe Kashkar, a Uighur restaurant in Brighton Beach.

Cafe Kashkar is definitely a cultural experience, though possibly more of a Brooklyn one than anything Uighur. Not having been to Xinjiang, it is difficult for this reviewer to judge whether the region is marked by unflattering florescent lighting, exact replicas of Alice Kramden’s kitchen furniture, and carpet so ugly it would embarrass a pitboss. The nonstop Uzbek music videos–think Bollywood thumping tunes sung by better-looking Borats, backed up by big-haired tramps dancing suggestively–played on the flatscreen television mounted above the cafe’s door do attest, however, to the pan-national character of the Uighur–significant populations are located throughout all of the Stans.

While not a choice for a romantic night out, one doesn’t go to Cafe Kashkar for the decor. My companions and I ordered a number of dishes that arrived as they were prepared, which seemed fun at Kashkar, with its tiny one-man kitchen, as

Salad Langsai

Salad Langsai

opposed to pretentious as it does at, say, Asia de Cuba. First was the Salad Langsai, a mix of cucumbers, peppers and another couple of unidentified vegetables in a vinegary/garlicky dressing. It was crisp and refreshing–perfect for a warm summer evening. Next came the Kashkar Soup, which contained lamb, vegetables, and noodles in a tasty lamb broth. The soup was light and satisfying. The server–probably the nicest waitperson in all of New York City–next brought out the naan which, aside from being made from grain, bears virtually no resemblance to its Indian namesake. A sort of giant, slightly-less dense bagel, the naan was bland and virtually tasteless, though it did serve as a vehicle for sopping up the remnants of the various soups and sauces.

Next up was the best dish of the night, the geiro lagman, a slightly oily noodle dish with meat (lamb, again) and vegetables. The noodles were thick and the sauce just spicy enough to be interesting without

Geiro Lagman

Geiro Lagman

overpowering the taste of the meat and veg. We could have ordered another.
The manty, four giant dumplings stuffed with–you’ve got it–lamb (though mixed with beef just to shake it up a little) was so heavily laced with cumin that it tasted like cheap enchilada filling. Apparently wildly popular–you can buy frozen manty to go–you can secure a similar taste at any Taco Bell without having to haul all the way to the beach. The lamb kebobs, four fatty pieces of ribmeat that tasted of the grill, were enjoyed by my companions but I found them disappointing. Perhaps I was on lamb burnout by then.

Dessert consisted of chak chak, the only menu option available. Best described as a giant Rice Krispie treat made with honey rather than marshmallows, it was mildly sweet. American palates accustomed to sugar-laden desserts might be disappointed, though I found it a nice, light closing to the meal.

Cafe Kashkar has no liquor license, but our server specifically offered at the start of the meal the suggestion that we might secure beer from a nearby gas station. The Russian trio at the next table choose to enhance their dinner with a liter of off-brand vodka. We stuck with some pear and pomegranate/blueberry flavored soda which the server described as “Soviet” in origin and whose name I failed to note but that I’d definitely have again.
The total, before tip, was $41, a steal given the amount of food consumed. We tipped huge as the service was excellent. I’m not certain if Cafe Kashkar is worth a trip from the other boroughs–particularly in light of the upcoming suspension of B line service, which means a person could get to Philly faster than Brighton Beach from midtown Manhattan–but, if one finds oneself in Brighton Beach, Cafe Kashkar is a great alternative to New York standbys like pizza. Plus, it’s really, really fun to be able to have an excuse to use the word “Uighur”.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Cafe Kashkar
1141 Brighton Beach Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11235-5903
(718) 743-3832‎

Public Trials Announced in Xinjiang Riot Cases

By , August 25, 2009

China Continues to Blame Outside Forces for Riots

This morning, the China Daily reported that over 200 people will go on trial, likely this week, for various crimes

Photo of Chinese protestors in Urumqi, Xinjiang on July 5, 2009

Photo of Chinese protestors in Urumqi, Xinjiang on July 5, 2009

relating to the July 5 riots in Xinjiang.  Surprisingly, the China Daily also reported that all trials will be public aside from those involving charges of “splitting the State” and “instigating to split the State.”  Because the number of cases involving these charges has not been announced, it is unclear how many of the trials will in fact be public.

Additionally, officials have yet to announce how many of the defendants are Han Chinese and how many are Uighur; at least some will be Han since the China Daily last week reported that trials of the Han defendants will occur before the Uighur defendants’ trials.

The announcement that over 200 people were arrested and face trial in the coming week was a departure from the “small number” originally anticipated.  At the beginning of August, the Chinese police stated that out of the 1,600 people detained, only 83 had been arrested.  Under the Chinese Criminal Procedure Law, a suspect can be detained for days, and in politically sensitive cases for a good month, without being formally arrested.

As with most of the articles concerning the Xinjiang riots, China Daily’s recent report again blamed foreign forces for instigating the riots.  Both the Chinese press and Chinese officials have repeatedly assigned blame for the riots to Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur woman who was granted political asylum in the United States in 2005.  Once viewed as a model minority by the Chinese government because of her successful businesses in Xinjiang, Ms. Kadeer soon fell out of favor when she began to support Uighur causes.   Jailed in 1999 for allegedly passing state secrets, Ms. Kadeer was freed to U.S. custody in 2005.  Since then, she has become president of the Uighur American Association and the World Uighur Congress.

Because the Chinese government is intent on presenting an appearance of a “harmonious society,” it is essential that it seeks to blame outside forces when discontent is presented by some of its minority groups, regardless of the claim’s validity.  After the March 2008 protests and riots in Tibetan areas of China, the Chinese government vilified the Dalai Lama, accusing him of being the mastermind behind the riots.  However, the government never provided any evidence to support the claim that the Dalai Lama was involved (see Premier Wen Jiabao’s statements here).

Similarly, with Ms. Kadeer, the Chinese government has accused her of organizing the riots from her home in Washington, DC (for a scathing critique of Ms. Kadeer in the Chinese press, click here).  While the Chinese government claims to have a recording of a phone call to her brother allegedly evidencing her role, this recording has never been made public.

Interestingly though, China’s denunciation of the Ms. Kadeer might have the unintended consequences of designating a leader of a movement that up to this point was without one.  Tibetans easily rally around the Dalai Lama since he is their spiritual leader.  But for Uighurs, there have been few that have reached the level of the Dalai Lama and symbolize their culture and religion quite the same way.  However, by continuously pointing to Ms. Kadeer and accusing her of masterminding the riots, the Chinese government may have inevitably provided the Uighur people and the Uighur movement with a much needed leader.

Rebiya Kadeer, President of the Uighur American Association

Rebiya Kadeer, President of the Uighur American Association

Update on Xinjiang Riots – Criminal Trials to Begin in August

By , August 2, 2009

Suspects II

The China Daily reported on Friday that trials of a “small number” of the people involved in the July 5 Xinjiang riots will begin by the middle of August.  With over 1,600 people detained, what is considered a “small number” remains unclear.

Also unclear is what number of the people tried will be of Uighur background.  Given that violence in the region appeared to be spurred by both Uighur and Han, some of the “small number” should include Han Chinese.  But in a recently issued “most wanted” list relating to the July 5 riots, 14 out of the 15 people are Uighur.

China has not announced whether or not the trials will be public.  Chances are that the trials will be closed door.  However, a public trial can benefit China in the following ways:

(1)    Public trials can ease foreign criticism. The international press, including papers in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East, followed the Xinjiang riots closely and will be publicizing the verdicts of the trials.  But if the trials remain closed, the press is left with nothing but rumors from inside the courtroom.  Rumors are what started the riots in the first place (see previous post).

Additionally, authorities in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, have taken extra care to train court personnel who will be working on the trials and have provided specially trained lawyers to the defendants.  Assuming that the training efforts have been undertaken to provide a fair trial to defendants, this could be an opportunity for China to show publicly the development of their criminal justice system.  And while there will likely still be foreign criticism of the proceedings (see all the criticism by the U.S. media regarding the criminal trial of Amanda Knox in Italy), such criticism will be based upon fact and not on mere speculation.

(2)    Provide an outlet for the Uighur community and limit future riots. The Uighur community in both Xinjiang and outside of China, will be watching the proceedings closely.  Again, without a public trial, rumors will start and resentment will continue to breed among the Uighur community.  A public trial on the other hand allows the Uighur community to see how justice is served.  Will the community still have complaints?  Of course.  But there is a greater chance that if China is more transparent, the Uighur’s complaints will be lodged directly, and civilly, with the Chinese government.  If there is a belief that the system is fair, then there is a greater chance that the system will be respected, complaints will be lodged within the system, and violent protests will be limited.  A fair system by definition is a transparent one.

As the Olympics showed, China can certainly put on a phenomenal show (if not the best Olympic show ever).  However, part of being a world power is to be constantly on display; China cannot confine international focus to only its most glamorous moments.  Rather, as a global leader, the world will be watching how China makes it through its more difficult episodes.

Xinjiang Riots: A Primer – Part II

By , July 16, 2009
Chinese paramilitary units take over downtown Urumqi - AP photo

Chinese paramilitary units take over downtown Urumqi - AP photo

In discussing the recent riots in Xinjiang, yesterday’s post focused on who the Uighurs are and what initially caused the riots in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi.  But there is more to the riots than a single incident of violence that occurred thousands of miles away.  In Part II of “Xinjiang Riots – A Primer,” we examine the underlying tensions between the Uighurs and the Han that have been brewing for years as well as explore the rumors that started all of this violence.

What are the underlying tensions between the Uighurs and the Han?

While the violence perpetrated by both the Uighurs and the Han is equally condemnable and nothing can justify it, the fact that such violence can escalate so rapidly over rumors circulating from a town thousands of miles away makes one wonder why.   To understand the tensions that run just below the surface in Xinjiang, it is essential to examine the Chinese government’s policy toward the province during the past 10 to 15.  In an effort to modernize and economically develop Xinjiang, the Chinese government has encouraged companies and people to “Go West” and move to the predominantly Uighur province.  While Uighurs have inevitably benefited in many ways from this economic development, the Chinese government has its own interest in developing Xinjiang.  Xinjiang province is rich in natural resources including oil and natural gas, both of which are necessary to fuel China’s rapidly growing economy.

In encouraging Han Chinese to develop Xinjiang, the population of the region has been radically altered.  In 1949, only 6% of the population was ethnically Han; today, 40% is Han Chinese.  Additionally, most of the good paying jobs are taken by the Han Chinese, leaving the Uighurs with an unequal share in the economic development.  The Uighurs also have little to no political power.  In country where the government is synonymous with the Communist Party (CCP), the only way to play a role in government is to be a member of the Party.  However, according to the U.S. Department of State, Party rules still forbid members from professing a religion and requiring expulsion of members who belong to a religious organization.  This rule makes it almost impossible for Uighurs to become members of the CCP and thus have an impact on the way Xinjiang is governed.   Furthermore, since 2002, the Chinese government began to phase out the use of Uighur in schools (including the elementary level) and universities in Xinjiang.  As a result, the Uighurs are left economically and politically impotent while their language is being stamped out, creating the foundations of an easily explosive situation.

How could incidents of mass violence start from mere rumors?

What is also interesting about the current Xinjiang situation is that both incidents – the one in Shaoguan and the one in Urumqi – were started through rumors, rumors that the press and authorities denied but yet were still able to take hold. In Shaoguan the police and the press both stated that the alleged rapes did not occur.  But instead, the Han Chinese believed rumors that the rapes did happen and acted in response.  The Uighurs in Urumqi believed that more than two Uighurs were killed in Shaoguan, even if the press and the police both confirmed only two people killed, sparking the July 5 protest and the eventual riots.  Evidently, the Uighurs and the Han Chinese are united in their mistrust of state authorities and question the veracity of the information supplied by both the police and the government-controlled media.  In an era of instant communication, where news can get to people within a matter of seconds, this mistrust in the reliability of government information and the media is a very dangerous situation for the Chinese government.  Where the people are more inclined to not just believe rumors, but to act on them, the Chinese government might be wise to reevaluate its current control of the media.

Xinjiang Riots: A Primer – Part I

By , July 15, 2009
Map of China highlighting Xinjiang

Map of China highlighting Xinjiang

On July 5, 2009, Urumqi, the western most provincial capital in China erupted into violence that continues to today.  Xinjiang province, an area of China that very few people outside of China have ever heard of, is now front page news in most Western newspapers.   While the press has reported admirably about a very confusing situation, below, in the first blog post of two, is some background on Xinjiang province, the Uighurs who live there, and the immediate cause of the riots.

Who are the Uighurs?

The Uighurs (also spelt Uyghers and pronounced “wee-gerz”) are a Turkic ethnic group that largely live in the Chinese province of Xinjiang.  The Uighurs speak their own language, a language that is completely unrelated to Mandarin or any other Chinese dialect. Most Uighurs are Sunni Muslims.  While ethnically the Uighurs are different from the Han Chinese (the dominant ethnic group in China), the Uighurs in Xinjiang province are Chinese citizens and under the Chinese constitution, enjoy the same rights and privileges as the Han Chinese.  In fact, the Uighurs, because of their status as a minority group under Chinese law, receive certain privileges: they are not subject to China’s one-child policy and are often given preferential treatment for college admissions.

While Xinjiang province has been inhabited by western Eurasians for close to 4,000 years, most foreign scholars agree that the Uighurs migrated from present-day Mongolia to Xinjiang during the 10th century.  During that time, the cities of Xinjiang, including Kashgar and Urumqi, were important stops on the Silk Road.  China did not bring Xinjiang under full control until around 1760, but since then, Xinjiang has been a part of China.  For a more detailed article on Xinjiang see “Rumbles on the Rim of China’s Empire” in the NY Times.

What sparked these riots?

The immediate cause of the protest and ensuing riots is not found in Urumqi or even Xinjiang province for that matter.  Instead it is necessary to look to Shaoguan, a small factory town in the southeast province of Guangdong and more than 2,500 miles from Urumqi.  Jonathan Watts of The Guardian has done the most extensive reporting in English on what occurred in Shaoguan and his article is a must read.  In sum, because of the many factories in the city and surrounding areas, Shaoguan is home to a large number of China’s migrant workers who are employed by the factories.  While most of the migrant workers are Han Chinese escaping poverty in the rural areas of China, one toy factory in Shaoguan, encouraged by a government program, hired over 800 Uighur migrants from Xinjiang this past May.  Relations between the Han and Uighur workers began to deteriorate rapidly after rumors began to spread amongst the Han Chinese in the factory that Uighur workers raped two Han Chinese women.  On June 25, some of the Han workers took out their anger and attacked the Uighurs in the toy factory.  By the end of the night, two Uighurs were dead and many more injured.   Mr. Watts reports that a participant in the beatings believes that many more than two Uighurs were killed in Shaoguan; potentially as many as 30.  However, this man’s account could not be corroborated.

Through text messaging and the internet, the Uighurs from the toy factory informed their friends and relatives back in Xinjiang of the murders.   In response, a peaceful protest in Urumqi was organized for July 5.  Drawing over a thousand Uighurs, the crowd quickly got out of hand and violence against the Han Chinese in Urumqi ensued.  In the following days, the Han Chinese responded in kind against the Uighurs.  Today, 184 people are reported dead (although some foreign media outlets put the death toll higher) and violence from both sides continues, with the police unsuccessful in attempting to quell the situation.

Click here for Part II.

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