Man with Vail Valley ties helps launch organization to help Uighurs and others imprisoned in China
Kyle Olbert among those decrying China's 'concentration camps'
Kyle Olbert has watched China closely his entire adult life — its rapid rise and the existential threat it poses to the U.S.
Olbert, a former Vail Valley and Roaring Fork Valley resident, is among many raising alarms about detention camps where the Chinese are holding Uighurs — pronounced “wee-gurs” — and other minorities, using them as forced labor in what the Chinese call re-education centers and vocational training centers.
“Re-education is a sick euphemism. It’s cruel and it’s a lie. It’s the largest hostage situation in the history of mankind,” Olbert said.
A United Nations human rights panel estimates the Chinese are holding millions of people in the detention camps.
“I discovered about a year ago this story what China is doing to these oppressed people in the northwest part of that country,” Olbert said. “I’ve never been the type person to watch from the sidelines. I decided to try to help these people.”
Support Local Journalism
Olbert helped launch the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement, a Washington, D.C.-based organization committed to fighting against the concentration camps and prisons where the Chinese are accused of holding Uighurs and others.
“Slowly but surely people are waking up to the fact that China is the new evil empire,” Olbert said.
U.S. showing leadership
The U.S. is showing leadership on this issue, Olbert said.
Randall Schriver, the assistant secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, said in a Pentagon briefing that of the 10 million Uighurs living in that region, as many as 3 million are being held in Chinese concentration camps.
Schriver made the assertion in a Department of Defense annual report on China’s military, saying “concentration camps” is an accurate description.
“What’s happening there,” coupled with the public statements of Chinese officials, “make what I think a very appropriate description,” Schriver is quoted as saying in a story on Military.com.
Uighurs are mostly Muslim. In the camps, you’ll also find Christians, Buddhists and Falun Gong. The list is expansive, Olbert said.
U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, speaking to CNN, accused the Chinese Communist Party of being “at war with faith.”
“China falsely claims they’re terrorists. They’re not. The truth is that they’re a remarkably moderate people,” Olbert said. “Even if some were terrorists, that would not justify throwing 3 million people into concentration camps.”
“We are thrilled to see that the president is fighting back in the trade war that China started,” Olbert said.
President Donald Trump was correct to blacklist some Chinese entities, Olbert said.
“China has been at war with us. That’s what people are missing. We’re finally fighting back,” Olbert said.
It’s mostly about money
The largely arid region is central to China’s commerce and industry plans. It’s rich in natural resources: gold, uranium and other drivers of China’s industrial machine.
“What’s at stake is much more than dollars and cents. It’s people’s lives and freedoms,” Olbert said.
Numerous tools are available for U.S. consumers to help reign in “China’s malignant influence around the world,” Olbert said. Consumers can boycott Chinese goods and demand that institutional investors divest from Chinese companies.
China’s human rights violations reach across all spectrums, and the biggest victims of China’s repression are the Chinese people, Olbert said, citing China’s “Orwellian measures.”
“If you say something they don’t like, you cannot travel and often cannot rent an apartment. If you get a low score they install a ringtone that’s a warning about dealing with you, that you have a low social credit score,” Olbert said.
Prisoners reportedly get a little bread each day as they’re forced to memorize Chinese propaganda. Reports of torture and rape, forced medication and sterilization are filtering out of the camps as people are released or escape, Olbert said.
Mihrigul Tursun escaped. She’s a Uighur with Egyptian dual-citizenship. In her testimony before the Congressional Executive Committee on China, she described torture, involuntary medication and other horrors. She lost a child there, she said.
“I would like to thank the United States government and the American people for saving my life and bringing me to the United States of America, the land of the free,” Tursun said during her testimony before the committee. “Over the last three years, I was taken to Chinese government detention centers three times. I spent 10 months in the camps in total, and experienced physical and psychological torture at the hands of government officials.”
China’s ‘Strike Hard’ policy
China invaded the Xinjiang region in its northwestern region in 1949. The people who live there still call it East Turkistan.
The Chinese government’s “Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Extremism” began in Xinjiang in 2014. The level of repression increased dramatically after Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo relocated from the Tibet Autonomous Region to assume leadership of Xinjiang in late 2016, Human Rights Watch says.
Since then, the authorities have stepped up mass arbitrary detention, including in pretrial detention centers and prisons. Turkic Muslims are forced to learn Mandarin Chinese, sing praises of the Chinese Communist Party,and memorize rules. Those who resist are punished, HRW says. Human Rights Watch issued a 117-page report, “‘Eradicating Ideological Viruses’: China’s Campaign of Repression Against Xinjiang’s Muslims.”
They say the Turkic Muslim population is subjected to forced political indoctrination, collective punishment, restrictions on movement and communications, heightened religious restrictions and mass surveillance.
“The Chinese government is committing human rights abuses in Xinjiang on a scale unseen in the country in decades,” Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch said.
It is evident that China does not foresee a significant political cost to its abusive Xinjiang campaign, partly due to its influence within the U.N. system, Human Rights Watch said.
“A failure to urgently press for an end to these abuses will only embolden Beijing,” Richardson said.
China’s UN ambassador Zhang Jun tied the criticism to a trade deal with the U.S.
“It’s hard to imagine that on the one hand, you are trying to seek to have a trade deal, on the other hand, you are making use of any issues, especially human rights issues, to blame the others,” he said. “I do not think it’s helpful for having a good solution to the issue of trade talks.”
In October Zhang told The Guardian that the accusations against Beijing are a “gross interference in China’s internal affairs and deliberate provocation.”
Olbert said the only way to protect these people’s human rights is to protect their political rights.
“Without those, you cannot guarantee your other rights. They need to be able to govern themselves and that means an independent country,” Olbert said. “If we can get these human rights sanctions in place, maybe we’ll have a fighting chance to save these 3 million people.”