Former Chinese internment camp detainee denied US visa

Kazakh national Omir Bekali had been invited to speak at Congress about his ordeal at Congress

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 October, 2018, 9:12pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 October, 2018, 5:16am

A former detainee of a Chinese internment camp for Muslims said on Thursday his application for a visa to visit the United States was rejected despite an invitation to speak at Congress about his ordeal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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