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Former Chinese internment camp detainee denied US visa

In this photo taken March 29, 2018, Omir Bekali talks about the psychological stress he endured in a Chinese internment camp during an interview in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Since 2016, Chinese authorities in the heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang have carried out a campaign of mass detentions and indoctrination in internment camps, with the stated aim of bolstering national security and eliminating Islamic extremism. The program appears to be an attempt to rewire its detainees’ political thinking, erase their Islamic beliefs and reshape their very identities. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

BEIJING (AP) — An outspoken former detainee in China’s internment camps for Muslims said Thursday (Oct. 18) his application for a visa to visit the United States was rejected despite an invitation to speak at Congress about his ordeal.

Kazakh national Omir Bekali was asked to travel to Washington in September by the chairs of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. He said his application was rejected by the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 after he was questioned about his employment status.

Bekali was one of the first people to speak publicly about his experience in a camp in China’s Xinjiang region, where an estimated 1 million Muslims, mostly from the Uighur and Kazakh ethnicities, are being detained.

“They kept going back and forth. Why did they invite me and then reject my visa?” Bekali said by phone from Turkey. “I’ve received so many threats after speaking out, I feel like they should be able to do at least this simple request.”


RELATED: China says internment camps are ‘free vocational training’


Commission spokesman Scott Flipse confirmed the invitation and said the co-chairs had written to Bekali offering to assist him in seeking a visa. Flipse referred further questions about Bekali’s visa status to the State Department, which handles consular issues.

The department declined to comment on Bekali’s case, saying U.S. immigration law prohibits it from discussing individual visa applications.

“We continue to urge China to reverse its counterproductive policies that conflate terrorism with peaceful religious and political expression, and to release all those arbitrarily detained in these camps,” the department said in a statement.

In this photo taken Sept. 29, 2018, and released on Oct. 18, 2018, by Omar Bekali, Bekali, center, poses with his family in an airport after being reunited with his wife and son on Sept.19, 2018, in Istanbul. Bekali, an outspoken former detainee of China’s internment camps for Muslims, says his application for a visa to visit the United States was rejected despite an invitation to speak to Congress about his ordeal. (Omir Bekali via AP)

Bekali wants to take his family to Europe or the United States, where he feels they will be safe from China’s reach. Last month, his wife and child were held up at a Turkish airport for more than three days and were nearly put on a flight back to Kazakhstan. He had fled Almaty, Kazakhstan, earlier after he was interrogated by Kazakh police, who he said showed up at his home shortly after he spoke out about the camps. Kazakh authorities did not respond to a request for comment.

Bekali said that even though he’s been reunited with his family in Turkey, he won’t feel safe until his family moves to a country that can stand up to Beijing’s influence, underscoring the deep anxiety that grips the diaspora of Muslims who once lived in Xinjiang under an intense security crackdown.

“I’m scared China will find some way to hurt me or threaten me,” Bekali said. “Every day I have nightmares. I can’t sleep at night.”

China has come under increasing pressure from Western governments about its mass internment of Muslims. The commission, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers, has proposed legislation that would urge Trump to condemn “gross violations” of human rights in Xinjiang. Bekali is named in the proposed legislation as among those who have testified to the indoctrination, humiliation and indefinite detention of internees.

“In China, the government is engaged in the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities that is straight out of George Orwell,” outgoing U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said in a speech on Monday. “It is the largest internment of civilians in the world today.”

China on Tuesday characterized its mass internment of Muslims as a push to bring into the “modern, civilized” world a destitute people who are easily led astray.

China’s resistance to Western pressure over the camps highlights its growing confidence under President Xi Jinping, who has offered Beijing’s authoritarian system as a model for other countries.

The Muslim world has remained largely silent, a likely reflection of China’s growing economic and political clout.

In Kazakhstan, Chinese-Kazakh activists say they have been repeatedly warned by government officials not to hold news conferences featuring relatives of people detained in Xinjiang. Beijing has invested heavily in the central Asian nation and made it a key part of its “Belt and Road” trade and infrastructure initiative.

Even Turkey, once a critic of China’s Xinjiang policies, has fallen silent. Many of the thousands of Uighur exiles in Turkey worry about warming ties between Beijing and Ankara, with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu telling reporters in August that Turkey would not allow any “anti-China activity.”

“China’s economic power is so strong, and only getting stronger. Everyone’s scared of the pressure China can exert on them,” Bekali said. “I’ve lost faith in other countries.”

(Associated Press writer Varya Kudryavtseva in Moscow contributed to this report.)

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Dake Kang

14 Comments

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  • Invited to testify before Congress but can’t get a visa from our consulate. Clearly with a reason to fear persecution in China but can’t get asylum here. The right hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Doesn’t give me much confidence in this administration.

  • The Trump administration realizes that it will be hard to Make America White Again if they let people in who are not white. If he had some oil wells, maybe they would let him in. Or if he had reserved rooms at one of the Trump hotels.

  • At the end of the day, despite how useful he is in our ongoing trade war with China, he is still not Caucasian, nor independently wealthy. Therefore unworthy of consideration by the Trump administration and its immigration policies.

  • I still don’t think Trump has mentioned Serkan Golge, an American citizen imprisoned in Turkey on spurious charges. Of course, he’s Muslim, of Turkish descent, and not an Evangelical pastor. Oh, he’s also a scientist. That’s four strikes in Trumpworld.

  • He may be better off staying in China to avoid persecution for his beliefs from the Trump Administration.

  • Excuse me? This man escaped to Turkey after haveing been in an internment camp in China. How can you suggest he go to the country that tortured him?

  • Of course he should not go back to the country that torture him, I was trying to make a point that the US is on a slippery slope in defending human rights like the separation of Immigrant Children from their parents on the US Boarder.

  • The Congressional-Executive Commission on China is a governmental agency. The two co-chairs are Marco Rubio and Christopher Smith. Both of these members of Congress have staff who are familiar with the procedures of obtaining a visa. They know how hard it is for Kazakh nationals to get US visas. it’s hard for me to understand why a commission, headed by these two gentlemen would issue an invitation, without making sure that all of the requirements were satisfied. If they did make sure, and his visa was denied despite this, then it appears that the administration has some questions to answer, most specifically since this is a joint Congressional-Executive commission. If they did not make sure that all requirements were satisfied, then they needlessly put the man through grief — a man who has already suffered much, a man who, it seems, would be eligible to apply for refugee status or asylum.

  • If you haven’t noticed, our current immigration policy is a combination of incompetence and malice designed to harm people unnecessarily.

    The Trump administration has outright contempt and disregard for the very notion if asylum claims.It blatantly ignores its own rules concerning the subject.

  • Oh, dear! Yes, I’ve noticed.

    Yes, I know that this administration has again ratcheted up ugliness in immigration law. The sad part is that our immigration policy has long been dysfunctional. Two laws passed in 1996, the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), pushed through by Newt Gingrich and his cronies, relic of a time during which this country was especially focused on punishing people, enacted many of the harsh provisions that the current administration gleefully enforces. These laws were signed by Clinton — not something to be proud of. Then, came the Patriot Act….. Under GW Bush, immigration enforcement was especially harsh and unforgiving. Those were the times that introduced 3 am raids of private homes, terrorizing grandparents and their grandchildren, and everyone in between. Under Obama, things did get somewhat better — but fundamentally it was still bad. More people were deported under the Obama administration than under the Bush administration. Asylum has been especially hard to obtain since the passage of the Patriot Act.

    What is happening under the current administration is even worse than what went on after AEDPA and IIRIRA were enacted and worse than what happened under GW Bush. The current occupant of the White House is particularly intent on punishing non-European immigrants, and he is succeeding. He and his supporters are also frightening people by insisting that Democrats want open borders, a claim that is VERY far from being true. The only way that any of this might change even a little bit is if enough people vote in this coming election.

  • The ironic thing is the economic fears being flogged by Trump and the GOP are much more likely to occur with reduced migration. A growing economy requires a growing work force. Without immigration, the US is on a course of slowing economic growth.

    Combine an inadequate workforce in terms of numbers with one stagnating in education—one result of extreme and increasing income inequality—and the seeds of decline are sown and watered.

  • You’re absolutely right. It’s absolutely nuts that the Republicans, the party that supposedly cares more about the economy, have not mustered the will to reform this law. They would rather prey on the fears of their base than to take steps that would help the economy in ways that would actually benefit the people who form their base.

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