Category Archives: China

Illegal overfishing by Chinese trawlers leaves Sierra Leone locals ‘starving’

Traders at Tombo market descaling fish.
Traders at Tombo market descaling fish. Photograph: Peter Yeung

Along Tombo’s crumbling waterfront, dozens of hand-painted wooden boats are arriving in the blistering midday sun with the day’s catch for the scrum of the market in one of Sierra Leone’s largest fishing ports.

In a scrap of shade at the bustling dock, Joseph Fofana, a 36-year-old fisherman, is repairing a torn net. Fofana says he earns about 50,000 leone (£3.30) for a brutal, 14-hour day at sea, crammed in with 20 men, all paying the owner for use of his vessel. “This is the only job we can do,” he says. “It’s not my choice. God carried me here. But we are suffering.”

Every day, about 13,000 small boats like Fofana’s cast off from Sierra Leone’s 314-mile (506km) coastline. Fisheries employ 500,000 of the west African nation’s nearly 8 million people, represent 12% of the economy and are the source of 80% of the population’s protein consumption.

But a dozen fishermen interviewed by the Guardian say their catch is dwindling rapidly due to sustained overfishing on a large scale. “Many years ago, you could see fish in the water from here, even big ones,” says Fofana. “Not any more. There’s less fish than ever before.”

Tombo’s fishing community put the blame squarely on foreign fleets. About 40% of industrial licences are owned by Chinese vessels; though legal, locals say they pay meagre fees for their permits, under-declare their catch and add little to the local economy.

At the same time, illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing is a huge problem, costing Sierra Leone $50m a year, President Julius Maada Bio said in 2018. Last year, a joint operation by the Sierra Leonean navy and the conservation organisation Sea Shepherd Global led to the arrest of five foreign-owned fishing vessels in two days, including two Chinese-flagged trawlers found to be fishing without a licence.

Those in Tombo who have protested at the illegal fishing say they face violence from the crews. Alusine Kargbo, a 34-year-old mackerel fisherman, says trawlers’ crews threw boiling water at him when he confronted them over fishing in areas where trawling is prohibited. “Before, the trawlers weren’t in our zones, now they are,” Kargbo says. “The difference is so great [in terms of his catches] compared with before, I’m struggling to feed my children.”

Others are being forced farther afield in search of fish. Ibrahim Bangura, 47, often goes on three-day fishing trips into the Atlantic, a deadly venture in the rainy season. But while the potential reward is greater, he says conflicts with Chinese trawlers are more likely. “There’s so, so many of them,” says Bangura. “They disturb my property, trash my nets. And if you try to stop them, they will fight you.”

In addition to dominating licensed markets, China is consistently ranked as the worst offender for IUU fishing in a global index of 152 countries. Across west Africa, illegal trawling is devastating marine ecosystems and undermining local fisheries, which are a critical source of jobs and food security. A study in 2017 found that Sierra Leone, Senegal, Mauritania, the Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and Guinea lose $2.3bn (£1.7bn) a year due to IUU fishing, which amounts to 65% of the legal reported catch.


Some experts warn that Sierra Leone’s coastal communities face devastating consequences of legal and illegal overfishing. “The Chinese fleet has been taking the profits of the fisheries for 30 years and the impact on fish stocks has been terrible,” says Stephen Akester, an adviser to Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources between 2009 and 2021. “The resources are disappearing, fishermen are suffering, families are starving. Many have just one meal a day.”

“Imagine working for weeks and not being able to catch food,” says Woody Backie Koroma of the Sierra Leone Artisanal Fishermen Union. “They are getting debts. They go to bed without food.”

Such is the strain, says Koroma, that one debt-ridden fisherman in Tombo killed himself last year after his boat was confiscated by the local authorities.

Efforts to manage the sector, including the creation of an inshore exclusion zone that prohibits all but subsistence fishing in the six nautical miles closest to shore, installing movement trackers on industrial trawlers and creating community fishing associations to promote sustainability, have so far had limited impact due to policing and funding challenges, according to officials. A month-long ban on industrial fishing in 2019 was criticised as being too short to allow stocks to replenish.

“We receive a lot of reports and intelligence of illegal fishing,” says Abbas Kamara, an officer at Tombo’s fisheries ministry. “But it’s difficult to corroborate. The trawlers work day and night.

“Fish is very important to Tombo – it’s how people survive – but the fish go to the Chinese,” says Kamara.

The Chinese embassy in Freetown did not respond to the Guardian’s request for comment.

Amara Kalone, at the Environmental Justice Foundation, a charity that monitored foreign vessels in Sierra Leone until last year when funding for the project ran out, says fleets are adapting their tactics to evade restrictions brought against industrial fishing.

“Semi-industrial ships are coming closer to the estuaries, and they are in a legal grey area,” he says. “Other crews are using very fine, monofilament nets, which are illegal but hard to track.”

Another major concern is the rise of marauding fishing crews from neighbouring countries such as Guinea and Liberia, which catch juvenile fish in protected breeding grounds, fatally undermining fish populations, according to Salieu Sankoh, coordinator of the West Africa Regional Fisheries Programme in Sierra Leone. “It’s a serious threat to the nutrition of the population,” he says. “Some local boats go to the sea and come back with nothing.”


In Tombo, as the sky turns orange over Sierra Leone’s Western Peninsula and the ocean becomes unusually still, a sense of despair sets in for the many artisanal fishers struggling to stay afloat.

Low hauls mean that Ali Mamy Koroma, a 40-year-old fisherman with two wives and six children, has had to borrow 1m leone (£65) to pay his bills. “I feel like I’m drowning,” says Koroma, slumped against the wall at the back of Tombo’s indoor market. “But I can’t swim. There is no way out.”

Uyghur survivor of China’s detention camps testifies to their brutality

Tursunay Ziyawudun
Tursunay Ziyawudun at the International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, D.C./ Campaign For Uyghurs | Twitter @CUyghurs

Warning: graphic and disturbing content below. Reader discretion is advised.

A two-time survivor of China’s detention camps in Xinjiang described suffering physical and sexual violence at the hands of camp guards, in her July 14 testimony at an international religious freedom gathering in Washington, D.C.

Tursunay Ziyawudun, 42, of China’s northwest province of Xinjiang, spoke at the International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, D.C. on the morning of Wednesday, July 14. She described how she was imprisoned in camps in the province on two separate occasions. 

“My experiences in these Chinese camps have left indelible scars on my heart,” she said. 

“I have come to see it as my duty to be the voice for those people who are in the camps, those who died in front of my own eyes, and those who are being held unjustly in prison,” she said, her voice quivering with emotion. Her testimony was translated with subtitles.

According to the U.S. State Department, since April 2017 China has set up a network of internment and detention camps in Xinjiang, imprisoning more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Hui, and members of other Muslim groups, and some Christians. Detainees have been subjected to political indoctrination, torture, physical and psychological abuse, forced sterilization, and forced labor. 

The current Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has said that China is committing genocide in the region. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said that genocide is occurring there.

The Uyhgurs are an ethnic minority in northwestern China, and are mainly Muslims. Most of the camp detainees are Uyghurs. 

“Millions of Uyhgurs are suffering, and they are alive only because they have the hope and belief that there is justice in this world,” Ziyawudun said. “My people, who have been experienceing a genocide for the past five years, are waiting for help from you and from all of humanity.” 

“I bow humbly before you and once again ask the whole world, and all of humanity, to save my people from this oppression,” she pleaded with audience members.

The summit is a gathering of religious and civic leaders, featuring testimonies of survivors of religious persecution, as well as speeches and panel discussions on promoting religious freedom globally.

Regarding her two stints in the detention camps, Ziyawundun said her second stint “was even more inhumane than the first.” 

Ziyawudun said that life in the camp was lived in a constant state of fear, and that she was able to hear other detainees being tortured. 

“On several occasions, the Han police and guards took me out of the cell and into interrogation, and they beat me,” she said. “They used whatever oppressive methods they wanted.”

The “Han” people are the majority ethnic group in China. Uyghur women have reported that they were forced into marriages with Han men after their Uyghur husbands were taken to the camps. 

One time, Ziyawudun said, she and a woman in her 20s were taken by camp police officers and brought to “a man in a suit, wearing a mask over his mouth.” 

“They raped the young woman,” she said. “Three Han police officers raped me as well.” 

This system of rape was commonplace, as the police “were always taking girls out of the cells like this” and “did whatever they wanted.” 

“Sometimes they brought some of the women back near the point of death,” she said. “Some of the women disappeared.” 

“I saw some of them bleed to death with my own eyes. Some of them even lost their minds in the camp,” said Ziyawudun. 

Her second detention began in March 2018, she said, and lasted for nearly one year. She said that she noticed “many new buildings in the camp” as well as camera systems and armed guards. 

“Sometimes they showed us propaganda films,” said Ziyawudun. “Sometimes they taught us Chinese law, sometimes they taught us Chinese ‘red’ songs, and sometimes they made us swear oaths of loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party.” 

The Chinese Communist Party alleges that the camps are “re-education” camps aimed at combating terrorism. 

Ziyawudun said she was only able to speak about her experience since she arrived in the United States, through the assistance of the U.S. government and the Uyghur Human Rights Project. 

Another survivor of China’s detention camps, Gulzira Auelkhan, testified before a congressional commission on Tuesday. She told members of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission that her detention camp had an organized system of forced prostitution and rape.

Auelkhan said she was arrested in 2017 for immigrating to Kazakhstan, and said she was sent to four different camps. She was allowed to leave China for Kazakhstan in January 2019.

In her time in the camps, Auelkhan said she had no privacy and reported being beaten with electric batons if she or others took more than two minutes to use the restroom. Detainees would be punished by being forced to sit in the painful “tiger chair,” at times for 14 hours. If they fainted, guards would douse them with cold water to revive them. Detainees were forced to eat rice, study Mandarin Chinese, and the laws of the Chinese Communist Party.

Also at Wednesday’s summit, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, condemned China’s “genocide” in Xinjiang. 

“Xi Jinping’s genocide includes the forced disappearances of millions of Uyghurs into concentration camps, the forced sterilization of Uyghur women, forced abortion of their precious babies, and state abduction of Uyghur children into orphanages far from home to be reared with non-Uyghur upbringing.  All of this fits the definition of genocide,” he said.

“The Chinese Communist Party is today systematically erasing Islam in western China—bulldozing mosques and shrines, severely throttling all religious practice, and forcing camp detainees to renounce their faith,” he said.

Shepherd hailed for saving six runners in deadly China ultramarathon

Zhu Keming in the cave where he sheltered the runners. which he had previously stocked up with food and clothes for emergencies. Photograph: CNS/AFP/Getty Images

A shepherd has been hailed as a hero in China after it emerged that he saved six stricken runners during an ultramarathon in which 21 other competitors died.

Zhu Keming was trending on Weibo on Tuesday, three days after a 100km (60-mile) cross-country mountain race in the north-western province of Gansu turned deadly in freezing rain, high winds and hail.

The incident triggered outrage and mourning in China, as questions swirled over why organisers apparently ignored warnings about the incoming extreme weather.

Zhu was grazing his sheep on Saturday around lunchtime when the wind picked up, the rain came down and temperatures plunged, he told state media.

He sought refuge in a cave where he had stored clothes and food for emergencies but while inside spotted one of the race’s 172 competitors and checked to see what was wrong because he was standing still, apparently suffering cramps.

Zhu escorted the man back to the cave, massaged his freezing hands and feet, lit a fire and dried his clothes.

Four more distressed runners made it into the cave and told the shepherd others were marooned outside, some unconscious.

Zhu headed outside once more and, braving hail and freezing temperatures, reached a runner lying on the ground. He carried him towards the shelter and wrapped him in blankets, almost certainly saving his life.

“I want to say how grateful I am to the man who saved me,” the runner, Zhang Xiaotao, wrote on Weibo.

“Without him, I would have been left out there.”

Zhu has been feted in China for his selfless actions, but the shepherd told state media that he was “just an ordinary person who did a very ordinary thing”.

Zhu rescued three men and three women, but regrets that he was unable to do more to help others who reportedly succumbed to hypothermia.

“There were still some people that could not be saved,” he said. “There were two men who were lifeless and I couldn’t do anything for them. I’m sorry.”

The tragedy has thrown a renewed spotlight on the booming marathon and running industry in China, with authorities ordering organisers of events to improve safety.

According to the Paper in Shanghai, five cross-country, marathon or other running races have been cancelled at short notice.

Chinese officials claim most Xinjiang detainees have been released

ChinaShohrat Zakir, deputy secretary of the CPC Committee and chairman of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, speaks at a press conference in Beijing, July 30, 2019. Credit: Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images.

.- Government officials from China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region said Tuesday that the area’s re-education camps for Muslims have been successful, with most of those held having been reintegrated into Chinese society.

An estimated 1 million Uighurs, members of a Muslim ethnoreligious group, have been detained in re-education camps in Xinjiang, a region in China’s northwest that is roughly the size of Iran.

Inside the camps they are reportedly subjected to forced labor, torture, and political indoctrination. Outside the camps, Uighurs are monitored by pervasive police forces and facial recognition technology.

The Chinese government has said reports on the camps by Western governments and media are unfounded, claiming they are vocational training centers and that it is combatting extremism.

Shohrat Zakir, chairman of Xinjiang, said at a July 30 press conference in Beijing that “most of the graduates from the vocational training centers have been reintegrated into society,” according to the AP. “More than 90% of the graduates have found satisfactory jobs with good incomes.”

Xinjiang vice chairman Alken Tuniaz said detainees were allowed to “request time off” and “regularly go home,” the AP reported.

While they are not permitted to practice their religion during their “period of study”, he said, they may do so at home.

Tuniaz also said that “the majority of personnel who received education and training have returned to society and gone back to their homes,” according to the Wall Street Journal. “The majority have successfully secured employment.”

Neither Zakir nor Tuniaz provided figures to back up their claims.

The press briefing also included a performances by minority artists in traditional garb, highlighting Xinjiang as a tourist destination.

The Xinjiang officials’ claims were met with scepticism outside China; David Brophy, senior lecturer in modern Chinese History at the University of Sydney, said to the Wall Street Journal “How much of this employment involves forced relocation to elsewhere in China? How much of it is taking place in education camps that have now been repurposed as heavily surveilled factories?”

Uighurs can be arrested and detained under vague anti-terrorism laws. Violence in the region escalated in the 1990s and again in 2008.

In August 2014 officials in Karamay, a city of Xinjiang, banned “youths with long beards” and anyone wearing headscarves, veils, burqas, or clothes with the crescent moon and star symbol from using public transit. That May, universities across the region banned fasting during Ramadan.

Attention was drawn to the human and religious rights situation in Xinjiang at the recent Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom held by the US State Department earlier this month.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said July 18 at the gathering that survivors of the detention camps have described “a deliberate attempt by Beijing to strangle Uighur culture and stamp out” Islam.

In response, Chinese officials have been outspoken in defense of policies in the region.

In June, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) told a congressional hearing that China’s campaign to “sinicize” religion is proceeding with brutal efficiency. “Under ‘sinicization,’ all religions and believers must comport with and aggressively promote communist ideology — or else,” Smith said.

“Religious believers of every persuasion are harassed, arrested, jailed, or tortured. Only the compliant are left relatively unscathed,” Smith stated.




After Vatican-China deal, Chinese bishop imprisoned for 23 years is not yet released

Flag_of ChinaFlag of China. Credit: Tomas Roggero via Flickr CC BY 20 12 10 15.

 The nephew of a Chinese bishop who was arrested 23 years ago has said he does not know where his uncle is incarcerated, or even whether he is still alive. “His whereabouts are unknown and I don’t even know if he is alive or not. I am upset with tears every time I think of this 87-year-old man. Please pray for him,” Su Tianyou told UCANews recently.

His uncle is Bishop James Su Zhimin of Baoding, in China’s Hebei province, southwest of Beijing.

In 1996, the bishop was arrested during a procession, and charged with conducting “unregistered” religious activities: Su had refused to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the government recognized Catholic Church in China, and was instead a member of the “underground” Church- in communion with Rome, and appointed a bishop by Pope St. John Paul II, but unrecognized by the Chinese government as a bishop.

It was not the first time Su was arrested. According to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Human Rights Commission, Su has spent 40 years in prison, “without charge, without trial.”

“Before being arrested in 1996, Bishop Su Zhimin was held off and on for 26 years either in prison or forced labor camps.  The Chinese government deemed him as ‘counterrevolutionary’ because, since the 1950s, he has refused to join the Patriotic Association,” the Human Rights Commission says.

Su reportedly escaped Chinese detention in 1997, but was rearrested.

“In November 2003, his family discovered him by chance at a hospital in Baoding, surrounded by police and public security.  He has not been heard or seen from since, despite repeated international inquiries,” according to the Human Rights Commission.

Su’s nephew, Su Tianyou, told UCANews that he met in 2015 with Guo Wei, a Chinese official who told him that the bishop might be released if there were an improvement in Vatican-China relations.

In September 2018, Beijing and Vatican officials signed a provisional agreement on bishop appointments, that was intended to unify the underground Church and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

According to Su Tianyou, neither Vatican nor Chinese officials have indicated whether Su might now be released. In October 2018, Hong Kong’s Bishop Michael Yeung said that his diocese continued to pray for Su, and hope for his release.

“Whether he is in prison, or kept secret in some other place, or whether he has already died, nobody really knows,” Yueng told Reuters.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom’s latest report, issued April 29, noted that despite last year’s Vatican-China deal on the appointment of bishops, “repression of the underground Catholic Church increased during the latter half of the year.” The commission, known as the USCIRF, is a bipartisan group that advises the President, Congress, and the Secretary of State on international religious freedom issues.

Among the report’s inclusion of commissioners’ “individual views” were those of Johnnie Moore, who called the deal “one of the most alarming incidents as it relates to religious freedom in the entire year.”

“Within days of the Vatican negotiating its deal, the Chinese used it as cover to embark upon the closure of several of the nation’s largest and most prominent unregistered church communities,” Moore wrote.

Moore believes the Vatican “now bears a significant moral and legal responsibility to help solve the problem which it helped created—albeit inadvertently—by providing China license to viciously crack down on Christian communities (as cited in this report), and by providing the Chinese government further cover to continue its incomprehensible, inexcusable and inhumane abuses of Muslim citizens in the western part of the country.”

“While I am entirely for direct engagement on these issues, including with the most severe violators in the world, that engagement must not result in these types of unintended consequences, as has been the case in China. The Vatican made a terrible mistake, which it must take seriously. This debacle must be dealt with urgently and seriously.”

April’s USCIRF report also highlighted the plight of the Uyghur Muslim minority in China. To date, between 800,000 to 2 million Uyghurs— or about 10% of their population— have been detained and sent to “re-education camps” to be subjected to abuse and political indoctrination.

The report calls on the US government to sanction those in the Chinese government responsible for the detention of the Uyghurs.