Australian-born Mehray Mezensof has been married to Mirzat Taher for almost five years.
But he has been absent for most of this period.
The 26-year-old told Sky News the young couple have only spent 14 months of their marriage together, as Mirzat, 30, was in and out of China’s so-called “vocational education and training” schools and detention centres.
On 1 April this year, he was sentenced to 25 years in jail, for involvement in alleged “separatist” political activities in Turkey, with the supposed aim of establishing an independent Uighur-dominated Turkistan, broken away from mainland China, Ms Mezensof understands.
She said the claims are “ridiculous” and based on suspicion, rather than factual evidence.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, co-founder of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, has called on the G7 to act – and soon.
He told Sky News that the UK, as the summit’s host, has a duty to speak against the “genocide” happening “right under our noses”.
Sir Iain said Britain can “no longer turn a blind eye” to “China’s abuse” of its Uighur and minority populations and must “reconsider how we trade”, as the UK and other Western countries are too dependent on China.
The former Conservative Party leader said the Western world “allowed” China to join the free market without adhering to principles of democracy, the rule of law and human rights – what Francis Fukuyama termed “the end of history” – and the G7 has the opportunity to fix this.
“In the chase for cheaper production… the ‘greedy route’ as I call it… we relied on an anti-democratic and brutal government… but we cannot separate business and trade from human rights.”
Ms Mezensof has kept quiet until now to protect her family, and with the hope that the Chinese Communist Party would release her husband sooner, if they were seen to be co-operating.
She said: “My husband is a good person. He isn’t a criminal. He isn’t political. He hasn’t done anything wrong. He’s innocent.”
His only crime, she said, is being ethnically Uighur.
An estimated one million people, most of them Uighurs – a Muslim ethnic group living largely in the northwest Chinese province of Xinjiang – are believed to have been detained by the Chinese authorities in “re-education camps” since 2017.
Although the UK government has declined to get involved, MPs in April passed a motion declaring Uighurs are being subjected to “genocide” and “crimes against humanity” in China.
An independent ‘people’s tribunal’ began in the UK last week, examining the claims.
It heard that Uighurs are treated “worse than dogs” and “tortured day and night” at Chinese camps in Xinjiang.
Ms Mezensof was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia. Her parents emigrated from Xinjiang more than 35 years ago.
When she was 22, she travelled for the first time to the region’s main city, Urumqi, and met Mr Taher. She described the moment as “love at first sight”.
After an Islamic ceremony, the couple were married on 3 August 2016 with plans to settle in Melbourne.
Ms Mezensof extended her stay in Xinjiang while they waited for Mr Taher’s Australian visa.
But then things started to change.
“There were a lot of whispers going around,” she said.
“People were disappearing in the middle of the night, police were coming and taking them away. No one knew where they were going, how long for.
“There was constant monitoring, surveillance. Heavy police presence – you’d get stopped on the street a lot to get your phone checked.
“We needed permission from the police to leave the city – you’d have to tell them where you were going, how long for…
“Everyone was on edge.”
China’s crackdown on Uighurs and other minorities worsened in 2017, and Ms Mezensof’s family in Melbourne became increasingly concerned for her safety.
Shortly after Mr Taher was granted a visa on 1 April 2017, the couple booked their travel to Australia, due to fly out 11 days later.
However, one day before their flight was due to leave, police turned up at Mr Taher’s house and took him away for questioning.
He did not come home.
Mr Taher was held in a detainment centre for 10 months, and then transferred to two different “schools” for “re-education”.
The Chinese authorities deemed him “dangerous” because he had travelled to Turkey in 2014 and 2015.
Human Rights Watch reported that, during this time, the Xinjiang authorities made foreign ties a punishable offence.
State officials targeted people with connections or travel history to “26 sensitive countries” – including Turkey – and interrogated, detained, and in some instances imprisoned them.
However, despite claiming – and demonstrating – that his visits consisted of a holiday and opportunity to study Turkish on a student visa, Mr Taher was held by the state for two years, until his unexpected release on 22 May 2019.
He had “graduated” from his ‘re-education’ school and deemed safe enough to re-integrate back into society.
Several weeks later, the couple reunited at the Urumqi airport.
Ms Mezensof, on a six-month Chinese visa, discovered that her husband and others with him were subject to “constant brainwashing” and “propaganda” in the camps.
She told Sky News that, contrary to the Chinese state’s propaganda videos, her husband did not develop any vocational skills, play sports or attend dance classes.
Rather, inmates were “forced” to learn about the Chinese Communist Party, memorise political speeches and confess their “crimes” to their class on a daily basis.
She said: “It wasn’t really physical abuse, but more mental and psychological.
“If one of them misbehaved, they suffered together. They weren’t given food for that whole day, they pretty much starved.
“They were reminded every single day that none of them would ever get to see their family members again… and the only way they would leave is in a body bag, if you die.”
Mr Taher decided against sharing explicit details of his ordeal with his wife – apart from the one time he accidentally spoke in Uighur tongue and was handcuffed, strung to a door, and made to starve for a whole day.
But, unbeknown to them, they were running – once again – on borrowed time.
Ms Mezensof’s six-month Chinese visa was running out, and the couple were struggling to obtain Mr Taher’s passport from state officials.
She returned to Melbourne on 30 December 2019, where she applied for another Chinese visa.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and Urumqi in Xinjiang was under lockdown. China had closed its borders to foreigners. The couple resorted to keeping in touch on WeeChat.
But on the morning of 19 May 2020, Ms Mezensof felt uneasy. Her husband hadn’t checked or responded to her messages in hours, which she said was very unlike him.
Police had taken him from his bed and detained him for a second time – again, about his travel to Turkey.
He was kept in solitary confinement for two months and was in separate quarantine for 40 days after another inmate caught COVID-19.
Mr Taher’s Australian permanent residency was granted shortly before his release.
But he was detained again just weeks later on 26 September 2020.
Ms Mezensof has not heard from him since.
Sky News has seen a notice of arrest issued by Hami police in Xinjiang on 23 October last year.
All she knows – and from her family in Xinjiang – is that Mr Taher has been sentenced to 25 years in prison, for accusations of “separatist” activities which he denies.
She said: “I was in shock that day.
“I think I like I was I sitting for, like, hours just crying and shaking my head, being like, no, no, no, no, this, this can’t be…. this is a, this is a dream, I’m gonna wake up from it.
“I was just sitting there. And I was calculating it in my head being like, it’s 25 years.
“So if he were to carry out that full sentence, when he comes out, he’ll be 55. And I’ll be 52… how can that be like that’s our whole youth, our whole lives just like ripped and taken away from us?
“The moment you get married and you’re about to start your life with the person you love, it should be the happiest moment of your life, but instead I’ve been going through this in silence.
“This isn’t something out of a movie – it is happening.
“It frustrates me when people say it’s fake, because if it was, where is my husband?
“We really wanted to start our own family.”
She added: “I just want to know that my husband is alive, that he’s somewhat doing okay… I just want to hear his voice.
“It has been over 200 days since I’ve had any kind of communication with him.
“I’ve been backed into a corner, and there’s no way out, besides going public.
“We have no ulterior motive.
“I just want to be with my husband.”
COVID-19: President Jair Bolsonaro in trouble as Brazil’s COVID crisis inquiry becomes box office viewing | World News
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro loves meeting people; he can’t get enough of it, he travels the country looking to shake hands and kiss babies.
He likes doing interviews, he’ll talk about subjects varied and important to him.
There is just one caveat – he hates independent journalists, isn’t too keen on foreign ones, and won’t talk to anyone who doesn’t love him or agree with him on everything – “Trump of the Tropics” pretty much says it all.
Over the past year, I’ve travelled around Brazil attempting to speak to him and I have singularly failed.
His people are so determined to stop me from asking their boss a simple question – or worse – seeing him explode into a storm of foul-mouthed invective, that my slimmest chance of a breakthrough via a temporary accreditation badge has now been revoked.
We can’t get near him for now.
But in reality, we are not very important, what is important though is a parliamentary inquiry into his handling of the pandemic.
It’s important, and worse for Mr Bolsonaro, he knows he is in trouble.
The parliamentary inquiry has gained even more traction after the country recorded more than 500,000 deaths from COVID-19.
It’s become absolute box office and Senate TV is now required viewing here in Brazil.
It’s streamed all day as witness after witness allege the government failed to buy vaccines, promoted ineffective COVID cures and neglected to source adequate oxygen supplies.
The critics of the government are not just confined to opposition politicians.
Here in the capital Brasilia, I spoke to one federal supreme court judge who met with Mr Bolsonaro in March last year.
Gilmar Mendes told me he warned the president about the impending pandemic and offered his help and support.
He described the president as a man in crisis.
“It seemed to me in that moment this was a man, I even said, a little tortured by the facts. Very emotional, very emotional,” Mr Mendes said.
“He said that the economy was doing well, and that this pandemic was now coming, and that social isolation was a poison.”
Mr Mendes said the president’s main concern was, and still is, the economy, and he prioritised it accordingly.
“So he prioritised his concerns, maybe he generated much more around the economic issue, as [this] was reflected in the organisation of the government.”
President Bolsonaro is a divisive figure in Brazil who plays entirely to his supporter base.
At his last event, in Sao Paulo, he turned up at the front of a motorbike rally.
He resolutely denies the dangers of COVID, fought against lockdowns and masks, and promoted drugs like hydroxychloroquine made famous by Donald Trump.
During a Facebook live last week, he made the argument for herd immunity saying it is “more effective against the disease than the vaccine”.
He openly advocated for exposure to the virus and downplayed the efficacy of the vaccines.
These comments came in the week scientists in Brazil warned the country’s death toll could eclipse the United States – currently the highest in the world with more than 602,000 deaths.
In my quest to speak to the president, I went to visit one of his closest political allies, former soldier now congressman General Elieser Girao Monteiro Filho.
When we arrived he was busily planning the latest presidential visit, this time to the general’s home state, Rio Grande do Norte.
He oozed pride as he pointed out the helicopter route to two events with a laser pen on his map, and then he proudly showed me pictures of him and the president, blown up into posters adorning the walls of his small office.
Like the president, General Girao, as he is known, has had COVID-19.
Unlike the president, he has been vaccinated, wears masks, and sanitises his hands.
Still, he says any inquiry into the government’s handling of the crisis is politically motivated and says one man – Mr Bolsonaro – cannot be blamed for everything.
“Unfortunately COVID in Brazil, specifically in Brazil, was transformed into a political war and this political war, unfortunately, is leading to many people not getting a prescription for the medicine that immediately treats the virus,” he told me.
There is no such medicine. I assume he is referring to the president’s hydroxychloroquine treatment plan, widely debunked around the world.
Some say Brazil is in the midst of its third wave, others argue the first wave just never ended.
But even though Brazil’s infection rates are still high, lockdowns are still not regarded as the solution by this government.
“I believe the president acted correctly when he reacted [in opposition] to the closures. Lockdowns have not been successful anywhere in the world.”
Brasilia is a man-made city with wide boulevards and stylised buildings designed and built in the 1950s by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer.
It’s been described as a city of clean lines, rational planning and space. It feels homogenised and un-Brazilian compared to the throbbing atmospheric cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.
But Brasilia is now home to one of the most important inquiries in Brazil’s recent history, and its conclusions could have consequences that change the direction of this huge country.
Next year there are elections – and the recent street protests across the country, and the latest polls showing Mr Bolsonaro’s popularity plummeting, suggest he’s in trouble.
Saskatchewan: More than 750 unmarked graves found on site of former indigenous school in Canada | World News
Investigators have found more than 750 unmarked graves at the site of a former indigenous school in Canada.
The discovery of the 751 graves follows the news that the remains of 215 children were found at another school nearby.
Bobby Cameron, chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous First Nations, said: “We are treating this as a crime”.
He warned how he expected more graves to be found on residential school grounds in Canada.
And Mr Cameron vowed not to stop “until we find all the bodies”, describing the tragedy as a “crime against humanity, an assault on First Nations.”
The 751 graves were found at the Marieval Indian Residential School, open from 1899 until 1997, where Cowessess is now located.
They were marked in the past – but the markers were removed by people operating the school, said Chief Cadmusn Delmore, of the Cowessess First Nation.
The reserve is about situated about 87 miles east of Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan, in western Canada.
The 215 children’s remains – some as young as three – were found buried on the former site of Canada’s largest indigenous school, near Kamloops, British Colombia, in May.
UEFA abolishes away goals rule after more than half a century | UK News
Europe’s football governing body UEFA has abolished the away goals rule for all of its club competitions from next season.
All ties that are level on aggregate at the end of the second leg will now go to extra time.
Paris Saint-Germain’s victory over Bayern Munich in last season’s Champions League quarter-finals will go down in history as the last away goals result in the tournament before the rule change.
The rule, introduced in 1965, has led to some dramatic moments in recent years, including Tottenham’s stoppage-time success over Ajax in the 2019 Champions League semi-final.
UEFA said away goals would also no longer be a separating criteria when looking at matches between two or more sides level on points in the group stage of a competition.
However, the number of away goals scored in all group matches could be used as an additional separating criteria if required.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said as the end of the rule was announced: “The away goals rule has been an intrinsic part of UEFA competitions since it was introduced in 1965.
“However, the question of its abolition has been debated at various UEFA meetings over the last few years. Although there was no unanimity of views, many coaches, fans and other football stakeholders have questioned its fairness and have expressed a preference for the rule to be abolished.”
Mr Ceferin added that the away goals rule had begun to go against its original purpose and was dissuading home teams from attacking.
⚽ The away goals rule will be removed from all UEFA club competitions from the 2021/22 season.
— UEFA (@UEFA) June 24, 2021
This because the sides would fear conceding a goal at their own stadium would give their opponent a crucial advantage.
He continued: “There is also criticism of the unfairness, especially in extra-time, of obliging the home team to score twice when the away team has scored.
“It is fair to say that home advantage is nowadays no longer as significant as it once was.”
UEFA has cited statistics since the mid-1970s which showed how the gap between home and away wins had reduced.
It talked about better pitch quality, standardised pitch sizes, and even video assistance referees (VAR) as factors in the decline of home advantage.
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