As bigotry stirs globally, Bosnian Jews, Muslims recall lesson in tolerance

As bigotry stirs globally, Bosnian Jews, Muslims recall lesson in tolerance
By Maja Zuvela

SARAJEVO (Reuters) – Bosnia’s Jews and Muslims on Thursday marked the bicentenary of the rescue of a dozen Jews from an Ottoman-era governor’s jail, saying their liberation by Sarajevo Muslims is a great example of co-existence at a time of rising global sectarian hatred.

The 1819 rescue, which happened during a Muslim uprising, and consequent removal of corrupt Turkish governor Mehmed Ruzdi Pasha is a holiday for Sarajevo’s Jews, known as Purim di Saray. The governor had sought a huge ransom to spare the Jews’ lives.

The event was marked by a joint exhibition and conference depicting the events and celebrating nearly 500 years of peaceful coexistence between Jews and their Muslim neighbors, as well as between Jews and Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats.

“Bosnian Muslims and Jews are one body,” said Bosnia’s Muslim top cleric Husein Kavazovic.

“Amid the ever rising evil of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia … we are renewing our pledge that we will remain good neighbors who will watch over each other as we did in the past.”

The Muslim rebellion was recorded by renowned Sarajevo Jewish historian Mose Rafael Attias, also known as Zeki Effendi, in his book Sarajevo Megillah.

The book’s title is a reference to the Book of Esther, which is read aloud during the Jewish holiday of Purim. The holiday celebrates the Jews’ salvation from genocide in ancient Persia and is normally held in about March.

Attias studied Islam and mediaeval Persian literature and was a passionate interfaith advocate.

His tombstone, which has epitaphs in Bosnian, Hebrew and Turkish, the latter inscribed in Arabic script, has been renovated at the town’s Jewish cemetery as part of the Purim bicentenary.

“The tombstone itself is a proof of Sarajevo’s multiculturalism,” Eli Tauber, an author and historian, told Reuters. “Close links between our communities are unique. The way we mark Purim is also unprecedented and could serve as a role model to the rest of the world.”

Jews have played a significant role in Sarajevo’s cultural and economic life for 450 years. Expelled after the Christian re-conquest of the Iberian peninsula, they found sanctuary in the city, then part of the Ottoman Empire.

At the height of the city’s influence, Sarajevo had eight synagogues serving some 12,000 Jews. But most of them were killed during World War Two, when the city was occupied by Nazi Germany. Fewer than 1,250 remained.

The community recovered somewhat in the post-war era but was dealt another blow with Yugoslavia’s bloody collapse and the subsequent siege of Sarajevo, the longest in modern history.

Before the Bosnian 1992-95 war, Sarajevo was a multi-ethnic melting pot – mosques, churches and synagogues standing virtually side by side. It afterwards become predominantly Muslim, but some 800 Jews living in the town remain an important part of its multi-ethnic identity.

(Reporting by Maja Zuvela, Editing by William Maclean)

Portals to history and conflict: the gates of Jerusalem’s Old City

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Jews, Muslims and Christians pass daily through the gates of Jerusalem’s Old City, on their way to and from prayers or simply to go about their everyday business in one of the most politically sensitive spots on earth.

There are eight gates – seven are open and one is sealed – along the Old City walls that were built in the 16th century by Turkish sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.

It’s always busy at Damascus Gate, the main entrance to the Muslim quarter, and at Jaffa Gate, facing west toward the Mediterranean, where local residents and tourists mix in markets lining stone alleyways.

Lion’s Gate – two pairs of heraldic lions are carved on the archway – is also known as St. Stephen’s Gate. It faces east, toward ancient Jericho. It is often crowded with Muslim worshippers after prayers at al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest shrine.

Many Jewish worshippers take another route to Judaism’s nearby Western Wall. They pass through the Dung Gate, the closest entrance to the holy place, and Jewish families on their way to celebrate a 13-year-old son’s Bar Mitzvah can be spotted making their way to the wall.

Security is always tight in a volatile area at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israeli police patrol and closed circuit TV cameras monitor the passageways of the Old City.

Israel views all of Jerusalem, including the walled Old City that it captured in the 1967 Middle East war, as its “eternal and indivisible” capital.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem, where the Old City is located, as the capital of a state they seek to establish in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

U.S. leads condemnation of China for ‘horrific’ repression of Muslims

By Humeyra Pamuk and David Brunnstrom

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The United States led more than 30 countries in condemning what it called China’s “horrific campaign of repression” against Muslims in Xinjiang at an event on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly that was denounced by China.

In highlighting abuses against ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims in China, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said on Tuesday the United Nations and its member states had “a singular responsibility to speak up when survivor after survivor recounts the horrors of state repression.”

The United Nations says at least 1 million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims have been detained in what China describes as “vocational training centers” to stamp out extremism and give people new skills.

Sullivan said it was incumbent on U.N. member states to ensure it was able to closely monitor human rights abuses by China and added that it must seek “immediate, unhindered, and unmonitored” access to the western region of Xinjiang for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Sullivan said Tuesday’s event was co-sponsored by Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and Britain, and was joined by more than 30 U.N. states, representatives of the European Union and more than 20 nongovernmental organizations, as well as Uighur victims.

“We invite others to join the international effort to demand and compel an immediate end to China’s horrific campaign of repression,” he said. “History will judge the international community for how we respond to this attack on human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

China’s Foreign Ministry denounced the U.S. move.

The Xinjiang issue is not about human rights but about countering separatism and terrorism, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing in Beijing on Wednesday.

“All the slander and defamation of the U.S. and other countries is futile.” said Geng. “Their lies will crumble in the face of facts and truth.”

“RELIGIOUS LIBERTY”

Paola Pampaloni, deputy managing director for Asia of the European External Action Service, said the EU was “alarmed” by the situation and also urged “meaningful” access to Xinjiang.

“We are concerned about … information about mistreatment and torture,” she said. “China is always inviting us to the camps under their conditions, we are in negotiations right now for terms and conditions for free access.”

On Monday U.S. President Donald Trump called for an end to religious persecution at another event on the sidelines of the U.N. gathering. He reiterated his comments in a speech to the General Assembly gathering of world leaders on Tuesday.

“Americans will never … tire in our effort to promote freedom of worship and religion. We want and support religious liberty for all,” he said.

Trump, who has been cautious about upsetting China on human rights issues while making a major trade deal with Beijing a major priority, said religious freedom was under growing threat around the world but fell short of specifically mentioning the Uighur situation.

“Volume is coming up at a pace that we hope that the Beijing government recognizes not only U.S. but the global concern about this situation,” David Stilwell, U.S. Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs told reporters.

“We will see how that plays out and how Beijing reacts and take it from there.”

A representative for the Chinese delegation to the U.N. General Assembly accused Washington of violating the U.N. Charter by criticizing China.

Sullivan said the United States had received “credible reports of deaths, forced labor, torture, and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment” in the camps.

He said there were also many reports that the Chinese government forces detainees to renounce their ethnic identities as well as their culture and religion.

Though U.S. officials have ramped up criticism of China’s measures in Xinjiang, it has refrained from responding with sanctions, amid on-again, off-again talks to resolve a bitter, costly trade war.

At the same time, it has criticized other countries, including some Muslim states, for not doing enough or for backing China’s approach in Xinjiang.

Rishat Abbas, the brother of Uighur physician Gulshan Abbas, who was abducted from her home in Urumchi in September 2018, told Tuesday’s event that “millions of Uighurs are becoming collateral damage to international trade policies, enabling China to continue to threaten our freedoms around the world, enable it to continue its police state.”

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has repeatedly pushed China to grant the United Nations access to investigate reports of disappearances and arbitrary detentions, particularly of Muslims in Xinjiang.

China’s envoy in Geneva said in June that he hoped Bachelet would visit China, including Xinjiang. Bachelet’s office said in June that it was discussing “full access” with China.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Humeyra Pamuk; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)

Israel bars visit by U.S. Democratic lawmakers

FILE PHOTO: Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) holds a news conference to discuss legislation creating "a federal grant program to help local governments invest in waste reduction initiatives", at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., July 25, 2019. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert/File Photo

By Rami Ayyub and Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Israel will bar a visit by two of its sharpest critics in the U.S. Congress, Democrats Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, who planned to tour the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, the country’s deputy foreign minister said on Thursday.

“The decision has been made, the decision is not to allow them to enter,” Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told Israel’s Reshet Bet Radio.

U.S. President Donald Trump had earlier urged Israel on Thursday not to allow the visit by Tlaib and Omar, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress and members of the Democratic party’s progressive wing.

FILE PHOTO: Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) questions Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan as he testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on "Trump Administration's Child Separation Policy" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) questions Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan as he testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on “Trump Administration’s Child Separation Policy” on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

The pair have voiced support for the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. Under Israeli law, backers of the BDS movement can be denied entry to Israel.

Trump has vented in recent months against Omar, Tlaib and two other Democratic congresswomen of color, accusing them of hostility to Israel in what has widely been seen as a drumming up of Republican votes for his 2020 reelection bid.

“It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit,” he tweeted on Thursday. “They are a disgrace!”

No date had been formally announced for the congresswomen’s trip, but sources familiar with the planned visit said it could begin at the weekend.

Israel’s ambassador in the United States, Ron Dermer, said last month Tlaib and Omar would be let in, out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the U.S.-Israeli relationship.

Political commentators said a reversal of Israel’s original intention to approve the legislators’ entry likely stemmed from a desire to mirror Trump’s hard line against them.

An Israeli official said earlier on Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior members of his cabinet held consultations on Wednesday on a “final decision” about the visit.

Denying entry to elected U.S. officials could further strain relations between Netanyahu, who has highlighted his close ties with Trump in his current re-election campaign, and the Democratic leadership in Congress.

HOLY SITE

A planned tour by the two lawmakers of the holy compound in Jerusalem that houses al-Aqsa mosque, and which is revered by Jews as the site of two biblical Jewish temples, turned into an issue of contention, according to sources familiar with preparations for the visit.

The flashpoint site is in an area of Jerusalem that Israel captured along with the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in a move not recognized internationally.

An official in Israel’s internal security ministry said any visit by Tlaib and Omar to the complex, revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and by Jews as the Temple Mount, would require Israeli security protection.

Violence erupted there on Sunday between Israeli police and Palestinians amid tensions over visits by Jewish pilgrims on a day when the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha and the Jewish fast day of Tisha B’Av overlapped.

Tlaib, 43, who was born in the United States, draws her roots to the Palestinian village of Beit Ur Al-Fauqa in the West Bank. Her grandmother and extended family live in the village.

Omar, who immigrated to the United States from Somalia as a child, represents Minnesota’s fifth congressional district.

In February, Omar, 37, apologized after Democratic leaders condemned remarks she made about the pro-Israel lobby in the United States as using anti-Semitic stereotypes.

(Reporting by Rami Ayyub and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem and Makini Brice in Washington; Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Frances Kerry)

Stopping America’s next hate-crime killers on social media is no easy task

By Sarah N. Lynch and Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON/LONDON (Reuters) – The pattern is clear: Hate-filled manifestos posted on websites populated by white supremacists, followed by gun attacks against blacks, Jews, Muslims, or Latin American immigrants.

In some cases, the killers use their internet posts to praise previous attacks by other white nationalists. And after new assaults, the manifestos get passed around, feeding the cycle of propaganda and violence.

Following the racially-motivated attack that killed 22 people at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, President Donald Trump said he wants police to do more to stop extremists who are active online before they can turn to murder.

But identifying and stopping the extremists who plan to launch an attack is much easier said than done.

Law enforcement experts say that the constitutional right of free speech means police cannot arrest someone simply on the basis of extremist rants online, unless they make a specific threat.

“You couldn’t just open a case on the words,” said Dave Gomez, a retired FBI agent who has worked on cases of both international and domestic terrorism.

“Posting something like that on the internet doesn’t harm anybody,” he said, adding that police can only successfully investigate a white supremacist when you can “connect his words to an overt act.”

The White House will discuss violent extremism online with representatives from a number of internet and technology companies on Friday, according to a White House spokesman.

Social media companies are reluctant to spy on or censor their users, though increasingly they are responding to demands that they take down obvious incitements to violence. And civil rights groups warn that tighter monitoring can lead to unconstitutional abuses of power

Another former FBI agent, who asked not to be identified, said closer monitoring of extremists’ websites would anyway be unlikely to prevent new mass shootings.

“There is not enough manpower. There is not enough technology to properly monitor the internet,” he said. “This is the number one thing we always say in law enforcement: ‘You can’t stop crazy. You can’t even predict crazy.’”

Trump said after the mass shootings last weekend in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, that he would ask the Justice Department to work with local, state and federal agencies as well as social media companies “to develop tools that can detect mass shooters before they strike.”

Even before those attacks, The FBI in early July requested bids for a contractor to help it detect national security threats by trawling through social media sites.

“The use of social media platforms by terrorist groups, domestic threats, foreign intelligence services, and criminal organizations to further their illegal activity creates a demonstrated need for tools to properly identify the activity and react appropriately,” the FBI said in its request.

PRESSURE

Top law enforcement and domestic security officials from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand met with leading social media and internet companies in London last week, and pushed them to help authorities track suspicious users.

The government officials noted in an agenda paper for the meeting that some companies “deliberately design their systems in a way that precludes any form of access to content, even in cases of the most serious crimes.”

“Tech companies should include mechanisms in the design of their encrypted products and services whereby governments, acting with appropriate legal authority, can obtain access to data in a readable and usable format,” the agenda paper said.

A final statement from the meeting said little about encryption, however, and neither company nor government officials talked about what was discussed.

Facebook and Microsoft confirmed they attended but Google, which was invited, did not respond to a request for comment. Other attendees included Roblox, Snap and Twitter, the statement said.

FBI agents say that broad surveillance powers enacted by Congress in the wake of the Sept., 11, 2001 attacks helped them track international terrorist groups and stop people with links to foreign groups like al Qaeda and Islamic State before they could carry out crimes.

But they key law criminalizing “material support” for terrorism does not apply to investigations or prosecutions of domestic terrorists, such as violent white supremacists, that commit hate crimes.

This week, the FBI Agents Association called on Congress to make domestic terrorism a federal crime in order to give agents more tools.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which promotes internet civil liberties, said the sheer amount of users posting aggressive content online makes it almost impossible to identify and track the people who pose an actual threat.

“Even though it seems like there is another mass shooting every week, if you are looking at the number of mass shooters versus the total population, it’s still a tiny, tiny number which means this is still a very rare event,” said Jeremy Gillula, the group’s tech products director. “It’s like trying to predict where lightning is going to strike.”

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Muslim pilgrims descend on Mecca for haj, Saudis warn against politics

Muslims pray at the Grand Mosque during the annual Haj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia August 6, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

By Ahmad Elhamy

MECCA, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of white-clad pilgrims, many gripping umbrellas to ward off Saudi Arabia’s blistering summer sun, descended on Mecca this week ahead of the annual haj.

Saudi officials asked Muslims to focus on rituals of worship, warning against politicizing the rite as wars rage on in the region and at a time of heightened tensions between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Muslim adversary Iran.

“Haj…is not a place for political conflicts or to raise sectarian slogans that divide Muslims,” Abdulrahman al-Sudais, imam of the Grand Mosque of Mecca, told reporters.

Mecca Governor Prince Khalid al-Faisal asked worshippers earlier this week to “leave all other matters in your countries to discuss when you are back”.

Saudi Arabia stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites and organizing a peaceful haj, which has been marred in the past by deadly stampedes, fires and riots.

Authorities said more than 1.8 million pilgrims had so far arrived in the kingdom for the world’s largest annual Muslim gathering, which retraces the route the Prophet Mohammad took 14 centuries ago.

Outside the Grand Mosque, the world’s largest, temperatures topped 40 degrees Celsius as industrial fans sprayed water.

“All of this is for the sake of the haj,” 43-year-old Fatima Sayed from Giza, Egypt, said of the searing heat. “We applied twice before but God didn’t permit it, and, thank God, it was a very big surprise that He ordained it for me this year.”

Every able-bodied Muslim who has the means should perform the haj at least once in their lifetime under a quota system.

Saudi Arabia has made use of technology to manage the flow of millions at the same place at the same time. This includes electronic identification bracelets, connected to GPS, that were introduced after a 2015 crush killed hundreds of people.

A new highspeed railway linking Mecca and Medina, Islam’s second most sacred site, is being used during the haj season for the first time after its inauguration last September.

The pilgrimage is the backbone of a plan to expand tourism under a drive to diversify the Saudi economy away from oil. The haj and the umrah, the year-round lesser pilgrimage, generate billions of dollars in revenues from worshippers’ lodging, transport, fees and gifts.

Amjad Khan, a pharmacist from Manchester in Britain, said the new measures made the pilgrimage a smoother experience.

“Here in the company of our brothers from all over the world, it’s a very good feeling,” Khan, 36, said.

(Reporting by Ahmad Elhamy; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

In Lebanon, a monastery brings together Christians scattered by war

A view of the Monastery of Saint Anthony of Qozhaya in the heart of the Qadisha valley, in Zgharta district, LebanonJune 23, 2019. REUTERS/Imad Creidi

By Ayat Basma

QOZHAYA, Lebanon (Reuters) – The last time Samuel Botros stepped into the Lebanese monastery of Saint Anthony of Qozhaya was in 1978. He was 24, newly married, and the country was in the grip of an all-out war. Like many of his generation, he left. It took him 41 years to return.

The 1975-90 civil war may be over in Lebanon but conflicts in nearby countries like Iraq and Syria have devastated entire communities where Christians once lived alongside Muslims. That has triggered an exodus among people of both faiths, especially among minority sects – like Botros’ Syriac Orthodox community whose roots are in early Christianity.

The monastery, which is nestled in a remote valley in the northern Lebanese mountains and dates from the fourth century, is a meeting place for Christians who have fled conflict.

“It is the war that did this to us. It is the wars that continue to leave behind destruction and force people to leave,” said Botros, visiting the monastery as part of a gathering of his community’s scout group – their first in the region since the 1950s.

The scout group’s roughly 150 members include people living in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Territories and further afield. Lebanon was the only country where they could all meet easily and safely, Botros said.

In Iraq, years of conflict, most recently with Islamic State, erased much of the Christian heritage in ancient cities like Mosul and Sinjar in the north. In Syria’s civil war, some of the oldest churches in Aleppo, Homs and other cities were damaged.

Botros, now 65, is about to retire in Sweden where he made his home years ago. He is father and grandfather to children who know Lebanon only through photos.

“I would like them to visit so that when I pass, there is something to pull them back,” he said.

ANCIENT SANCTUARY

On Sundays and public holidays, the monastery’s small church, with the bell tower and facade, etched into the cliffs is full of people huddled in the pews or standing at the back of the vaulted interior.

Its patron is Saint Anthony, a monk who is believed to have lived in rural Egypt in the fourth or fifth century.

“This place has always been a shrine…we don’t even know when it started. Even when there was no development…people still came,” said Father Fadi Imad, the priest who gives sermons.

Qozhaya lies within a valley known as the Valley of Saints, or Qannoubine in ancient Syriac, part of a wider valley network called Qadisha that has a long history as a refuge for monks. At one time, Qadisha was home to hundreds of hermitages, churches, caves and monasteries. The monastery of Saint Anthony is the last surviving one.

It was an early home for Lebanon’s Christian Maronites, the first followers of the Roman Catholic church in the East.

The Maronites and sometimes the Druze, a Muslim sect, sought the sanctuary of the mountains away from the political and religious dynasties of the times with whom they did not always agree, Father Imad said.

“The inhabitants of this mountain…and they were not only Christians, came here because they were persecuted and weak,” he said.

“Qozhaya holds in its heart 1,600 years of history and it doesn’t belong to anyone, church or faith, … it belongs to the homeland,” he said.

The monastery is surrounded by forests of pine and cedar and orchards that can only be reached via a narrow, winding road.

Its grounds include a cave where visitors light candles, a museum housing the Middle East’s oldest printing press in ancient Syriac and halls for resident priests.

Visitors nowadays include foreign and Arab tourists and local residents including Muslims who sometimes come to ask for a blessing.

Father Imad said the monastery was the safest it had been in its history despite being surrounded by countries at war or suffering its aftermath.

“No one is telling us that they are coming to kill us anymore … at least in Lebanon,” he said.

Before he left, Botros and his fellows stood for a final photo outside the building with the valley behind. With their flags and scarves around their necks, they smiled and cheered as the bells rang.

“What I have seen today I will never forget for as long as I live,” Botros said.

“No matter how long it takes, the son always returns to the mother.”

(Reporting by Ayat Basma; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Saudi Arabia and Russia among 37 states backing China’s Xinjiang policy

FILE PHOTO: People hold signs protesting China's treatment of the Uighur people, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia, Russia and 35 other states have written to the United Nations supporting China’s policies in its western region of Xinjiang, according to a copy of the letter seen by Reuters on Friday, in contrast to strong Western criticism.

China has been accused of detaining a million Muslims and persecuting ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang, and 22 ambassadors signed a letter to the U.N. Human Rights Council this week criticizing its policies.

But the letter supporting China commended what it called China’s remarkable achievements in the field of human rights.

“Faced with the grave challenge of terrorism and extremism, China has undertaken a series of counter-terrorism and deradicalization measures in Xinjiang, including setting up vocational education and training centers,” the letter said.

The letter said security had returned to Xinjiang and the fundamental human rights of people of all ethnic groups there had been safeguarded. It added there had been no terrorist attack there for three years and people enjoyed a stronger sense of happiness, fulfillment and security.

As well as Saudi Arabia and Russia, the letter was signed by ambassadors from many African countries, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, Belarus, Myanmar, the Philippines, Syria, Pakistan, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Beijing has denied any human rights violations in the region and Chinese Ambassador Xu Chen, speaking at the close of the Council’s three-week session on Friday, said China highly appreciated the support it had received from the signatories.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Frances Kerry)

Rights group urges U.S. to sanction China over Xinjiang camps

Flags of U.S. and China are displayed at American International Chamber of Commerce (AICC)'s booth during China International Fair for Trade in Services in Beijing, China, May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United States, embroiled in a trade war with China, should also impose sanctions on China for detaining an estimated one million Uighurs in its Xinjiang region, where repression has not abated, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.

The Trump administration has been weighing sanctions against Chinese officials, including Xinjiang Communist Party chief Chen Quanguo, since late last year, and though it has ramped up criticism it has held back from imposing the measures.

China has faced growing global condemnation for setting up complexes in the remote western region that U.N. experts describe as mass detention centers holding more than one million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims.

In March, China’s vice foreign minister defended what Beijing calls its vocational training centers for Muslims and said its “campuses” would be closed down gradually as extremist ideology is vanquished in the region.

“Here we have got a U.S. administration that is clearly fine with the idea of imposing serious economic sanctions, but then seems to be lagging behind on imposing them for serious human rights violations,” Sophie Richardson, China director of Human Rights Watch, told a briefing in Geneva.

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers last month faulted the Trump administration for failing so far to impose sanctions over China’s alleged rights abuses against its Muslim minority and called for punitive measures against a senior Communist Party official and Chinese companies.

The lawmakers called on the administration to apply sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act. This federal law allows the U.S. government to target human rights violators around the world with freezes on any U.S. assets, U.S. travel bans and prohibitions on Americans doing business with them.

“We believe that senior Xinjiang officials and national officials who are implicated in the crisis in Xinjiang should be subject to global Magnitsky sanctions,” Richardson said.

“The situation in Xinjiang is far from improving. If anything, (there is) the failure to release large numbers of people, and the desire to spin this as some sort of essential national security strategy that really is about vocational training rather than arbitrary detention,” she said.

The U.S. Senate and House are considering draft bills, variations of the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act, both of which enjoy “very broad bipartisan support”, she added.

Human Rights Watch published a report this month entitled “China’s Algorithms of Repression”, on a mass surveillance app used by Xinjiang police to track citizens that has led to arrests.

“One of our concerns coming out of this project really is about these oceanic data sets that the Chinese government has now gathered and how exactly they are being used,” Richardson said.

The U.S.-based activist group is lobbying the 47 member states of the U.N. Human Rights Council to hold China to account for abuses at the three-week session opening on June 24.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Stephen Powell)

The Middle East and Biblical Prophecy: Watch “The Underground” on the PTL Television Network

Joel Richardson - the Underground on PTL Television Network

By Kami Klein

Every single day world news focuses on the deadly and biblical chess match going on within the Middle East.  Pit against each other and against Israel a complicated whirlwind of hate, violence and the constant threat of war looms over the entire world.  

There are those that have a much deeper understanding of the religious and historical battles going on in the Muslim nations but for many, it is so difficult to comprehend the question,  ‘Who is the enemy?’ Right now with tensions rising, talks of Middle East peace proposals, Iran’s nuclear possibilities and the ever-expanding attacks by terrorist groups, having a biblical and current point of view is vital.  

In our incredible line up of Christian programming, the PTL Television Network offers “The Underground”, hosted by Middle East expert and prophetic author and teacher, Joel Richardson. “The Underground” explores the testimony of  Biblical prophets, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, current events and how all of these things relate to you and me.

With a special love for all the peoples of the Middle East, Joel travels globally, preparing the Church for the great challenges of our time, teaching on the gospel, living with biblical hope, the return of Jesus. He is the author, editor, director, or producer of several books and documentaries, Richardson’s book Islamic Antichrist is a New York Times bestseller.  

In a recent broadcast entitled “The prophetic implication of President Trump’s Middle East Peace Plan”, Richardson speaks on the history of agreements that Israel has entered into within biblical history and the dangers involved now.  His explanation and Bible-based teachings bring a better understanding of what is at stake not only for the Middle East but for the world.

We encourage you to tune into the PTL Television Network for Joel Richardson’s “The Underground” and get a better understanding from an amazing expert on the historical and prophetic events happening in the Middle East.  

You can enjoy “The Underground” as well as many other incredible Christian programs on the PTL Television Network on your Roku, Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV  or you can simply go to PTLnetwork.com and watch whenever you wish on your home computer, tablet or smartphone.  

Be informed on world events by those on the front lines! Check out the PTL Television Network Today!