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Books

Tirade against tyranny

Dolkun Isa, in ‘The China Freedom Trap’, shares the injustices he faced at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party, and the way he has been braving these constraints in the “free world”. Foreword by Kelley Eckels Currie:

Tirade against tyranny
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This book, based on my personal experiences, is an effort to illuminate and bring awareness to the dangers of the CCP. Despite living in a free world, I've continued to face injustices. I've been deprived of my freedom. My dignity has been trampled upon, detained, interrogated

In late March 2018, I received a message from Sophie Richardson at Human Rights Watch that our mutual friend Dolkun Isa was having issues with his registration to attend an upcoming UN event, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PFII). This was not a particularly unusual message: in fact, it was something that came up every time Dolkun tried to attend a UN meeting. Previously, there was not much I could do to help beyond posting on Twitter or asking the State Department to do their job, but this year was different. I had recently joined the U.S. Mission to the United Nations (USUN) in New York as the Ambassador to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and a Deputy to Ambassador Nikki Haley, which meant that I was the person responsible for making sure the UN granted Dolkun access to the conference. I quickly checked in with the U.S. mission in Geneva, where Dolkun's credentials were being reviewed and made sure they were on the case. They assured me his application was in order and they were closely monitoring the office responsible for registering Forum participants. A week or so later, Dolkun received a letter from the Forum confirming his registration; he booked his ticket to New York and we set up a meeting in my office at USUN.

On the first day of the Forum, I was pleased to welcome Dolkun to my office and get an update from him on the increasingly dire situation facing the Uyghur people living in China. Our office had been closely following reports of massive securitization of the Xinjiang region since the arrival of Chen Quanguo as the party secretary there. As the former party secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region, Chen dramatically escalated the level of repression, deploying a high-tech surveillance grid, rapidly growing the police presence, expanding political education in monasteries, and using all the tools available to the party-state to weaken the underpinnings of Tibetan culture. Since his arrival in Xinjiang, Chen had doubled down and expanded on these "strike hard" strategies. Dolkun and I discussed these troubling developments, especially reports of the detention of large numbers of Uyghur and other Turkic Muslim males over the age of 16 on specious charges of "terrorism." We talked about how the UN should be responding to the situation, and their failure to do so.

When it was time for him to go to the UN's badge office to pick up his credentials for the Forum, I walked over with him so we could continue our conversation. As we waited in line, we chatted about Dolkun's goals for the Forum. When Dolkun approached the counter, I stood off to the side, checking in with my office and catching up on email. When I looked up after a few minutes, I saw Dolkun was still at the counter engaged in a very animated conversation with the UN official behind the counter. When I approached to ask what was happening, a UN security guard blocked my path and asked me what my business was. I showed him my UN badge and explained that I was accompanying Mr. Isa to get his badge in case there was any issue, which apparently there was. I asked what the problem was, as Mr. Isa was in possession of a letter from the Forum indicating his registration had been accepted and inviting him to attend the session in New York.

A series of frantic phone calls and consultations ensued among the badge office staff and security officers, after which Dolkun and I were informed that he was not able to get a badge due to a "security issue." I politely but insistently asked the security office to explain the nature of this "threat" and why they could not issue him a badge. In response, we were told we needed to speak to the UN's Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS). For over an hour, we engaged in a standoff at the badge office. I called our mission security chief Kenny Greenblatt and asked him to contact UNDSS. As the host country for the UN, USUN has an excellent working relationship with them and is in constant contact to resolve a host of security-related issues related to the UN, the 193 diplomatic missions, and thousands of UN and diplomatic personnel in the New York City area. When Kenny got back to me, it was with disturbing news: UNDSS said that Dolkun had been flagged as a "terrorist threat" and would not be able to get a badge. There was no question the Chinese government was behind this spurious accusation.

USUN subsequently learned that the Chinese Mission to the UN had told UNDSS that Dolkun was the subject of an INTERPOL "Red Notice." Rather than check with INTERPOL—a UN agency—UNDSS put a flag on Dolkun's name based solely on China's false allegations. Even though USUN provided UNDSS verification from INTERPOL that Mr. Isa was not, in fact, subject to a Red Notice, they still refused to lift the flag. USUN provided copious amounts of documentation that had been submitted as part of Mr. Isa's application for a ten-year multiple entry visa to the United States (which he was granted), our own internal investigations into Mr. Isa as part of a multi-nation effort to get the fraudulent Red Notice removed, and evidence of the Chinese government's routine use of false terrorism charges to silence political dissidents. As Mr. Isa is a German citizen, the German mission to the UN also actively weighed in on his behalf.

Ultimately, over the course of nearly two weeks, we had multiple meetings with both UNDSS and the Office of Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on this matter. In the end, UNDSS refused to issue Mr. Isa a badge without direct instructions from the Secretary-General. The U.S., German, and Chinese Permanent missions all engaged directly with Guterres on the matter. I heard from one contact in the Secretary General's office that the Chinese Permanent Representative had screamed at Guterres over the matter, threatening him and the UN with repercussions if Dolkun was given a badge. Our missions stood firm but as the situation dragged on, it seemed that Guterres was running out the clock—delaying his decision until it was too late for Dolkun to attend the Forum. With two days left, we received word that Dolkun could pick up his badge, but by that time he had already returned to Germany—a fact we were sure the Chinese were tracking. Fortunately, we were able to convince him to turn around and come back. On the last day of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, I finally escorted Dolkun Isa into the UN headquarters building. He arrived in time for the final session of the Forum, at which he rose to give a statement, only to be shouted at by Chinese participants.

Throughout all of this, Dolkun remained calm, determined, implacable, and unflappable. He never got angry, no matter how many times he had to send another copy of his German passport to the UN or respond to other, absurd requests for information. He knew the drill because he had been through it so many times. I knew that it had to wear on him: the punching down by a member of the UN Security Council, the perversion of institutions that were meant to protect human rights, the cowardice by prominent world leaders, the inherent racism and deep injustice of constantly being forced to prove to others he and his community were not terrorists. But if it did, he never showed it. He remained steadfast, focused on how he could raise awareness about his community and the worsening situation they faced in Xi Jinping's increasingly authoritarian party-state. I had known about and known Dolkun for many years, but this incident in New York was the first opportunity I had to spend so much time with him and see firsthand the depth of his character, his self-effacing way of dealing with adversity, and his incredible resilience in the face of challenges that would overwhelm most of us. Again, these were things I knew he possessed in an academic sense, but to see it in action brought home to me what a special person he truly is.

When Dolkun asked me to provide a foreword for his book, I was deeply honoured and a little nervous. Then he sent me his first draft. As I read through the pages, it was filled with accounts of incidents I thought I remembered well: the appalling incident in South Korea; the visa refusals and immigration harassment he faced from liberal democracies; the seemingly endless fight to clear his name; the losses he has suffered of family. And again, seeing these events through his eyes and reading about them through his words, I was struck by what kind of person Dolkun Isa is and who he has become. I would go so far as to say he is a leader who has been forced to lead, and he has suffered because of that choice—being submitted to attacks by the most powerful and remorseless authoritarian country on the planet, and repeated humiliations and disappointments on the part of those countries that claim to stand for human values. Dolkun's story is important because it not only exposes the dangers of China's growing influence in the world, but also because it shines a light on the weaknesses of our own liberal democracies—the corruption, and corruptibility of our systems and how China uses our open societies, market fundamentalism, and assumptions about freedom against us.

It is an honor to call Dolkun Isa my friend. I am proud to have worked alongside him to highlight China's dangerous ambitions to subjugate the Uyghur people and undermine human rights worldwide. This is Dolkun's story: both a cautionary tale and a tale of the triumph of human dignity.

(Excerpted with permission from Dolkun Isa's 'India After 1947'; published by Har-Anand Publications)

Isa's letter to Narendra Kumar, Har-Anand Publication

"Thank you very much for your condolence on my mother passing away. It was one of the most heartbreaking news in my life time. I haven't seen her for 24 years and I can't hear again her voice in life time. She passed away in the camps on 17 May, but I got this news almost one month (24 days) later. I have lost contact with my family for more than 15 years. It is general situation for the Uyghurs in exile. I am worried about my father, he is almost 90 years old. I have no idea if he is still alive or not. However, I have to continue to fight for freedom of my people."

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