CBC Current Interview with Mehmet Tohti from URAP

MATT GALLOWAY: That vote, and the silence from Liberal cabinet members in Ottawa yesterday, will no doubt be heard. In Beijing. All government ministers abstained from a vote to declare China’s treatment of the Uighur people in that country a genocide. The motion passed anyway, with opposition and Liberal backbench support. And today, China’s foreign ministry condemned that vote. For those in this country with friends, relatives and loved ones in detention camps in China, these developments are just one step in a long journey. Mehmet Tohti is the co-founder and Canadian representative for the World Uyghur Congress. He’s also executive director of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project. Good morning.

MEHMET TOHTI: Good morning.

MATT GALLOWAY: I want to ask you about yesterday’s vote. But first, just how long has it been since you’ve spoken with your family who remain in China?

MEHMET TOHTI: It was the last time on October 20th, 2016, almost four-and-a-half years.

MATT GALLOWAY: And do you know what’s happened to them in that interim?

MEHMET TOHTI: No idea. Since then, we aren’t able to get any information about… about them, whether they are alive or dead, because China’s government cut all matters of communication.

MATT GALLOWAY: Do you believe that what’s happening to the workers in China is a genocide?

MEHMET TOHTI: It is more than genocide. And the genocide definition was written in 1948 to reflect on a situation and a crime is committed by states at that time. Now, China’s government using all the means of modern technology, surveillance, digital control, artificial intelligence. The definition written in 1948, it has fallen short to describe what has happened to Uighurs right now.

MATT GALLOWAY: Why, then, is it important for you that that is declared an act of genocide?

MEHMET TOHTI: It is important because there is a name for each crime. And the crime that Chinese government is committing right now should be named. If it is genocide, it is genocide. And so we have to call that. And if so far, our government and so many governments quite reluctant to call it. And in that regard, it is important. And most importantly, it is the acknowledgement that the heinous crime Chinese government committed right now against the Uighurs. At the same time, it is the acknowledgement the victims, and honouring them, their suffering. And also, it is important that Uighurs’ screaming voice is heard somewhere. And at this time, by the parliament of Canada.

MATT GALLOWAY: The prime minister and Liberal cabinet ministers abstained from the vote yesterday. What message do you think that sends?

MEHMET TOHTI: Since long we have been playing this game, dancing around the word or a skipping away from our own responsibilities, and the trying to be nice. And as far as I know, most Canadians also believed in this way that the simple tactics did not work, and the China became more aggressive, and bullying not only individuals at the same time, countries like Canada and threatening them. And so that is the result of our playing nice game. And so we have to get a lesson from that… from that past experience. And we shouldn’t be foolish around, and we have to call what it is and grow some spine and stand up for justice. Only by doing so, we have a better chance not only to change the behavior of the Chinese government at the same time, save our beloved brothers currently languishing in Chinese jails.

MATT GALLOWAY: Well, and that’s in part perhaps why there is some reluctance. I mean, the federal government’s minister of foreign affairs, Marc Garneau, put out a statement after the vote yesterday saying, “the government of Canada takes any allegations of genocide extremely seriously. We have the responsibility to work with others in the international community in ensuring that any such allegations are investigated by an independent international body of legal experts.” Want to ask you about that investigation. But the reality is there are two Canadians who are being held now in China. Do you worry that a vote like this could inflame tensions, and could actually worsen the lot of those Canadians who are held?

MEHMET TOHTI: Tension is already there. And so what… what could be the worst? And most importantly, by looking at the eyes of Chinese government, and we have been sending the wrong message to China. Basically, we are justifying that Chinese abduction tactic is working. And whenever it is the time to make a decision with regards to China, there is always elephant in the room, it is Xi Jinping. And so we act upon it, and we try… we avoid from angering China. And we measured our words and our tones, and we calculated at every steps. So what is the result? China increased pressure. China increased pressure. So it’s time to increase our leverage against China if we are serious about to get back the two Michaels and other detained Canadians.

MATT GALLOWAY: Well, one of the detained Canadians is Huseyin Celil, a Uighur man who’s been detained in China for, what, 14 years now?

MEHMET TOHTI: Yes, since May 2016… 2006, I’m sorry.

MATT GALLOWAY: The minister suggested this independent international investigation. The Chinese government has denied the allegations of a genocide and denied that there are detention camps. Do you think that that an international investigation would help lead to some consensus about that… that declaration of a genocide?

MEHMET TOHTI: I just I would like to remind to our minister and prime minister that a U.N. human rights chief since many, many years requested to have access to see the general situation of human rights in China and the Uighurs and the Tibetans. It was rejected. And the human rights rapporteur, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, requested since five or six years. Still, his request is pending. And China did not allow for overall general human rights, to observe the general human rights situation. And so are we seriously expecting that China will allow us just to go and check the crime scene? It is kind of foolish to believe in this. China never allows that. And so instead of expecting China’s mercy, we have to rely on the credible mounting evidence presented by the credible sources and a satellite images and the testimonies. And most importantly, there are tens of thousands of Uighurs, they are crying to their family members, including myself, and I am the evidence, tens of thousands of were living abroad who do not have access to family members. These are evidence. And so evidence is there. And the crime committed by the Chinese government is there. And the intent of the Chinese government to commit that crime is there. And what else we need, what kind of evidence we need?

MATT GALLOWAY: What else… we only have a minute or so left, what else would you like to see from the Canadian government to support those communities in China?

MEHMET TOHTI: Canada has spoken, and the Canadian parliament on behalf of Canadian public already spoken, and it’s time the prime minister to respect the will of Canadian public and the Canadian parliament and act upon it. And on October 21st, International Human Rights Subcommittee not only recognized the atrocities committed by China’s government as a genocide, at the same time, offered a number of policy proposals. It’s time our government to revisit that policy proposal and implement it one by one.

MATT GALLOWAY: Mehmet, it’s good to speak with you this morning. Thank you very much.

MEHMET TOHTI: You are welcome.

MATT GALLOWAY: Mehmet Tohti is the co-founder of the Canadian Representative for the World Uyghur Congress, executive director as well of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project. China’s ambassador to Canada has dismissed the allegations about the mistreatment of Uighurs, and maintains his government is acting to stamp out terrorist activity.