How Long Will You Remain Silent? The International Community Must Take Seriously the ‘Xinjiang Police Files’
Interview with Mr. Nury Turkel

In January 2020, the U.S. government declared that the Chinese government is committing genocide against the Uyghurs, a Muslim minority in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The Liberty interviewed Nury Turkel, who played a key role in influencing the U.S. government.

(Interviewer: Hanako Cho, Izumi Yamamoto)


――How did you feel when you first saw the Xinjiang Police Files?

Turkel: When I looked at it, when I look at those thousands of faces of men and women, children as young as 14, as old as 77, my immediate reaction was, ‘Why on earth could a human being do this kind of stuff to another fellow human being?’ As a human being, especially looking at those kids’ faces, it was unbearable. I still cannot look at those faces. Heads shaved. The fearful eyes. Then when you look at the older ones, they are confused, sad, feeling lost and worrying.

Now, it’s been four months after this Xinjiang file was released. We still don’t know if any government wants to do anything to stop this genocide. Some countries around the world are still not fulfilling their moral obligations and treaty obligations under the international law. So they share willful ignorance and feign ignorance and look the other way, feeling indifferent, staying silent. These people need to know the photos of people in the file are real faces, that they’re real people. They’re not statistics. They’re not just some government’s cooked up report. These are real people.

When you look at these faces, what comes to mind is, ‘What happened to the promise, never again?’ ‘Didn’t we tell the world after the WWII that no one will be subject to collective punishment and genocide based on somebody’s religious and ethnic background?’ (*1)

So we need to continue to shed a light on these atrocities. We must bear witness to these crimes. We must hear the stories. Also importantly, we must act. Elie Wiesel said, ‘Your silence is a tacit approval.’ The bad actors, perpetrators, continue to commit these heinous crimes and atrocities because we’re not speaking out. They’ve been able to get away with impunity.

*1: In 1948, the Genocide Convention was created out of the strong determination of the international community not to repeat the atrocities committed during World War II. Japan has not ratified it.


Cleaning the Polluted Global Supply Chain

――What should the international community do after the announcement of the Xinjiang Police Files?

Turkel: International community should do a number of things. One, the United Nations should call for an emergency meeting to discuss what the United Nations should and could do. Then, our allies and partners like Japan, Australia and European countries need to do two things.

One, to go after those companies enslaving the Uyghurs.

Today, more than 80 global brands have been tainted because of the forced labor-produced products coming to our stores and our homes.

20% of world’s cotton products are sourced in Xinjiang. 80% of cotton products made in China are sourced in Xinjiang. That gives you an idea how significant and massive this problem is.

Governments like Japan, Australia, Canada and the U.K. must put in place a legislative mandate or announce an executive decision to clean the global supply chain that is polluted by Chinese-tainted products made by enslaved Uyghurs.

Letting this continue, letting you and me and others complicit in this crime, is unconscionable. I don’t want to be associated with this enslavement in a modern era. As a consumer, I also have a responsibility. I stopped purchasing those brands. So everyone in an individual capacity, in a governmental capacity, societal level, need to do something to stop this.

Third, we need to look to impose a cost through judicial process. The current international system and courts are not available to address the ongoing genocide in the Uyghur homeland, East Turkestan. We need to have a legal mechanism, a venue, to hold those perpetrators to account whether it be in China, whether it be in Myanmar, whether it be in Nigeria or elsewhere.

We should say no to any government or any entity, any individual engaging in genocidal campaign against anyone. It’s a full stop. Where is the strongest voice that calls on the international community to say no to genocide?

――Do you think the American political response is sufficient?

Turkel: The U.S. has done a lot, to put it in a simple term, since 2019. The United States government enacted two pieces of significant legislation. The first one was the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act enacted in June 2020. The second one was the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act that was signed into law last December and went into effect this June. And that legislation is very significant. It presumptively makes everything coming to the United States from Xinjiang made by slave people, made with slave labor, unless proven with evidence that it’s not a product of enslaved human being.

For the executive branch, both the previous administration and current administration have announced a number of executive actions. That includes the Visa ban, sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act and adding entities to the Commerce Department’s Entity List, which is essentially export ban.

Also, the United States government took the matter to our allies and partners such as G7 and the E.U. Summit. Also, the United States is in a conversation with our like-minded partners to see if there’s any area that we can cooperate. But the rest of the world is lagging behind. When you go to Europe, you’ll be surprised how little the Uyghur genocide is getting in Europe. We haven’t heard any specific, tangible, enduring policy announcements by government like France and Germany. I also want to see a massive response from the Japanese government. I need to see a massive response from the Japanese public. I need to hear the same from other Asian and European countries. This requires collective effort. Without our partners and allies joining the effort, we will not be able to address this atrocity fully effectively.


Surveillance Technology Completes Modern-Day Concentration Camps

――I understand that 23% of the male and female detainees listed in the Xinjiang Police Files were detained for the reason of the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP). Could you elaborate what this means?

Turkel: The use of technology and the role of technology in the ongoing genocide cannot be understated. From the very beginning, Chinese know that they have to use some of the most advanced surveillance techniques to start, carry out and expand the modern-day concentration camps that they set up. So China has this system called Integrated Joint Operating Platform (IJOP), that is specifically designed to collect personal data.

After those personal data were collected, they ordered the police to round up millions of people. So the initial arrest order was generated by computer algorithm.

Every move you make, every conversation you might have, every contact that you have, every transactions, are surveilled.

For example, your past hobbies, travel history, family connection, library records. And then the books that you’ve written, the lectures that you’ve given. All of those things are collected by the government. Today, China is the new Saudi Arabia when it comes to personal data.

Also, the Chinese have been collecting personal data under the guise of providing free medial examination to collect DNA samples, voice samples and eye samples. They have all of it.

Today, Chinese technology is so sophisticated. Hikvision was one of the world’s largest camera maker that could detect your ethnicity through that camera. They wanted to single out the foreign-looking Uyghurs through those cameras. Uyghurs physically look very different than the Chinese people. Uyghurs look southern European, Euro-Asian, some look very Caucasian. So it’s easier for them to identify.

――It was reported in 2019 that Japanese companies including Sony were supplying image sensors to Hikvision. What actions do you think Japanese companies that maintain relationships with Chinese-sanctioned companies should take?

Turkel: This is an excellent question. The reason that we have not been able to stop this genocide today is partly because of corporate complicity.

The governments can only do so much. The governments cannot dictate the businesses to act a certain way. We legislate. We put in place legislative mandates, rules and regulations, and the companies follow. But in this kind of company-to-company relationship, it’s not something that the government can interfere. The United States government added a significant number of Chinese technology firms to the entity list, meaning that no company doing business in the United States could provide either software or hardware to those companies.

The snake’s head has been cut through that entity designation, but we have not cured the problem. We have not handled this massive issue yet because of companies like Sony, Apple, Intel and others. This is a serious problem. The Chinese are finding ways to bypass to continue that business relationship. Technology sharing. At the same time, they’re also finding loopholes, or gray areas in the law, to get a waiver to continue these questionable business practices.

It is up to the management and executives at Sony to ask a simple question: ‘Do we want to continue to be complicit in the ongoing genocide?’ Calling out Hikvision is not a political decision. It’s a security decision. It’s a moral decision. There’s no moral value in the technological aspect of China’s engagement with the rest of the world.


The Global Spread of China’s Digital Authoritarianism

Turkel: Based on various public records, Chinese surveillance technology has been exported to close to 90 countries around the world today. And that includes not only developing countries but developed countries as well.

In addition to that, China has cloud computing contracts with over 140 countries, which is almost 70 or 80% of nations around the world.

That means everything that you have for business data, personal data, pictures, sound bites, video images, voting records, travel history, money transaction, communications with our loved ones, purchasing, everything that are stored in the cloud space could be accessed by communist China. It’s possible that they can be used against us. I don’t understand why people are not concerned that if this becomes a new normal.

Privacy is a huge concern for those of us who live in the free societies. So the international community must ask themselves a simple question: Are you ready to be in a community, in a society, in a country, where Chinese surveillance becomes the new normal? This surveillance comes with a huge price that the international community is not realizing.

This is an authoritarian dictatorship model that has been described with the terms like ‘digital authoritarianism’ or ‘tech authoritarianism.’

The Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, is concerned that there will be two internet systems in the world down the road. One is a current internet system led by the United States, the other one is the Chinese.


Religious Freedom Should be at the Center of Foreign Diplomacy

――You have been appointed Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Turkel: Our job is to remind the world and our elected leaders in the United States that they need to pay attention to religious freedom and religious persecution.

At the end of the day, failure to address religious persecution leads to genocide, crimes against humanity and war.

The United States has been a leader in this effort. We have three offices in the United States government that addresses this particular issue.

One is the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the other’s the Office of International Religious Freedom at the State Department. There’s also a similar office at the White House.

The reason that we pay so much attention on these issues is to make sure that no one is persecuted for his or her religious practices or belief. We also defense those who don’t want to believe in any religion.

This commission is not a commission that promotes one religion over another.

We are out there to defend people’s right to believe and not to believe.

This is very important because religious freedom is the first human rights for the American people. The U.N. Declaration of Human Rights is the first international document that promotes, protects, human rights. But the religious freedom was in the Declaration of Independence, in the Bill of Rights, so if you look at it, religious freedom is the first human rights for American people. And because we are such a diverse society, you can find not only major religions but all religions.

And this particular aspect of our lives, of cherishing diversity, individual freedom, religious freedom, and societies that respect religious freedom, naturally becomes a prosperous society, a peaceful society, a stable society.

――So you are saying that religious freedom should be at the center of foreign affairs?

Turkel: Absolutely. If we continue to miss the warning signs of religious persecution, there will be humanitarian disaster, war, terrorism and genocide and crimes against humanity. As we speak, there are places around the world. In Nigeria, for example, there is an atrocity crime being committed against the Christian minority. That needs to be addressed. Also, the way that the Indian government is treating the Muslim population is very concerning. If we continue to miss the warning signs, the cost will be immense.

I believe that the interfaith community, whether it be Christians, Muslims, Jews and other faith groups, can come together and lend voice to each other, stick together against the China issue.

――Your parents still live in Xinjiang, and you are faced with the possibility of persecution.

Turkel: I’m sad to share the news that my father passed away four months ago while I was in an official trip to Uzbekistan. The book, No Escape, was published and it was in the print before my father’s passing. I do have a line of communication with my mother. My parents’ wish in this world was to be able to return to the United States to embrace her five grandchildren between me and my brothers. That’s her last hope. Sadly, that was the hope for my dad. The Chinese did not allow him to be able to return to the United States to spend whatever the life or time that he had in this world. The same is true with my mom. She has only one wish in this world — to be able to hug her five American grandchildren.

――You never give up in serving a cause that is important to humanity as you endure hardship. How do you endure and keep hope alive when you feel discouraged?

Turkel: What motivates me is actually quite simple. I have only one life to live. I could look the other way and enjoy my American dream. I have a beautiful family and a career. I have a house. But at the end of the day, we are a better person, a better human being, a contributing member of our societies, if we decided to speak out on behalf of those who have no voice, even when we face risk, when we face retaliation, consequences.

Because of my work, I got sanctioned by China and Russia. Essentially, I have been sanctioned by two of the world’s worst human rights abusers. Do I regret it? No, I don’t. I wish I could do even more. And I am actually very pleased to be part of this noble fight.

This is not just about the Uyghurs. This is about humanity. And I want to be able to leave this world with a peace of mind that my children and other people, other’s children, will not suffer the way that my parents and my people did.

How Long Will You Remain Silent? The International Community Must Take Seriously the ‘Xinjiang Police Files’
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