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June 20, 2019

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A decorated Navy SEAL suddenly plunged a knife into the neck of a wounded young Islamic State prisoner, killing him, and later scoffed that he was “just an ISIS dirtbag,” former comrades testified at a war crimes trial.

Dylan Dille and Craig Miller took the stand Wednesday at the San Diego court-martial of Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, who has pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder stemming from his 2017 tour of duty in Iraq.

More former SEALs were expected to testify on Thursday in a case that has drawn the attention of President Donald Trump and revealed a rare rift in the typically tightknit elite special forces. Testifying on the second day of trial, Dille said when a radio call announced the prisoner was wounded on May 3, 2017, Gallagher replied: “Don’t touch him, he’s all mine.”

The captive was on the hood of a Humvee fading in an out of consciousness with only a minor leg wound visible when Iraqi forces delivered him to a SEAL compound in Mosul. Dille said he was not the grizzled warrior he expected to find.

“He looked about 12 years old,” Dille said. “He had a wrist watch around his bicep. He was rail thin.” Gallagher, a trained medic, began treating the boy’s injuries. When he applied pressure to his leg wound, the boy shot up in pain.

Miller, a then-Special Warfare Operator 1st Class who has since been promoted to chief, said he put his foot on the boy’s chest to keep him down. Miller briefly stepped away and said when he returned he saw Gallagher unexpectedly plunge a knife twice into the boy’s neck “right here on the right side in the jugular vein,” he said tapping the spot above the collar of his dress whites.

Blood spurted out and another SEAL jumped back and grabbed his medical bag, Miller said. Defense lawyers say Gallagher treated the prisoner for a collapsed lung suffered in a blast from an air strike. He made an incision in his throat to insert a tube to clear the airway.

They claim that disgruntled sailors fabricated the murder accusations because he was a demanding platoon leader and they didn’t want him promoted. Miller said he immediately reported the stabbing to an officer, but didn’t pursue a more formal complaint until months after returning from deployment.

He acknowledged he never took photos of the enemy’s wounds or tried to document the incident. No corpse was ever recovered, no autopsy was performed and no forensic evidence was gathered. Miller struggled with recalling details from that day. He didn’t remember the platoon flying a drone over the dead body — not even after seeing video in court that showed him smiling nearby.

After the boy died, Gallagher’s re-enlistment ceremony was conducted next to the corpse. Miller and other troops were in photos of the event. Later that day, Dille said Gallagher confronted him and other senior enlisted men and said he knew they were upset with what happened.

“This was just an ISIS dirtbag,” Dille said Gallagher told the group. Defense lawyer Tim Parlatore questioned why Dille never confronted Gallagher or reported him to superiors until after deployment. Parlatore also accused Dille, Miller and other officers who discussed concerns about Gallagher in a chat room of coordinating a campaign to oust Gallagher.

“My truth is watertight, Mr. Parlatore,” Dille said. Dille also said that he also believed Gallagher had fired at Iraqi civilians from a sniper’s position several times, including an instance on June 18, 2017, when an old man was shot by the Tigris River.

Dille was also a sniper and was near Gallagher during the shootings but didn’t see him pull the trigger. After hearing a gunshot coming from Gallagher’s position and seeing the old man fall, Dille said he looked through his scope and saw the man bleeding through his white clothing. He said Gallagher then radioed that he thought he had missed the old man.

Defense lawyer Marc Mukasey objected to the testimony, saying descriptions of the alleged shootings were “wildly vague.” Gallagher, who served eight tours of duty and earned two Bronze Stars for valor, was in the courtroom in his dress uniform with a chest full of medals. His wife, parents and brother also attended.

His family has lobbied intensely for his freedom, claiming he was being treated unfairly. Congressional Republicans took up his cause and prevailed on Trump to release Gallagher from the brig into better conditions in a military hospital. Trump also is reportedly considering a pardon for Gallagher.

A judge released Gallagher from custody last month after prosecutors violated his constitutional rights by tracking defense attorney emails in an effort to find who leaked court documents to reporters.

Melley reported from Los Angeles.

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June 21, 2019

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Aldo Iván Dávila Morales is poised to take up a seat in Guatemala’s congress in January, making history as the first openly gay man elected to the country’s legislature. Proudly gay and living with HIV, the 41-year-old activist says the rainbow flag will not be his only cause. He intends to begin his congressional career with three main agenda points: Fighting endemic corruption, ensuring Guatemalans’ right to health care and defending human rights, with a focus on the LGBTQ community.

“I’m happy, with a lot of mixed feelings,” Dávila said in an interview with The Associated Press. “The worry is I’m putting myself in a snake pit. But at the same time I’m no slouch, and I’m ready and able to fight when it needs to be done.”

While it hasn’t been officially confirmed by electoral authorities, experts say Dávila’s left-wing Winaq party won four congressional seats in Sunday’s general election, and he is set to represent a Guatemala City district.

“People have to see me as just another citizen, since I was elected democratically,” Dávila said. Guatemala has taken baby steps toward guaranteeing LGBTQ rights, such as adopting measures to identify hate crimes against members of the community and allowing people to change their legal names and choose how they appear in photos on official IDs, which let transgender people better express their identity.

It remains a socially conservative society, however, with the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant faiths dominant. Prejudice and fears over HIV are deeply rooted, and LGTBQ people have historically been the targets of discrimination and sometimes assault, although such treatment is slowly becoming less socially acceptable.

Neither Dávila’s name nor photo was on the ballot — only the name of his party — and he didn’t emphasize his sexuality during the campaign. So Gabriela Tuch, a lawyer and former human rights prosecutor focusing on the LGBTQ community, said his election can’t be attributed to any significant shift in attitudes.

“It’s not that society has said, ‘A gay man, affirmative action, let’s vote for him,'” Tuch said. “He was favored by the votes and the position he was in. Now the challenge begins.” One of the congressman-elect’s first battles will be opposing a bill proposed by the conservative party that would criminalize abortion and codify into law that same-sex couples are barred from marrying or adopting children. He also intends to propose a new commission that would report and investigate all kinds of discrimination.

“You cannot be a spectator when your country is falling apart,” Dávila said. “You have to take a leading role.” That’s why Dávila was motivated to accept an offer to run for the party, founded in 2009 by Nobel Peace Prize-winner Rigoberta Menchú.

Dávila lives in Guatemala City with his partner of 19 years and their gray Schnauzer, Valentino. Dávila said both inspire his activism and political participation. He said he considers himself lucky because he has the love and support of family members who were always open and accepting of his sexuality. His mother went with him to the country’s first Pride march in 2000.

Until recently Dávila was the director of Positive People, an organization supporting those living with HIV. He said that people have often come to him with complaints about discrimination, and that he himself was once dismissed from a job.

“Look, here are my diplomas and my trophies,” Dávila said. “But they fired me because they found out that I’m gay, and that’s how things are here.” Dávila said that when he was 22 he suffered from meningitis, which ultimately led him to discover that he had HIV. Today he is in good health, but he knows some may not understand how the virus is transmitted and may be afraid.

“It’s very hard, of course, that they’re not even going to want to sit next to me,” he said. “In this country people should no longer be dying of AIDS,” Dávila continued. “It’s the stigma and the discrimination that kill you, and the lack of medicine.”

José Arriaza, a 24-year-old who identifies as queer, said Dávila’s election gives him hope because he now sees himself being represented. Guatemalans will have to learn to accept diversity, he added. He “isn’t your typical privileged white man, like a majority of the congressmen nowadays,” Arriaza said. “For me he’s an example to follow, because he is someone empowered with ideals that help the community.”

Carlos Valenzuela, a 36-year-old openly gay business administrator, agreed. “It’s fantastic because what we most want is to feel represented,” Valenzuela said. “All minorities should be represented.” Dávila said his path was paved by Sandra Morán, the first Guatemalan lawmaker who openly identified as lesbian.

“She is a courageous woman who inspired me,” he said. But she didn’t have it easy, and was even insulted on occasion by some of her colleagues over her sexual orientation. Dávila, who said he’s been subjected to verbal abuse since he was young, is prepared to possibly go through the same thing.

“A worker at congress called me and congratulated me and told me to prepare myself,” Dávila said. “But I will try to not respond to the attacks.” “With all the homophobia there is,” he added, “they could even boot me from my seat.”

Dávila criticized those who have pushed legislation limiting sexual diversity rights and said he does not believe Guatemalan society will change its views in the short term. “We have to do a lot of work on educating, in demanding that the state be secular and for the church to stop intervening in things that don’t concern it,” he said. “We need to rule with the Constitution and not the Bible.”

Toronto, Canada (AFP)

July 2, 2019

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau promised Tuesday to support Ukraine in the wake of Russian “aggression,” after a meeting with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in Toronto.

The two leaders met while Zelensky was in Toronto on his first visit to North America to participate in a conference on Ukrainian reforms.

“In the wake of Russian aggression and attempts to undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty, including the illegal annexation of Crimea, it’s all the more important for countries like Canada to stand alongside its partner,” said Trudeau during a press conference with the newly-inducted Ukrainian president.

“Russia’s actions are not only a threat to Ukraine but to international law,” Trudeau said.

The conference, which ends Thursday, brings together representatives from 30 countries, the European Union, and international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and NATO.

Trudeau added he was “dismayed” that Russia was reinstated in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), after the country was stripped of its voting rights in the pan-European rights body in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea.

Trudeau noted that the reinstatement came despite Russia “having not liberated the Ukrainian sailors” detained in the country since November 2018, as well as three Ukrainian naval vessels, which were seized in the Kerch Strait at the same time.

Zelensky said he was “disappointed” by the Council’s decision. In protest, Ukraine announced Tuesday it was withdrawing its invitation to PACE monitors to observe parliamentary elections to be held on July 21.

Trudeau and Zelensky also discussed Canadian arms sales and Canada’s military training mission in Ukraine.

In March, Ottawa renewed its mission of some 200 Canadian troops deployed to Ukraine until the end of March 2022.

Since 2015, Canada has so far trained nearly 11,000 Ukrainian soldiers.

Regarding Ukrainian reforms, Trudeau said there has been “much improvement” in the last few years, which he believes will continue, particularly in the fight against corruption.

The Canadian leader said he is convinced that with the election of Zelensky, a former comedian who took office in May, there will be “even more positive steps” in Ukraine.

“We will be patient because there is a lot of work to do,” Trudeau said.

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland also announced $45 million in additional Canadian assistance to Ukraine in support of its reforms and a proposed national police force.

Since 2014, Canada — the first Western country to recognize Ukraine’s independence in December 1991 and home to a large Ukrainian diaspora — has provided the country more than $785 million in aid.

Freeland also condemned Russia’s decision to issue Russian passports to Ukrainian citizens in the Donbass region, a disputed area in eastern Ukraine that is a hotbed of pro-Russian separatism.

“Starting today, Canada will take action to ensure that these passports cannot be used to travel to Canada. We encourage our partners to do likewise,” she said.

The armed conflict between Ukrainian forces and the pro-Russian separatists has claimed 13,000 lives since 2014.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Trudeau_promises_support_for_Ukraine_in_wake_of_Russian_aggression_999.html.

June 23, 2019

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Ethiopia’s military chief was shot to death by his bodyguard amid a failed coup attempt against a regional government north of the capital, Addis Ababa, the prime minister said Sunday.

The abortive coup Saturday in the Amhara region was led by a high-ranking military officer and others in the armed forces, said Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who addressed the nation on state TV at 2 a.m. while wearing fatigues.

The soldiers attacked a building where a meeting of regional officials was taking place, said Nigussu Tilahun, a spokesman for the prime minister. The regional governor and an adviser were killed, while the attorney general was wounded, he said.

Not long after afterward, army chief Gen. Seare Mekonnen who assassinated at his home in Addis Ababa, and a retired army general visiting him was also killed, the spokesman said. “There is a link between the two attacks,” Nigussu said without elaborating.

The attack in Bahir Dar, the capital of Amhara, was led by a renegade brigadier who had recently been pardoned by the prime minister after being jailed by the previous government, authorities said. Most of the perpetrators were captured, and others were being hunted down, the spokesman said.

The brigadier remained at large, according to two officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. Addis Ababa was peaceful on Sunday as soldiers stood guard in Meskel Square and set up roadblocks throughout the city. Ethiopia’s internet appeared to be shut down.

The attempted coup was the latest challenge to Abiy, who was elected last year. The 42-year-old Abiy has captured the imagination of many with his political and economic reforms, including the surprise acceptance of a peace agreement with Eritrea, the opening of major state-owned sectors to private investment and the release of thousands of prisoners, including opposition figures once sentenced to death.

Last June, a grenade meant for Abiy wounded many people at a big rally. Nine police officials were arrested, state media reported. In October, rebellious soldiers protested over pay and invaded Abiy’s office, but the prime minister was able to defuse the situation.

Ethiopia is a key regional ally of the U.S. in the restive Horn of Africa region. Tibor Nagy, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Africa, said the latest violence was a “shock, but it could have turned out so much worse,” adding: “Thankfully Prime Minister Abiy escaped this attempt, because there are many, many more people in Ethiopia who support his reforms than those who are opposed to them.”

Speaking in South Africa, Nagy said “there are vestiges of the old regime” who are opposed to Abiy. “I wish I could say that this is will be the last of these attempts, but no one can be certain,” Nagy said.

In Addis Ababa, politicians and government officials went to the home of the slain army chief to offer condolences to his family.

AP journalist Andrew Meldrum in Pretoria, South Africa, contributed.

By Sunghee Hwang

Seoul (AFP)

July 1, 2019

North Korea on Monday hailed the weekend meeting between leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump in the Demilitarized Zone as “historic”, as analysts said Pyongyang was looking to shape the narrative to its own agenda.

The two leaders agreed to “resume and push forward productive dialogues for making a new breakthrough in the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”, the official Korean Central News Agency said.

After a Twitter invitation by the US president on Saturday, the two men met a day later in the strip of land that has divided the peninsula for 66 years since the end of the Korean War, when the two countries and their allies fought each other to a standstill.

Kim and Trump shook hands over the concrete slabs dividing North and South before Trump walked a few paces into Pyongyang’s territory — the first US president ever to set foot on North Korean soil.

“The top leaders of the DPRK and the US exchanging historic handshakes at Panmunjom” was an “amazing event”, KCNA said, describing the truce village as a “place that had been known as the symbol of division” and referring to past “inglorious relations” between the countries.

The impromptu meeting in the DMZ — where the US president said they agreed to resume working-level talks within weeks on the North’s nuclear program — was full of symbolism.

Trump’s border-crossing — which he said was uncertain until the last moment — was an extraordinary sequel to the scene at Kim’s first summit with Moon Jae-in last year, when the young leader invited the South Korean president to walk over the Military Demarcation Line, as the border is officially known.

“It was an honor that you asked me to step over that line, and I was proud to step over the line,” Trump told Kim.

Pictures from the meeting — including a sequence of images from the two men emerging from opposite sides for a handshake and a skip across the border — were splashed across the front page of the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper, which carried 35 images in total.

Shin Beom-chul, an analyst at the Asan Institute of Policy Studies, said the KCNA report was “typical North Korean propaganda that glorified Kim as leading the tremendous changes in geopolitics”.

– ‘Mysterious force’ –

Analysts have been divided by Sunday’s events, some saying they spurred new momentum into deadlocked nuclear talks, while others described them as “reality show theatrics”.

The first Trump-Kim summit took place in a blaze of publicity in Singapore last year but produced only a vaguely worded pledge about denuclearisation.

A second meeting in Vietnam in February collapsed after the pair failed to reach an agreement over sanctions relief and what the North was willing to give in return.

Contact between the two sides has since been minimal — with Pyongyang issuing frequent criticisms of the US position — but the two leaders exchanged a series of letters before Trump issued his offer to meet at the DMZ.

Regional powerhouse China on Monday said renewed discussions between North Korea and the United States are of “great significance”.

“It is hoped that all parties concerned will seize the opportunity, move in the same direction, actively explore effective solutions to each other’s concerns and make progress on the peninsula,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in Beijing.

Trump’s historic gesture came over a week after Xi Jinping made the first visit to Pyongyang by a Chinese president in 14 years — a trip which analysts had said Xi may use as leverage in his own trade talks with Trump that concluded with a truce at the G20.

As well as the working-level talks, Trump also floated the idea of sanctions relief — repeatedly demanded by Pyongyang — and said he invited the North Korean leader to the White House.

Such a trip would have to come “at the right time”, he added.

KCNA was less specific, saying Kim and Trump discussed “issues of mutual concern and interest which become a stumbling block”.

Trump regularly calls Kim a “friend” and KCNA cited the North Korean leader as lauding their “good personal relations”, saying they would “produce good results unpredictable by others and work as a mysterious force overcoming manifold difficulties and obstacles”.

Vipin Narang of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said the North was portraying Kim as “being courted by Trump”…

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/North_Korea_hails_historic_Kim-Trump_summit_999.html.

By Amber Wang

Taipei (AFP)

June 27, 2019

With a presidential election looming Taiwan is bracing for a deluge of fake news and disinformation — much of it emanating from China and aimed at making sure Beijing’s preferred party wins the day, analysts say.

Torrential rain did little to put off tens of thousands of people rallying in Taipei last Sunday against what they have dubbed the “red media”.

The term is used to describe both legitimate news outlets and more opaque online sources that flood the democratic island with either pro-China coverage or outright disinformation.

“I don’t want to see ‘red forces’ invading Taiwan to control the media and manipulate what people think, to fool the public,” Alan Chang, a 30-year-old businessman attending the rally, told AFP.

Taiwan goes to the polls in January and the contest is set to be dominated by relations with China.

The island has been a self-ruled de facto nation in charge of its own affairs and borders for the last 70 years.

But Beijing maintains Taiwan is part of its territory and has never given up its threat to retake it, by force if necessary.

It has stopped communication with the government of President Tsai Ing-wen, who is seeking a second term, because she refuses to acknowledge the island is part of “one China”, while ramping up military drills and poaching Taiwan’s dwindling diplomatic allies.

Tsai’s main challenger is the Kuomintang which favors much warmer ties with the Chinese mainland and is the party Beijing wants to see back in power.

– Fake rescue –

“The stakes for the 2020 elections are high, as they will determine Taiwan’s future direction,” J Michael Cole, a Taipei-based expert at the University of Nottingham’s Taiwan Studies Programme, told AFP, adding fake news was already at “alarming levels”.

“So (Beijing) will intensify its influence operations — including fake news — to increase the odds that someone other than Tsai is elected,” he added.

One particularly egregious example that sparked criticism of the government was a widely shared, but patently false, report that China rescued Taiwanese tourists stranded in a Japanese airport during a typhoon.

Last week Tsai’s office also asked police to investigate false claims on social media that her government had given US$32 million to finance huge anti-government rallies in Hong Kong.

Hu Yuan-hui, head of the Fact Checking Centre in Taipei, said the viral nature of disinformation is aided by many Taiwanese people using Chinese social media and messaging services.

“They (fake reports) tend to highlight the contrast between Taiwan and China to try to portray a chaotic Taiwan versus a strong China,” he told AFP.

Last November, Tsai’s party was hammered in local elections, largely due to a backlash over domestic reforms and a divisive push for gay marriage equality.

But analysts said there was also a surge in fake news items ahead of those polls.

– Media literacy –

A study by Wang Tai-li, a journalism professor at National Taiwan University, found 54 percent of people surveyed were unable to distinguish the fabricated report about Chinese evacuating people during the typhoon, which went viral ahead of the November vote.

“Disinformation campaigns were proven effective last year and they will be replicated in larger scale during the upcoming presidential election,” Wang predicted.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said the false typhoon evacuation story originated on the Chinese mainland and was picked up by Taiwan’s social and traditional media, in a “carefully coordinated and extremely effective disinformation campaign”.

“Beijing has been targeting Taiwan with disinformation campaigns for decades… However, it is only recently that social networks have enabled these activities to have a viral impact,” RSF said.

US officials have also said Taiwan is “on the frontlines” of China’s disinformation campaigns.

“There is no question, at least in our minds, that China will try to meddle, they’ve done it in every previous election,” Randall Schriver, US assistant defense secretary for Asian and Pacific security affairs, said last week.

Source: Sino Daily.

Link: http://www.sinodaily.com/reports/Taiwan_braces_for_pro-China_fake_news_deluge_as_elections_loom_999.html.

July 06, 2019

ISTANBUL (AP) — A decade after deadly riots tore through his hometown, Kamilane Abudushalamu still vividly recalls the violence that left him an exile. On July 5, 2009, Abudushalamu was hiding with his father on the 10th floor of an office tower in Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang region that is home to the Turkic Uighur ethnic minority. By a park, he spotted a bus on fire. Then he heard a crack as a motorcycle nearby exploded.

Hours later, when he and his father stepped out to sprint home, he saw crowds of Uighurs stabbing Han Chinese in front of a middle school. The bodies of half a dozen people lay scattered on the streets — just a fraction of the estimated 200 killed that night.

Abudushalamu and tens of thousands of other Uighurs now live in Turkey, cut off from friends and family back home. Analysts say the Urumqi riots set in motion the harsh security measures now in place across Xinjiang, where about 1 million Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslims are estimated to be held in heavily guarded internment camps. Former detainees have told The Associated Press that within, they are subject to indoctrination and psychological torture.

Abudushalamu was just 9 years old when the riots took place. At the time, he knew he was witnessing something terrible, but he never imagined where the following years would lead. “I thought Han and Uighur people could be at peace,” he said. “The camps? I never thought that would happen.”

DECADES OF RESENTMENT

The riots started as a peaceful protest.

Weeks before, Han workers killed at least two Uighur migrants in a brawl at a toy factory in Shaoguan, an industrial city in China’s coastal Guangdong province. The Han workers were angry about the alleged rapes of Han women by Uighur men, though a government investigation later concluded there was no evidence such an assault had taken place.

Images and videos of the brawl quickly circulated among Uighurs back in Xinjiang, including gory scenes of what appeared to be a Han Chinese man dragging a dead Uighur by his hair.

The videos enraged many Uighurs long upset with the Han-dominated government that took control of their region following the Communist revolution in 1949.

The litany of complaints was long: heavy restrictions on religious education, discrimination against college-educated Uighurs looking for jobs, subsidies and benefits for Han migrants to settle on lands once owned by Uighurs.

Among the most odious were threats from state officials of fines or even jail time if parents didn’t send their young, unmarried daughters to work in factories in inner China. “Hashar,” a program that forced farmers to pave roads, dig ditches, and clear land for crops for the government for no pay fueled further resentment.

The killed Uighur workers had been on a state employment program, sent more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) from home. For many, their deaths crystallized everything that was wrong about Beijing’s heavy-handed interventionist policies — and the belittling racism they felt they were subjected to by the Han Chinese.

The images spurred Urumqi students to organize a protest on July 5 demanding a government investigation. Demonstrators were stopped by police in the late afternoon, and tensions mounted until officers opened fire, Uighur witnesses say.

Two students present at the protests told AP that they were shot at. One recalled that as he turned and ran, bullets whizzed by his head and others around him dropped to the ground.

Furious Uighurs attacked Han civilians on the streets. An estimated 200 people were killed — stabbed, beaten or burned alive in the melees that followed. Uighurs smashed storefronts, overturned cars and buses and set some ablaze.

THE CRACKDOWN DESCENDS

Abudushalamu hid with his family for days as mobs of Uighurs and Han killed each other in cycles of bloody revenge.

When they stepped outside a few days later, the streets were eerily empty, Abudushalamu said. Then the police arrived and started shooting.

“Two maybe SWAT team (members) came after me and shot at me,” said Abudushalamu, now 19. “The bullet went through right behind my right ear. I’m lucky I’m still alive.”

In the days after the violence on July 5, 2009, Beijing had sent in thousands of troops to restore order. For weeks, they fired tear gas, raided businesses and swept through Uighur neighborhoods to arrest hundreds, many of whom were punished with decades in prison. The entire region of 20 million people was cut off from the internet for months in an attempt to curtail use of social media.

Normality had returned, but Xinjiang was never quite the same. Ethnic divisions hardened. Han Chinese avoided Uighur neighborhoods, and vice versa. Many Han Chinese steered clear of the whole of the region’s south, home to most of Xinjiang’s Uighurs, because they believed it was too dangerous.

Experts say that July 5 and the subsequent crackdown was a “turning point.”

“From that moment on, China took a very hard-line position toward the control of religion and the control of minority ethnic groups in the region,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s regional director for East and Southeast Asia. “It increased dramatically its security operation. That really is what led to the situation today.”

UNITED “LIKE POMEGRANATE SEEDS”

In the following years, a series of violent terror attacks rocked Xinjiang and elsewhere. Dozens of civilians were hacked to death at a busy train station in China’s south. A Uighur drove a car into crowds at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Forty-three died when men threw bombs from two sports utility vehicles plowing through a busy market street in Urumqi.

When newly appointed Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Xinjiang in 2014, bombs tore through an Urumqi train station, killing three and injuring 79. In a Xinjiang work conference shortly afterward, Xi called on the state to integrate different ethnicities and remold religion to ward off extremism.

“The more separatists attempt to sabotage our ethnic unity, the more we should try to reinforce it,” state media quoted Xi as saying. China’s ethnicities, Xi said, could and should be united like “the seeds of a pomegranate.”

Already tight limits on religion, culture, education and dress tightened even further, with restrictions on long beards and headscarves and the detentions of prominent Uighur academics and literary figures who were widely considered moderate advocates of traditional Uighur culture.

After a new party secretary was appointed to take control of Xinjiang in 2016, thousands began to vanish into a vast network of prison-like camps. Beijing calls them “vocational training centers” designed to ward off terrorism and root out extremist thoughts, but former detainees describe them as indoctrination centers which arbitrarily confine their inmates and subject them to torture and food deprivation.

That same year, Abudushalamu’s father had taken him to Turkey to study at a boarding school and then returned to China. The following June, he stopped responding to messages, and Abudushalamu never heard from his father again.

Abudushalamu finally discovered his father’s fate last year when an acquaintance in Turkey told him he saw his father in an internment camp. He says he has now heard of more than 50 family members that have been detained in Xinjiang. Researchers estimate the camps now hold 1 million or more Uighurs and other members of Xinjiang’s ethnic minorities.

Abudushalamu says there is no reason for authorities to “train” his father, a successful businessman who speaks nine languages.

“It’s delusional,” he said. “Why does he still need to be ‘educated?'”

Associated Press journalists Kiko Rosario in Bangkok and Yanan Wang in Beijing contributed to this report.

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