Commentary on Political Economy

Wednesday 31 March 2021


Hong Kong’s Jimmy Lai, Martin Lee Found Guilty Over 2019 Protest

Updated on 
  • Seven top democracy activists convicted over big demonstration
  • Decision comes as China tightens grip over Asian financial hub
Hong Kong Court Finds Jimmy Lai, Martin Lee Guilty Over 2019 Protest
WATCH: A Hong Kong court found Martin Lee and Jimmy Lai guilty for attending an unauthorized protest in 2019.

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Hong Kong’s “father of democracy” Martin Lee and media mogul Jimmy Lai were among a group of opposition activists found guilty for attending an unauthorized protest in 2019, in the latest blow to the city’s beleaguered opposition.

Lee, 82, who helped lead the pro-democracy camp during the former British colony’s transition to Chinese rule, was convicted Thursday in a court in the West Kowloon area along with fellow activists Albert Ho, Leung “Long Hair” Kwok-hung, Lee Cheuk-yan, Cyd Ho and Margaret Ng. The court set sentencing for April 16.

Martin Lee
Martin Lee arrives at court in Hong Kong on April 1. Photographer: Chan Long Hei/Bloomberg

The verdict is the latest in a series of major setbacks in recent weeks for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp. The group on trial comprised veteran activists who have for years supported causes such as human rights and women’s rights, and organized vigils commemorating the 1989 crackdown on student demonstrators in Tiananmen Square.

The decision comes shortly after top Chinese lawmakers approved a sweeping plan that effectively ends open elections in Hong Kong. The city’s government separately charged some 47 prominent opposition figures with “conspiracy to commit subversion” under a national security law imposed last year that carries sentences as long as life in prison.

Martin Lee was among 15 prominent democracy activists accused last year of participating in a historic -- but unauthorized -- march on Aug. 18, 2019. The mostly peaceful demonstration was one of the biggest held during months of unrest over proposed extradition legislation, with an estimated 1.7 million people attending.

The case is part of a push to disband Hong Kong’s democratic institutions and clamp down on the opposition’s moderate wing, according to Michael Davis, a professor of law and international affairs at O.P. Jindal Global University in India and a former law professor at the University of Hong Kong.

“The government has chosen 15 people very carefully out of the 1.7 million protesters, and all are moderate democratic activists and politicians,” Davis said. “It’s very hard to separate this trial from the current effort to prevent participation in the political process.”

Hong Kong police have swept up many of the city’s established opposition leaders among the more than 10,000 activists arrested since the protests erupted in June 2019. Some, such as Jimmy Lai, face multiple prosecutions, including charges under the national security law.

Two former opposition lawmakers, Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung, had previously pleaded guilty to charges related to the August 2019 protest. Six other people are expected to go to trial later this year.


China’s latest ‘wolf warrior’ more a propaganda panda

Zhao Lijian of the Chinese Foreign Ministry is a man not to be trifled with.

Fearless, aggressive, and outspoken, he personifies China’s new “wolf warrior” diplomacy.

Articulate and erudite, he can transform at will to bare his fangs and make lesser nations cower. He commands respect.

Actually, that’s not quite true.

Zhao is a piss and wind functionary, a bureaucrat perfectly suited to serving a totalitarian government. Wolf warrior? More a propaganda panda. Think of Squealer from George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’, the obsequious manipulator who, at the behest of his master, Napoleon, spreads disinformation throughout the socialist collective to bolster the supremacy of his fellow pigs.

There is a certain talent required for such a position, and that is being able to repeat risible lies with a straight face. It also requires a complete lack of scruples, and Zhao is your man. He has accused Canada of committing genocide after that country criticised China’s treatment of ethnic Muslim Uighurs, and he has promoted rumours that the COVID-19 pandemic originated in the United States.

Having last year tweeted a manufactured image of an Australian soldier slitting the throat of an Afghan child, the unrepentant Zhao claimed last week the Morrison Government was detaining “tens of thousands of people from war-torn countries” on Manus Island. Never mind that island’s processing centre closed in 2017. “The concentration camps, as some critics call it, are still in operation,” Zhao tweeted.

Like many of history’s infamous apologists, Zhao knows the most effective propaganda, however outrageous, is that which contains a modicum of truth. His reference to “critics” labelling immigration detention centres “concentration camps” is fact.

Supplying the material to demonise Australia

For the last 20 years, this has been standard practice for refugee advocates and other opponents of conservative governments, thus providing the Chinese Communist Party with an abundance of material to demonise Australia.

For starters, there is author Thomas Keneally. “We began by arguing that to save Australia from terror we had to keep these people in permanent detention,” the Booker Prize winner told the BBC World Service’s Hardtalk program in 2019. “So we have what can only be called concentration camps in Australia … in which people are punished psychologically for having the ambition for being Australians.”

Australian author Thomas Keneally. Picture: Nikki Short
Australian author Thomas Keneally. Picture: Nikki Short

The assertion that the federal government punishes people for aspiring to be Australian is childishly facile. As columnist Gerard Henderson pointed out in this paper at the time, Keneally is a supporter of Labor mainstream governments, but seemingly was oblivious to the fact that the Keating Government had introduced mandatory detention for unlawful arrivals. Disingenuous misapplication

Then immigration minister Gerry Hand said in 1992 it was needed to “send a signal”.

That the author of Schindler’s Ark — the basis for the movie Schindler’s List — resorted to the label “concentration camp” speaks for itself. To describe immigration detention centres with this terminology is disingenuous. By doing so, critics imply an equivalence with the Nazi concentration camps, but conveniently they can claim, if challenged, this was not their intention and that they were instead applying a pre-World War II definition of the label.

The misapplication of the term is not confined to excitable authors. “Holding 90 children in indefinite detention in hellish concentration-camp conditions as ‘an example’ to people smugglers is not Government 101, rather it is Totalitarianism 101,” wrote former Canberra Times editor Crispin Hull in 2018. Jack Waterford, another former editor of that paper, wrote in 2016 warning of “what our loyal military, our paramilitary, concentration camp guards and politicians are doing in our name”.

“I am currently ashamed to be Australian,” wrote Sydney Morning Herald columnist Wendy Squires in 2017. “Disgusted, in fact.”

Referring to Manus Island as a “tropic hell hole” and a “concentration camp”, she labelled this an “indelible smear on Australia’s already dodgy humanitarian history” and “an international disgrace your children will bear for decades to come”.

Writing in 2014, fellow Sydney Morning Herald columnist Elizabeth Farrelly declared “I’ll just keep working and paying taxes so that Tony Abbott can lock lost children in concentration camps”.

Appearing on ABC’s Q and A in 2016 to discuss border protection, author and comedian Magda Szubanski implied the Australian government committed the worst atrocities. “I mean, to think that we live in such an abundantly wealthy country and that we treat people in this way as a deterrent … I mean, seriously, my family risked their lives to save people from camps like that,” she said.

That was too much even for host Tony Jones, who interrupted Szubanski to tell her this was an inappropriate analogy, as her father – a member of the Polish Resistance – had saved Jews from extermination during World War II.

“You know, first of all, we don’t know fully exactly what is going on in a lot of these detention centres, because of the laws that are blocking people from talking about it,” she replied. Presumably then the only sensible conclusion is they must be akin to the camps of Dachau and Treblinka?

Actor, comedian and writer Magda Szubanski. Picture: Supplied
Actor, comedian and writer Magda Szubanski. Picture: Supplied

Incredibly, some have suggested that immigration detainees have it worse than those murdered at Auschwitz during the Holocaust.

“Even those who finally knew they were about to be condemned to the gas chamber at least found some sense of relief in knowing what was happening,” said paediatrician and Australian Medical Association representative Dr Paul Bauert in 2019, comparing this with the Nauru detainees’ “lack of certainty”.

Reality check

Citing the Manus and Nauru detention centres, former Greens candidate and current independent MP Andrew Wilkie wrote to the International Criminal Court in 2014 seeking prosecution of then Prime Minister Tony Abbott and all of his Cabinet colleagues for crimes against humanity. Although agreeing with Wilkie that the “alleged conduct thus appears to have been such that it was in violation of fundamental rules of international law,” the ICC declined to investigate, saying the allegations were not “grave enough to justify action by the court”.

That’s ICC-speak for telling Wilkie his grandstanding was wasting the court’s time.

You would expect this mentality in fringe groups like the Greens, but sadly it also exists in the alternative government. Labor candidate for Macarthur in 2016 and now MP Michael Freelander in 2016: “I would hate to think we would be torturing children in a place like Manus Island — in a concentration camp and I could never support that. In 2015, then New Zealand internal affairs minister Peter Dunne described the practice of detaining Kiwi criminals on Christmas Island prior to deportation as “a modern concentration camp approach”.

Writing in the Guardian in 2016 regarding those in offshore detention centres, La Trobe University emeritus professor Robert Manne looked to author and political theorist Hannah Arendt’s famous “banality of evil” theory to explain why “the commercial media and majority public opinion” were supposedly “unmoved”. Arendt’s observation, you might recall, arose from the trial of former SS officer Adolf Eichmann, one of the principal implementers of Nazi Germany’s Final Solution.

Whether it is in academia, literary circles, the media, the medical profession, the commentariat or political parties, these fallacious and ad hominem depictions of the government’s asylum seeker policies are many. It must delight the likes of Zhao. After all, nothing gets the attention of a self-styled wolf like the mass bleating of sheep.



BBC reporter forced to flee China

John Sudworth, the BBC’s China correspondent. Picture: Supplied
John Sudworth, the BBC’s China correspondent. Picture: Supplied
  • By Didi Tang and Ben Hoyle
  • An hour ago 

The BBC’s China correspondent has decamped from Beijing to Taiwan over fears for his safety after suffering a campaign of harassment from the Chinese authorities, including threats of legal action and surveillance.

John Sudworth said he and his family had decided it was “too risky” to remain in the Chinese capital while he and his colleagues faced “massive surveillance, obstruction and intimidation” when they tried to report and film.

“We as a family based in Beijing, along with the BBC, decided it was just too risky to carry on – which unfortunately is precisely the point of that sort of intimidation – and we have relocated to Taiwan,” he told the BBC’s Today program yesterday morning.

“This was not a choice that we wanted to make,” he said.

ABC journalist Bill Birtles fled China in September last year. Picture: AFP
ABC journalist Bill Birtles fled China in September last year. Picture: AFP

Sudworth, who had been based in China for nearly nine years, is the latest foreign journalist to move to Taiwan, “a route that is reasonably well trodden now by a number of others”, he said, because of the greater press freedoms there.

He and his family had “left in a hurry, followed by plainclothes police to the airport, all the way to the check-in hall – the true grim reality for reporters here being made clear all the way to the very end”, he said.

Chinese state media accused Sudworth of “ideological bias” and churning out “fake news” and alleged that he had “fled the country” and was “hiding” in Taiwan to escape possible legal penalties for his “many biased stories distorting” Beijing’s policies in the far-west region of Xinjiang, home to the oppressed Uighur ethnic minority, and its responses to the pandemic.

“I suppose if I was hiding, the Today program would be an odd place to do it. We intend to carry on reporting,” he said yesterday morning.

Police followed Sudworth and his family to the airport as he left Beijing. Picture: AFP
Police followed Sudworth and his family to the airport as he left Beijing. Picture: AFP

A BBC statement confirmed he would remain the broadcaster’s China correspondent: “John’s work has exposed truths the Chinese authorities did not want the world to know. The BBC is proud of John’s award-winning reporting during his time in Beijing.”

Sudworth joined the BBC in 2003. He moved to Shanghai in 2012, and Beijing three years later, after having been based in Dhaka and Seoul.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) said he was among “an ever-larger number of journalists driven out by unacceptable harassment” and called his departure “a loss for the journalism community in China and more broadly for anyone committed to understanding the country”.

His departure from China comes as other foreign reporters have chosen to relocate, or had their visas shortened or revoked. Last year at least 18 journalists from The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal were expelled, as relations between Beijing and Washington turned sour.

Beijing has also targeted the BBC over its reports on the human rights abuses. Earlier this month Xu Guixiang, a propaganda official for the Xinjiang regional government, said lawsuits would be filed against the BBC.

The Chinese foreign ministry said Sudworth left the country without completing the proper paperwork, including returning his press credentials. It said it was unaware of any threats from the Chinese government against Sudworth.

The Times


H&M, Under Attack In China, Sticks to Stance That Angered Beijing

Fashion giant says 20 stores have been closed in China after brand was targeted by government and on social media

China was H&M’s third biggest market by sales in the quarter ended February. PHOTO: KEVIN FRAYER/GETTY IMAGES
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The chief executive of H&M HM.B -3.27% Hennes and Mauritz AB said the fashion giant wants to be a “responsible buyer,” standing by a human-rights position that angered Beijing and triggered the brand’s disappearance from China’s internet.

“We want to be a responsible buyer, in China and elsewhere, and are now building forward-looking strategies and actively working on next steps with regards to material sourcing,” said Chief Executive Helena Helmersson during a conference call coinciding with the company’s earnings.

Last week, China’s leading e-commerce, ride-hailing, daily-deals and map applications removed any reference to H&M after a statement it issued last year about not sourcing material from Xinjiang, a major cotton-producing region in China, suddenly went viral. That triggered government criticism and attacks from pro-Beijing social-media influencers in the country.

Ms. Helmersson said the Swedish company remained committed to the Chinese market and was “dedicated to regaining the trust and confidence of our customers, colleagues and business partners in China.” She said 20 of H&M’s roughly 500 stores in the country had been closed, answering a question about whether landlords were forcing them to shut. She declined to elaborate on why or when. She also declined to answer a question about whether H&M’s supply chain in China has been impacted.

The standoff has turned H&M, one of the world’s largest clothing retailers, into the latest test case for how a big Western brand navigates a Chinese government increasingly willing to assert itself over the actions of foreign companies. For many consumer-focused companies, the country is their fastest-growing market. But Beijing’s willingness to intervene with Western companies, or call out foreign businesses it sees as not toeing the government’s line, can become a major pitfall.

Alexander Shapiro, head of strategy at Beijing branding agency PBB Creative, said H&M essentially has two choices: It can keep its head down and hope the boycott ends quietly. Or it could stick by its human-rights stance, risking sales indefinitely. It could also pre-emptively pull out, a move that could benefit the brand outside China if it is seen as willing to stand up to Beijing. “The attention could have more value than your Chinese business,” he said.

In the case of the National Basketball Association, waiting worked. It disappeared from Chinese airwaves in 2019 after then-Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey angered Beijing by indicating support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy demonstrators. The NBA remained popular in China despite the ban, largely because basketball fans lack a serious alternative. By late last year, it was back.

Others haven’t fared as well. South Korean conglomerate Lotte Group became a target of Beijing after Seoul identified a Lotte-owned golf course in South Korea as a site for a missile-defense system, which Beijing opposed. Lotte suffered heavy losses in its Chinese convenience stores afterward as officials there began suspending operations at some Lotte stores in the country—citing violations of fire and safety codes—and halted construction on new projects. It retreated from the market in 2017.

H&M has more room to maneuver than other companies. While publicly listed, it is family controlled, giving it some freedom from investor pressure. China was H&M’s third biggest market by sales in the quarter ended February, accounting for 6% of overall revenue. The company didn’t disclose any financial impact from the ban.

H&M said in a statement last September that it wasn’t sourcing material from China’s Xinjiang region, where human-rights organizations say authorities use forced labor. Beijing denies the accusation.

That statement began circulating widely only last week in Chinese media, sparking a consumer boycott and H&M’s erasure from online shops, search engines and other internet services. Chinese social-media users also have turned on other brands, including Nike Inc. and Adidas AG , which had issued similar statements about forced-labor concerns in Xinjiang. Only H&M, though, has been subject to such an across-the-board online removal.

Joerg Wuttke, president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, said he expected that Chinese backlash against H&M would dissipate. “My sense is that [Chinese officials] are surprised about the kind of nationalism that it stirred,” he said. He added that “China has no interest to look ugly in the world’s eyes” with companies such as Nike and Adidas invested in the Winter Olympics in Beijing next year.

For now, though, Chinese officials appear to be doubling down on their attacks against H&M. Xu Guixiang, a spokesman for the Xinjiang region’s government, said in a news conference Monday that the “time when China suffered bullying and humiliation from Western nations is never coming back.” Addressing H&M specifically and reports that few people were visiting its stores, he said: “Can you still survive in the Chinese market? Can you still make money from Chinese consumers? You can’t make a penny. Then aren’t you hurting yourself?”



The cost of speaking up against China

By Joel Gunter
BBC News


Women who made allegations last month of rape and sexual abuse in Chinese detention camps have been harassed and smeared in the weeks since. Rights groups say the attacks are typical of an aggressive campaign by China to silence those who speak up.

Qelbinur Sedik at her home in the Netherlands this week
image caption Qelbinur Sedik at her home in the Netherlands this week

Qelbinur Sedik was making breakfast when the video call came, and the sight of her sister's name made her nervous. Many months had passed since the two had spoken. In fact, many months had passed since Sedik had spoken to any of her family in China.

Sedik was in the kitchen of her temporary home in the Netherlands, where she shared a room with several other refugees, mostly from Africa. Two weeks earlier, she and three other women had spoken to the BBC for a story about alleged rape and torture in China's secretive detention camps in the Xinjiang region, where Sedik worked as a camp teacher.

Now her sister was calling.

She hit answer, but when the picture appeared it wasn't her sister on the screen, it was a policeman from her hometown in Xinjiang.

"What are you up to Qelbinur?" he said, smiling. "Who are you with?"

This was not the first time the officer had called from her sister's phone. This time, Sedik took a screenshot. When he heard the sound it made, the officer removed his numbered police jacket, Sedik said. She took another screenshot.

Police composite

'You must think very carefully'

In conversations with the BBC over the past few weeks, 22 people who have left Xinjiang to live abroad described a pattern of threats, harassment, and public character attacks they said were designed to deter them from speaking out about alleged human rights abuses back home.

According to UN estimates, China has detained more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslims in camps in Xinjiang. The Chinese state has been accused of an array of abuses there including forced labour, sterilisation, torture, rape, and genocide. China denies those charges, saying its camps are "re-education" facilities for combatting terrorism.

Among the few who have fled Xinjiang and spoken publicly, many have received a call like the one to Sedik that morning - from a police officer or government official at their family home, or from a relative summoned to a police station. Sometimes the calls contain vague advice to consider the welfare of their family in Xinjiang, sometimes direct threats to detain and punish relatives.

Others have been publicly smeared in press conferences or state media videos; or been subjected to barrages of messages or hacking attempts directed at their phones. (Last week, Facebook said that it had discovered "an extremely targeted operation" emanating from China to hack Uyghur activists abroad.)

Some of those who spoke to the BBC - from the US, UK, Australia, Norway, the Netherlands, Finland, Germany, and Turkey - provided screenshots of threatening WhatsApp, WeChat and Facebook messages; others described in detail what had been said in phone and video calls. Everyone described some form of detention or harassment of their family members in Xinjiang by local police or state security officials.

A gate of what is officially known as a "vocational skills education centre" in Xinjiang
image caption A gate of what is officially known as a "vocational skills education centre" in Xinjiang

When Qelbinur Sedik recounted the call from the policeman that morning, via her sister's phone, she buried her head in her hands and wept.

"He said, 'You must bear in mind that all your family and relatives are with us. You must think very carefully about that fact.'

"He stressed that several times, then he said, 'You have been living abroad for some time now, you must have a lot of friends. Can you give us their names?'

When she refused, the officer put Sedik's sister on the call, she said, and her sister shouted at her, 'Shut up! You should shut up from now on!', followed by a string of insults.

"At that point I couldn't control my emotions," Sedik said. "My tears flowed."

Before the officer hung up, Sedik said, he told her several times to go to the Chinese embassy so the staff there could arrange her safe passage back to China - a common instruction in these kinds of calls.

"This country opens its arms to you," he said.

'Misogyny as a communication style'

Reports of this type of intimidation are not new, but Uyghur activists say China has become more aggressive in response to growing outrage over alleged rights abuses in Xinjiang. The Chinese government has gone on the attack in public in recent weeks, directing a slew of misogynistic abuse specifically at women who have spoken up about alleged sexual abuse.

At recent press conferences, China's foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin and Xinjiang official Xu Guixiang held up pictures of women who gave first-hand accounts of sexual assault in detention camps and called them "liars"; said one was "morally depraved" and of "inferior character"; and accused another of adultery. One woman was branded a "bitch of bad moral quality" by a former husband in what appeared to be a staged video put out by state media; another was called a "scumbag" and "child abuser" by a Chinese official.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin holds pictures while speaking during a news conference in Beijing, China February 23, 2021,
image caption Wang Wenbin holds up pictures of witnesses Zumrat Dawat and Tursunay Ziawudun in Beijing last month

Wang, the foreign ministry spokesman, revealed what he said were private medical records, claiming that they disproved one woman's account of having an IUD forcibly fitted. Officials have also claimed that sexually transmitted diseases were responsible for fertility problems suffered by former camp detainees, rather than violent physical abuse, and put out a range of propaganda material calling the women "actresses".

Tursunay Ziawudun, a former camp detainee who is now in the US, was one of the women attacked at a press conference. When she watched it, she was relieved Wang had not mentioned her family, she said, but "deeply sad" about the rest. Ziawudun has previously recounted being raped and tortured during her detention in Xinjiang in 2018.

"After all the horrors they inflicted on me, how can they be so cruel and shameless as to attack me publicly?" she said in a phone interview after the press conference.

The attacks on Ziawudun and others showed that China was "adopting misogyny as a style of public communication," said James Millward, a professor of Chinese history at Georgetown University.

"We have these various women coming forward and telling very credible stories about how they've been abused," he said. "And the response shows a complete tone deafness and misunderstanding of how sexual assault and sexual trauma is now being understood and treated now. Besides being horrifying, it's also completely counterproductive for the Chinese state."

The Chinese embassy in London told the BBC that China stood by its assertions that the women's accounts of rape and sexual abuse were lies, and said it was reasonable to publicise private medical records as evidence.

Tursunay Ziawudun at her new home in the US last month
image caption Tursunay Ziawudun at her new home in the US last month

Two other women who spoke to the BBC have been the targets of what appear to be highly staged videos, published by Chinese state media, in which their family and friends insult them and accuse them of stealing money and telling lies. According to a report published last month by the US-based Uyghur Human Rights Project, China has produced at least 22 videos in which individuals are allegedly forced to make scripted statements, often denouncing their family members as liars or thieves.

Aziz Isa Elkun, a Uyghur exile in the UK, had not been able to contact his elderly mother and sister for years when he saw them in a Chinese state media video calling him a liar and a shame on the family. Elkun's crime had been to draw attention to the destruction of Uyghur cemeteries in Xinjiang, including his father's tomb.

"You could tell what they were saying was scripted, but it was still extremely painful to see my elderly mother in a Chinese propaganda film," Elkun said.

Qelbinur Sedik is worried a similar video of her husband could be released any day, she said. He told her on the phone late last year that Chinese officials had visited him at home in Xinjiang and forced him to recite lines calling her a liar. He said he struggled so much to say the lines correctly that it took four hours to film the short clip.

Qelbinur Sedik recently moved out of refugee accommodation into a small home in the Netherlands
image caption Qelbinur Sedik recently moved out of refugee accommodation into a small home in the Netherlands

'Maybe we can co-operate'

Another common form of harassment described by those who spoke to the BBC was pressure to spy on fellow Uyghurs and organisations that scrutinise China, often in return for contact with family, guarantees of relatives' safety, or access to visas or passports.

A Uyghur British citizen who did not want to be named said he was harassed repeatedly by intelligence officials during and after a visit to Xinjiang and told to spy on Uyghur groups and on Amnesty International, by joining the charity as a volunteer. When he refused, he received repeated calls from his brother pleading with him to do it, he said.

Jevlan Shirmemmet, who left Xinjiang to study in Turkey, gave the BBC a recording of a call he received a few weeks after posting on social media about his family's mass arrest in Xinjiang. The caller, who said he was from the Chinese embassy in Ankara, told Shirmemmet to "write down everyone you've been in contact with since you left Xinjiang," and send an email "describing your activities," so that "the mainland might reconsider your family's situation". Another Uyghur in exile in Turkey described a similar call from the same embassy.

Mustafa Aksu, a 34-year-old activist in the US who said his parents had been harassed in Xinjiang, showed the BBC text and voice messages from an old school friend - now a Chinese police officer - who Aksu said was pressuring him to provide information about Uyghur activists.

"He says, 'Maybe we can co-operate. I'm sure you must miss your parents.'"

Jevlan Shirmemmet has publicly protested for the release of his mother
image caption Jevlan Shirmemmet has publicly protested for the release of his mother

Not everyone feels that they can refuse these requests. "When I say no, they get my younger brother and sister to call and tell me to do it," said a Uyghur student in Turkey, who provided screenshots of the messages from police. "They could send my brother and sister to a concentration camp. What choice do I have?" she said.

Some have sought to protect themselves by gradually cutting off means of contact. "You can throw away the phone and cancel the number," said Abdulweli Ayup, a Uyghur linguist in Norway, "but you cancel your number and they contact you on Facebook; you delete Facebook and they contact you by email."

Others have tried beyond hope to stay in touch. A Uyghur exile in the Netherlands said she still sends pictures and emojis to her young son and parents, four years after her number was blocked. "Maybe one day they will see," she said.

The BBC was not able to independently verify the identities of the people behind the calls and messages provided by various interviewees, but Uyghur rights activists say efforts to coerce Uyghurs to spy for the Chinese government are common.

"It comes as an offer first - 'You won't have any more visa problems', or 'We can help your family' - that kind of thing," said Rahima Mahmut, a prominent UK-based Uyghur activist. "Later it comes as a threat," she said.

The UK Foreign Office told the BBC it was "closely monitoring reports that members of the Uyghur diaspora in the UK have been harassed by the Chinese authorities", and that it had "raised our concerns directly with the Chinese embassy in London".

The Chinese embassy in London told the BBC that the allegations in this story were "completely untrue" and it was "baffling that the BBC so readily believes whatever is said by a few 'East Turkestan' elements outside China" - using another term for the Xinjiang region.

Members of Uighur minority hold placards as they demonstrate on February 22, 2021 near China consulate in Istanbul
image caption Uyghur protesters in Istanbul last month. Uyghurs in Turkey fear they could be deported to China

Despite the growing public outrage over alleged abuses in Xinjiang, the number of people who have spoken publicly remains vanishingly small compared with the estimated number detained. China has been tremendously successful at silencing people through fear, said Nury Turkel, a commissioner on the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

"Millions of people have disappeared into the camps, and yet we have only a handful of Uyghurs speaking out against the detention of their loved ones," Turkel said. "Why? Because they are afraid."

Some Uyghurs who have criticised China have managed to maintain limited contact with loved ones. Ferkat Jawdat, a prominent activist in the US, speaks to his mother regularly now, after campaigning publicly for her release from detention. She is under house arrest, and her calls are monitored, but she is there on the other end of the line.

It can be hard to make sense of why some Uyghurs are harassed and others are not; some allowed contact with loved ones and others not. Some have speculated that China is "A/B testing" - trying to work out whether fear or kindness is more efficient. For the thousands who are cut off, it can feel ruthless and arbitrary.

Jawdat knows that the likelihood of seeing his mother again before she dies is diminishing, so when they speak on the phone they speak carefully. He did tell her once that Chinese state media had put out a video of her saying she was ashamed of him. She said she knew, they had come to film it a few days earlier. "How did I look?" she joked. Then, taking a risk, she told him she had only ever been proud of him.

"It was the unscripted version," he said.


Huawei Reports Rare Drop in Revenue as U.S. Sanctions Bite

Slate of U.S. actions, including chip ban, hits Chinese telecom maker’s sales outside of China hard

Huawei said revenue fell in every major region outside of China last year. PHOTO: ANDRE MALERBA/BLOOMBERG NEWS
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HONG KONG—Huawei Technologies Co. suffered a rare decline in revenue during the fourth quarter last year, as U.S. sanctions hammered its business and sales outside of China fell particularly hard.

The Chinese telecom giant said sales of its once hugely popular smartphones were suffering the most of all its business segments, with the company showing signs of difficulty sourcing the advanced chips needed to run its handsets due to U.S. export restrictions imposed last year.

Revenue in the fourth quarter fell 11.2% to 220.1 billion yuan, equivalent to about $33.6 billion, from a year earlier. For the full year, the company’s revenue still grew 3.8% to a record 891.4 billion yuan, thanks to stronger performance earlier in the year. It still marked one of Huawei’s slowest years for revenue growth on record, the closely held company said.

“The supply restrictions for our smartphone business has caused us a great impact, and we haven’t been able to see a clear picture in the supply for our smartphones,” said Ken Hu, one of Huawei’s three deputy chairmen, during a press conference Wednesday at the company’s headquarters in Shenzhen. “We think this is a very unfair situation to Huawei and it has caused a lot of damage to us.”


What stands out most to you from Huawei’s 2020 annual report? Join the conversation below.

The company’s results indicate that a yearslong U.S.-led campaign to strangle Huawei’s business is showing signs of success. The company said revenue declined in every major region outside of China last year. Sales growth in its core business of telecom infrastructure effectively stalled. Smartphone sales plunged, though the drop was offset by rising sales of laptops, smart watches and other consumer electronics.

Starting in September, the U.S. effectively blocked all chip suppliers from selling components to Huawei without a license, choking it off from critical supplies. The company has said the action forced Huawei to turn to stockpiled parts to continue building products.

It isn’t clear how long that stockpile can last, and company executives didn’t give a firm timeline. Most analysts have said they expect the company to run out of supplies some time this year, though its telecom infrastructure business likely can last longer than its smartphone business because it isn’t as heavily dependent on large volumes of cutting-edge chips.

U.S. officials have said Huawei equipment could be used to spy or disrupt networks, and under the Trump administration embarked on a global campaign to block the company from selling its 5G technology to allied nations. Huawei has repeatedly denied the allegations.

One bright spot was its revenue in China, which grew 15.4% to 584.9 billion yuan last year, helped by the rapid build-out of 5G networks, of which Huawei is a major supplier. Revenue in  Europe, the Middle East and Africa as a region fell by 12%. In the Americas, revenue fell by a quarter. The results were disclosed in its once-yearly audited annual report.

None of Huawei’s three main business segments showed a decline for the year. Its carrier business, which builds telecom networks, grew just 0.2%. Even its consumer business, its largest segment, rose 3.3% in spite of the drop in smartphone sales.

Huawei executives attributed that gain to booming sales of other gadgets, such as laptops, smart watches, tablets and headphones. Such devices have enjoyed robust sales globally because of the rise in remote working during the coronavirus pandemic.

Huawei again boosted its research and development spending to 142 billion yuan. Cash flow from operations fell 62% to 35.2 billion yuan, which Mr. Hu attributed in part to increased R&D spending.

Yet the slump in smartphone sales was the most visible sign of the U.S. actions at work. Sales of Huawei handsets had boomed for years, as consumers from China to Europe were drawn to their advanced technology and affordable prices. Huawei was briefly the most popular handset brand in the world in the second quarter last year, lifted largely by a surge in buying by Chinese shoppers.

But the tightening U.S. restrictions have made it increasingly difficult for Huawei to continue building handsets. In November, the company announced the sale of its midrange Honor brand of smartphones. In the fourth quarter, shipments of Huawei devices fell 42%, according to International Data Corp., and it was No. 5 in the global smartphone market.

“The sheer volume of semiconductors you need for the consumer side is much higher, whereas for base station chips, the volume is much less overall,” said Paul Triolo, an analyst at the geopolitical consulting firm Eurasia Group.

Huawei’s enterprise business segment, its smallest, managed to carve out a growth rate of 23%. The business sells cloud and other hardware and software services to businesses, healthcare organizations and municipalities, whose demand rose sharply in China.


BBC’s China Correspondent Moves to Taipei After China Criticism

Bloomberg News

British Broadcasting Corp.’s China correspondent John Sudworth has left Beijing after intense criticism from the Chinese government and citizens of the outlet’s recent coverage.

“John’s work has exposed truths the Chinese authorities did not want the world to know,” according to a statement on Twitter by the BBC News Press Team. “The BBC is proud of John’s award-winning reporting during his time in Beijing and he remains our China correspondent.”

China has a history of making it difficult for journalists to work in the country, and the situation has worsened in the past few years. Beijing last year expelled a slew of foreign reporters, with the government saying most of those were in response to curbs the U.S. placed on Chinese reporters.

In February, BBC World News was taken off the air in China. That followed the U.K.’s removal of Chinese state-backed broadcaster CGTN’s license.

Then earlier this month the news department of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the BBC’s Beijing bureau that its recent China reports seriously misled readers, according to a ministry statement.

Cheng Lei, a Chinese-born Australian national who worked for state broadcaster CGTN, is being detained on national security charges, and two journalists working for Australian media outlets fled the country in September last year after being questioned by security agents.

China sentenced former lawyer Zhang Zhan to four years in prison in December over her posts about the coronavirus response in Wuhan, according to media reports.

— With assistance by Philip Glamann, Colum Murphy, and James Mayger