Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh Fear Deadly Fires

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are living in renewed fear after deadly fires broke out more than 30 times in the southeastern Cox’s Bazar district in recent weeks.Rights activists said these fires are part of a “very worrying trend” in the overcrowded, sprawling shantytown that is home to dozens of interconnected makeshift refugee settlements.“Every day and night Rohingyas across the camp are living in fear that fire will break out again somewhere in the camp,” a Cox’s Bazar-based Rohingya rights activist who goes by Hussain told VOA. Many Rohingya use only one name.“Fires are breaking out time and again,” he said, “at least 32 times in different parts of the Rohingya camp in Cox’s Bazar in the past 17 days, after the devastating March 22 fire.”The rights activist said the perpetrators in recent fires were caught and turned over to authorities.“We caught seven or eight people red-handed while they were setting ablaze some shacks,” he said. “They were all handed over to police.”About 1 million Rohingya Muslim refugees have been living in the bamboo and tarpaulin shanties in the congested Cox’s Bazar district since fleeing military clampdowns in neighboring Myanmar in recent years, according to the United Nations. There are 34 encampments within in the district where Rohingya refugees have settled, which are collectively identified as one expansive settlement, including the Balukhali and nearby Kutupalong refugee camps, according to the International Organization for Migration.On March 22, a fire ripped through the Balukhali area of the camp, killing at least 15 refugees, authorities said. Sanjeev Kafley, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies delegation head in Bangladesh, told Reuters that more than 17,000 shelters were destroyed, and thousands of people were displaced in the area because of the fire. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that the fire injured around 550 refugees and left more than 48,000 homeless.People inspect the debris after a fire in a makeshift market near a Rohingya refugee camp in Kutupalong, Bangladesh, April 2, 2021.Last week, a statement from the UNHCR in Bangladesh said, “Multiple small fires have been reported across camps in Kutupalong and Nayapara [of Cox’s Bazar] in [the] last week. This is a very worrying trend. Refugees have managed to put out the fires quickly with only a limited number of families affected.”While several thousand victims of the March 22 fire remain without shelter, more incidents of fire have been reported, leading refugees to live in constant fear. On April 2, at least three people were killed and more than 20 shops were gutted in a makeshift market near Kutupalong refugee camp, Part of Balukhali Rohingya Refugee camp, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, as it looks now, two weeks after a devastating fire ravaged the area. With the support of aid agencies and others, the refugees have rebuilt most of the shanties. (Nur Islam/VOA)Abdus Shukur, 45, another refugee, from Kutupalong, said he believes the fires were caused by arson.“Some people are secretly sprinkling a white inflammable powder on the roofs of our shacks. Some others are setting them on fire,” Shukur told VOA. “It is clear, they are not accidents. Some people are setting fire to the shacks as part of a conspiracy.”The suspected perpetrators, he said, may be conspiring to scare Rohingya refugees from Cox’s Bazar by repeatedly setting fire to their makeshift homes.”They want more Rohingya to move to Bhasan Char,” he said, referring to a remote Bay of Bengal island, “or they want all Rohingya to go back to Myanmar.”Bangladesh has set up a facility on Bhasan Char, where it wants to relocate at least 100,000 Rohingya refugees from camps in Cox’s Bazar. A few thousand Rohingya have moved to the island in recent months but most are unwilling to relocate there, saying that the island is prone to flooding during high tide and largely disconnected from the mainland.A day after the March 22 fire, Bangladesh said it would investigate the cause of the blaze, but authorities so far have not said what triggered the devastating fire.Several senior government officials did not respond to questions from VOA asking about the cause of the fires. However, one midlevel police officer said that the cause is rivalry among feuding Rohingya criminal gangs.“There is rivalry among different Rohingya anti-social groups,” the officer told VOA on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media. “Members of one group are setting fire to the shanties belonging to its rival groups or their supporters.”However, many Rohingya refugees living in the Cox’s Bazar disagree.“At least three of those who were caught red-handed were [non-Rohingya] Bangladeshis,” said a Cox’s Bazar-based Rohingya refugee who withheld his name for fear of reprisal by police and locals. “We strongly believe the masterminds behind the fires are those who view the Rohingya as their enemy in Bangladesh and want them to flee the camps of Cox’s Bazar.“Those masterminds are using some hired anti-socials, who are Bangladeshis as well as Rohingyas, to carry out the fire attacks on us,” he added. “The fires cannot be rooted to any Rohingya conspiracy, we believe.”

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Myanmar Security Forces Kill More Than 80 Anti-Coup Protesters, Reports Say

Myanmar security forces killed more than 80 anti-junta demonstrators Thursday and Friday, according to reporting Saturday, as activists demanding the restoration of the ousted civilian government again took to the streets in the southeast of the country.
 
Myanmar Now news, witnesses, and the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said the killings occurred when government troops fired grenades at protesters in the city of Bago, about 65 kilometers northeast of Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city.
 
Myanmar Now reported 82 people were killed while the AAPP, a local monitoring group that tallies deaths in the country, reported that “over 80 anti-coup protesters were killed by security forces in Bago on Friday.”
 
The United Nations said in a statement Saturday it has received reports that heavy artillery was used against civilians in Bago and that injured people were not receiving medical treatment.
 
“The violence must end immediately,” the U.N. statement said. “We call on the security forces to allow medical teams to treat the wounded.”Anti-coup protesters march in Mandalay, Myanmar, April 10, 2021. (Credit: Citizen journalist via VOA Burmese Service)An alliance of ethnic armies opposed to the new military government reportedly killed at least 10 police officers when it attacked a police station Saturday in the village of Naungmon.
 
According to Reuters, the local media outlet Shan News reported at least 10 officers were killed, while the Shwe Phee Myay News Agency said 14 lives were lost. The military government did not immediately comment on the reported killings.
 
Undaunted by the shutdown and the government’s deadly crackdown on demonstrators, protesters reportedly returned to the streets Saturday in the town of Launglone and in the neighboring city of Dawei.
 
AAPP previously has said 618 people have died since the February 1 coup, when the military removed the National League for Democracy (NLD) government, detaining former de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint. Martial law has been imposed in townships across Myanmar.
 
Suu Kyi led Myanmar since its first open democratic election in 2015, but Myanmar’s military contested last November’s election results, claiming widespread electoral fraud, largely without evidence. 
 

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Indonesia’s Java Hit by Magnitude 5.9 Quake, 7 Killed

A magnitude 5.9 earthquake struck off Indonesia’s Java island on Saturday, killing seven people, severely wounding two and damaging hundreds of buildings in several cities, the country’s disaster mitigation agency BNPB said.
 
The quake, which struck at 2 p.m. (0700 GMT) local time, was felt across East Java, home to 40.7 million people, and nearby provinces, including the resort island of Bali, Indonesian media reported.
 
Ten people were slightly injured, while an unspecified number of people in several villages were moved to evacuation centers as some houses have been destroyed, the BNPB said.
 
More than 300 homes and dozens of other buildings, including schools, hospitals, government offices and places of worship, were damaged, the agency said.
 
The numbers could change as authorities collect more information about the extent of casualties and damage.  
 
Images in media showed flattened houses in towns near the southern coast of East Java, the closest area to the epicenter of the quake.
 
A large gorilla statue in an amusement park in the town of Batu lost its head, news website Detik.com reported.  
 
The quake struck in the Indian Ocean 91 kilometers (57 miles) off the southern coast of East Java. It had a magnitude of 5.9 at a depth of 96 kilometers, according to the European-Mediterranean Seismological Center, which reduced the quake’s magnitude from an initial 6.8.
 
Video shared by social media users showed people running out of a shopping mall in Malang city amid the strong tremor.
 
“I felt the earthquake twice, the first time for two seconds and then it stopped, but then it shook again for five seconds,” Edo Afizal, a receptionist at a hotel in Blitar, told Reuters by phone.
 
Indonesia was struck last week by tropical cyclone Seroja, which triggered landslides and flash floods killing more than 170 people on islands in East Nusa Tenggara province.
 
Straddling the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, Indonesia is regularly hit by earthquakes. A magnitude 6.2 quake that struck Sulawesi island in January killed more than 100 people.
 

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Australian Humpback Whale Numbers Surge But Scientists Warn of Climate Change Threat

Marine experts estimate about 40,000 humpback whales are now migrating through Australian waters annually, up from about 1,500 half a century ago.  
   
The humpbacks’ annual journey from Antarctica to subtropical waters along Australia’s east and west coasts is one of nature’s great migrations.  
 
It is a journey of up to 10,000 kilometers and is undertaken between April and November. Scientists have estimated 40,000 humpback whales have been in Australian waters to mate and breed.  It is a remarkable recovery from the height of commercial whaling in the early 1960s when it was estimated there were fewer than 1,500 humpbacks.  They were slaughtered mainly for their oil and baleen, or “whalebone.”
 
Australia’s environment department says no other whale species has recovered as strongly as the humpback since the end of commercial hunting, which ceased in Australia in 1978.
 
Australia is now considering removing humpback whales from the endangered species list because of their growing numbers.
 
The acrobatic humpbacks that can grow to 16 meters would still be protected in Australia. Conservationists, though, argue that they need more, not fewer, environmental safeguards to monitor the impact of climate change on krill – their main source of food. Krill are affected by the absorption of more carbon dioxide into the ocean.
 
Olaf Meynecke, a research fellow in Marine Science at Queensland’s Griffith University, says vigilance is needed to ensure the whales continue to thrive.  
 
“Generally speaking, yes, it is a great success story that humpback whales have come back.  But obviously we also need to ask questions as [to] how will this continue in the future, how are present threats already impacting the population and how we [are] going to detect changes in the future,” Meynecke said.  
 
Scientists say humpbacks face a combination of other threats including the overharvesting of krill, pollution, habitat degradation, and entanglement in fishing nets. Calves also face attack by killer whales or sharks.
 
The recovery of the humpback has helped the rapid growth of Australia’s whale-watching industry.
 
As their numbers have grown, much about the humpback, a species famous for its song, remains a mystery.  Scientists do not know exactly, for example, where on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef they mate and calve.  
 
Humpback whales live in all the world’s oceans. They take their common name from a distinctive hump on the whale’s back.   
 

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Bolton: North Korea Unlikely to Denuclearize Under Kim

North Korea has not made a strategic decision to give up nuclear weapons and the prospects for efforts to achieve denuclearization through diplomacy remain dim, said John Bolton, former President Donald Trump’s national security adviser.If the U.S. pursues “an agreement with Kim Jong Un that relies on him promising to give up his nuclear weapons program in exchange for sanctions relief,” it would fail, said Bolton during an interview with VOA’s Korean Service this week.The assessment comes as the Biden administration nears the end of a review of how to approach North Korea.”I think the regime is committed to developing and keeping nuclear weapons. I think they see it as essential to their survival,” Bolton added.In January during the Eighth Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), Kim said he will bolster his country’s nuclear weapons program.“We must further strengthen the nuclear war while doing our best to build up the most powerful military strength,” said Kim, who is the WPK chairman.Trump and Kim met three times, but they failed to reach a nuclear deal. Bolton believes North Korea will not abandon its nuclear weapons program voluntarily and China holds the key to pressing North Korea toward denuclearization.”China has used North Korea ever since the peninsula was partitioned for its own purposes,” the former adviser said. “Given China’s economic influence in North Korea, it could still call the shots if it wants to.”Bolton’s gloomy assessment paints a dim picture of prospects for nuclear diplomacy with Pyongyang that the Biden administration is weighing.Washington has reached out to North Korea multiple times since February, but Pyongyang rejected the contacts.On March 21, the North test-fired two short-range cruise missiles, an activity not banned by United Nations resolutions. Days later, on March 25, the North flight-tested two short-range ballistic missiles in violation of U.N. sanctions.Despite North Korea’s apparent unwillingness to talk, the White House said the U.S. remains open to diplomacy.”We are prepared to consider some form of diplomacy if it’s going to lead us down the path toward denuclearization,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters this week.On Friday, Jalina Porter, principal deputy spokesperson at the State Department, told reporters that “the U.S. remains committed to the denuclearization of North Korea.”Measuring diplomatic successAnalysts said it is far from settled whether the Biden administration should give up diplomacy with the Kim regime entirely as Bolton suggested.Thomas Countryman, who served as the acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security under the Obama administration, said diplomacy with North Korea requires “patience” and diplomatic success should not be measured by whether or not there is a “dramatic breakthrough.”Joseph DeTrani, who served as the U.S. special envoy to the Six-Party Talks from 2003 to 2006, said the Biden administration still needs to test Kim’s commitment to denuclearization through engagement.The six-party talks were a series of multilateral negotiations attended by China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea and the United States. Chaired by China in Beijing, the talks focused on dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program.“There’s no question diplomacy is key, diplomacy is key to resolving issues with North Korea,” DeTrani said.Bolton said Pyongyang’s capacity to proliferate its nuclear weaponry is one of the imminent threats Washington must face.“We do know this,” Bolton said. “If Iran made a wire transfer of a substantial amount of money to North Korea, they could have a North Korean nuclear warhead within a matter of days and so could anybody else with the same financial assets.”

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Myanmar Military Sentences 19 to Death, Says Anti-Coup Protests Dwindling

Nineteen people have been sentenced to death in Myanmar for killing an associate of an army captain, the military-owned Myawaddy TV station said Friday. These are the first such sentences announced in public since a February 1 coup and crackdown on protesters. The report said the killing took place on March 27 in the North Okkalapa district of Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city. Martial law has been declared in the district, allowing courts-martial to pronounce sentences. The military rulers who overthrew an elected government said on Friday that a protest campaign against its rule was dwindling because people wanted peace, and that it would hold elections within two years, the first timeframe it has given for a return to democracy. Troops fired rifle grenades at anti-coup protesters on Friday in the town of Bago, near Yangon, witnesses and news reports said. At least 10 people were killed, and their bodies were piled inside a pagoda, they said. A protester sets off fireworks from behind a barricade while a man, at left, holds a homemade rifle in a clash with security forces in Bago, in this screengrab from Hantarwadi Media video footage taken on April 9, 2021 and provided to AFPTV.Myanmar Now news and Mawkun, an online news magazine, said at least 20 people were killed and many wounded. It was not possible to get a precise toll because troops had cordoned off the area near the pagoda, they said. Junta spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told a news conference in the capital, Naypyitaw, that the country was returning to normal and government ministries and banks would resume full operations soon. More than 600 people have been killed by security forces cracking down on protests against the coup, according to an activist group. The country has ground to a standstill because of the protests and widespread strikes against military rule. Junta spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun speaks during a live press conference in Naypyidaw, April 9, 2021, in this screengrab provided via AFPTV and taken from a broadcast by Myanmar Radio and Television in Myanmar.”The reason of reducing protests is due to cooperation of people who want peace, which we value,” Zaw Min Tun said. “We request people to cooperate with security forces and help them.” He said the military had recorded 248 deaths, and he denied that automatic weapons had been used. Sixteen policemen had also been killed, he said. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group has said that 614 people, including 48 children, had been killed by security forces since the coup, as of Thursday evening. More than 2,800 were in detention, it said. “We are humbled by their courage and dignity,” a group of 18 ambassadors in Myanmar said of the protesters in a joint statement. “We stand together to support the hopes and aspirations of all those who believe in a free, just, peaceful and democratic Myanmar. Violence has to stop, all political detainees must be released and democracy must be restored.” The statement was signed by the ambassadors of the United States, Britain, the EU, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Switzerland and several other European nations. FILE – Demonstrators are seen before a clash with security forces in Taze, Sagaing Region, Myanmar, April 7, 2021, in this image obtained by Reuters.”The suggestions from neighboring countries and big countries and powerful people in politics, we respect them,” Zaw Min Tun said. He also accused members of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy of arson and said the protest campaign was being financed by foreign money, but he gave no details. Suu Kyi and many of her party colleagues have been in custody since the coup. Zaw Min Tun said reports that some members of the international community did not recognize the military government were “fake news.” “We are cooperating with foreign countries and working together with neighboring countries,” the spokesman said. Ousted Myanmar lawmakers urged the United Nations Security Council on Friday to take action against the military. “Our people are ready to pay any cost to get back their rights and freedom,” said Zin Mar Aung, who has been appointed acting foreign minister for a group of ousted lawmakers. She urged council members to apply both direct and indirect pressure on the junta. “Myanmar stands at the brink of state failure, of state collapse,” Richard Horsey, a senior adviser on Myanmar with the International Crisis Group, told the informal U.N. meeting, the first public discussion of Myanmar by council members. FILE – U.N. Special Envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener arrives at Sittwe airport, in Rakhine State, Oct. 15, 2018.The U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, had wanted to visit the country but said she has been rebuffed by the generals. She said on Friday she had arrived in Bangkok, the capital of neighboring Thailand. “I regret that Tatmadaw answered me yesterday that they are not ready to receive me,” Schraner Burgener said on Twitter, referring to the Myanmar military. “I am ready for dialog. Violence never leads to peaceful sustainable solutions.”  
 

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Myanmar Envoy Appeals for No-Fly Zone, Arms Embargo

Myanmar’s U.N. envoy, who was appointed by the democratically elected government, appealed to the international community Friday to protect civilians from the country’s military with a no-fly zone, arms embargo and targeted sanctions. “It is necessary to have strong and urgent actions on the U.N. Security Council in order to save the lives of innocent civilians in Myanmar,” Kyaw Moe Tun told an informal meeting of the Security Council. ”Collective strong action is needed immediately. Time is of the essence for us, please take action now.” The envoy, who made headlines in February publicly opposing the military coup, called on the international community to target sanctions against the businesses linked to the military and to their families. He also urged the suspension of foreign investments until the democratically elected government is restored. FILE – This screengrab of a handout video made available on the United Nations’ YouTube channel shows Myanmar’s ambassador to the U.N. Kyaw Moe Tun at an informal meeting of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Feb. 26, 2021.”I wish to stress that the international community and the U.N. Security Council have the responsibility to use all necessary means to help protect the people of Myanmar from atrocities, brutal and inhuman acts committed by the military, through collective, concrete and unifying action in a timely and decisive manner,” the envoy said. In diplomatic speak, “all necessary measures” usually refers to military action. Myanmar has been mired in chaos and violence since the military’s overthrow of the civilian government on February 1, and the detentions of de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other high-ranking officials of her National League for Democracy (NLD) Party.  The military has claimed widespread fraud in last November’s election, which the NLD won in a landslide. Myanmar’s electoral commission has denied the fraud claims. Since then, there have been daily peaceful protests across the country, which the military has brutally tried to put down. More than 600 civilians, including several children, have been killed in the streets and in their homes. Nearly 3,000 people have been arrested, A protester sets off fireworks from behind a barricade while a man, at left, holds a homemade rifle in a clash with security forces in Bago, in this screengrab from Hantarwadi Media video footage taken on April 9, 2021 and provided to AFPTV.Friday’s U.N. meeting was organized by Britain, with support from the U.S. and European members of the 15-nation Security Council. British Ambassador Barbara Woodward said it was intended to hear “the perspectives of the people of Myanmar whose voices the military seeks to silence.” They included Zin Mar Aung, who is the acting foreign minister appointed by the group representing the ousted NLD lawmakers, known as the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw or CRPH. She said the military’s unrelenting excessive use of force shows it does not have control over the country. “Our people are ready to pay any cost to get back their rights and freedom,” Zin Mar Aung added. “The streets of Yangon and in many parts of the country, are now strewn with yellow padauk flower, a symbol of new year for Buddhists, the religious majority,” said civil society leader Sai Sam Kham. ”Just as no one can keep the padauk from blooming, no one can stop the aspiration of young people who believe freedom and democracy is worth dying for.” A woman looks at shoes displayed with flowers in Yangon’s Myaynigone township, as part of the “Marching Shoes Strike” against the military coup in Myanmar, in this photo taken and received courtesy of an anonymous source on April 8, 2021.He said the people would not tolerate a dictatorship or fake democracy. “They are defiant and courageously defending their rights.” International Crisis Group Myanmar expert Richard Horsey gave a bleak assessment of the country’s trajectory if the situation continues to unravel. “To put it simply, Myanmar stands at the brink of state failure, of state collapse,” he warned. He said business is at a standstill and it is having ripple effects on the country’s supply chains, which could lead to a food shortages. The health care system is in a state of collapse and, perhaps most concerning, ethnic armed violence is on the rise. Council members called for U.N. Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener to be allowed to visit Myanmar. The envoy has been trying for weeks to secure the junta’s agreement, but she tweeted on Friday that they have rejected her request. Just arrived in BKK for talks. I regret that Tatmadaw answered me yesterday that they are not ready to receive me. I am ready for dialogue. Violence never leads to peaceful sustainable solutions. Protesters take part in a demonstration against the military coup in Mogok town, north of Mandalay, in this photo taken and received courtesy of an anonymous source via Facebook on April 9, 2021.Council member Estonia said it is time the council draft a strong resolution. “The United Nations Security Council is the only entity in the world which has the legitimate power to protect nations at risk, and must explore every tool in its toolbox to end this horrible situation,” Ambassador Sven Jürgenson said. ”To this end, we should start drafting a resolution that could also foresee sanctions, especially a comprehensive arms embargo, in order to stop the atrocities. All states must refrain from supplying the perpetrators with weapons.” Dozens of states have implemented bilateral arms embargoes on the junta, but the council has not, most likely because China would block such a move. Beijing’s representative said her government is concerned about the violence and bloodshed, which “serves no one’s interests.” She said China would continue to maintain contacts and communication with the parties “in its own way to deescalate the situation.” 
 

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China’s Propaganda Against Foreign Media Increases 

China’s propaganda machine has ramped up in the past week, targeting two foreign journalists with verbal and online attacks over their coverage of Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region.   Both John Sudworth, a journalist with the BBC, and Vicky Xu, a researcher and reporter based in Australia, have refused to be silenced by what Sudworth has referred to as China’s “highly asymmetric battle for the control of ideas.”  Sudworth, who reported from Beijing for nearly nine years, relocated with his family to Taiwan last week after an increase in legal threats and other pressure from authorities. His is the latest in a series of sudden departures by foreign media.  In an article, he said that China’s “wolf-warrior” diplomats — a term referring to envoys using a more aggressive approach — have unleashed tweet-storms, lambasting foreign reporting including that of the BBC.   FILE – The BBC sign is seen outside the entrance to the headquarters of the publicly funded media organization in London, July 19, 2017.Beijing appears to view any China-based foreign correspondent as an “unwanted witness,” said Cédric Alviani, East-Asia bureau director at Reporters Without Borders (RSF).  “The Chinese regime has been increasingly harassing foreign correspondents to ensure that it’s as hard as possible for them to properly do their job,” Alviani told VOA on Wednesday, adding that Sudworth’s “forced departure” is a direct result of the harassment.    Beijing has expelled 18 foreign correspondents from China in the past year, Alviani said.  VOA’s inquiries to Sudworth and Xu for comment went unanswered.  But in an FILE – An AFP video journalist, left, is escorted away while filming at what is believed to be a reeducation camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region, June 2, 2019.China has denied that Sudworth was at risk. During a news briefing last week, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying denied the government had threatened him.   “We heard that a few individuals and entities in Xinjiang may sue him over his slanderous reports. But that has nothing to do with the government,” Hua said.   The spokesperson added that Sudworth should have stayed to prove his innocence in court.  But Sudworth, in his BBC article, described China’s judicial system as lacking independence, saying it runs “as an extension of the Communist Party.”  Online attacks  Researcher and journalist Xu, who lives in Australia, also found herself being targeted this week, as thousands of online trolls tried to discredit and smear her over reporting on the Uyghurs, including a 2020 article.  The trolling centered on FILE – A guard tower and barbed wire fence surround a detention facility in the Kunshan Industrial Park in Artux in western China’s Xinjiang region, Dec. 3, 2018.ASPI said that it contacted the companies for comment, but only some replied. The report said a few brands instructed vendors to end relationships with the suppliers. Others said they had no direct contracts with those allegedly using the labor schemes. “No brands were able to rule out a link further down their supply chain,” the report said. As part of an apparent campaign to defend China’s Xinjiang policies, state media and social media posts tried to discredit or smear Xu, calling her a “female demon,” a “race traitor” and the brainchild behind Xinjiang’s cotton controversy.    On Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging platform, more than 8 million users clicked on her name and stories publicly shaming her.  Xu, a 26-year-old journalist, was a party loyalist from Gansu province and trained in Beijing to become an English-language broadcaster before leaving China to report on human rights.  She responded to the attacks by mocking the trolls. On Tuesday, she tweeted that the attacks were “a wonderful way to alert the public something is up in Xinjiang, something echoing the cultural revolution and worse.”  She also tweeted to clarify that her report focused on forced labor, exploited by the manufacturing sector, rather than the cotton industry in Xinjiang.  Xu has vowed to keep writing about Xinjiang until the camps are closed and forced labor ends.   China has long insisted that its camps in Xinjiang are meant to counter terrorism and alleviate poverty. But human rights groups have accused China of genocide by incarcerating at least a million Uyghurs.  Call to uniteSteve Chao, a freelance investigative journalist and former host for Al Jazeera English, said that restrictions imposed by China for accredited journalists are a “disappointing trend” that prevents a free exchange of ideas.  China appears to see foreign journalists as part of its growing tensions with Western governments, Chao said.  “I think the challenge for the Chinese government has always been whether they can actually separate the foreign press from Western governments because I think there’s a perception that the media is a wing or arm of Western governments. There isn’t a true sense that it is an independent entity,” Chao told VOA over the phone.  China appears to have adopted a strategy to not only put forward its viewpoints, but also to silence opposition viewpoints by kicking journalists out or miring journalists and academics in lawsuits — a battle Chao said some media organizations lack the resources to fight.  Chao called for “a unified stand” against attempts by Beijing to chill free speech and view the foreign press as a threat.  Alviani of RSF echoed that view. He said that democracies should unite against China’s attack on freedom of press and speech — universal rights enshrined in China’s constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was signed by Beijing.    This article originated in VOA’s Mandarin service.
 

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