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Interview With Civil Rights Activist Andrew Young; War on Truth; Interview wit New York University Professor of Journalism Jay Rosen; Interview with Committee to Protect Journalist Incoming President Jodie Ginsberg; Interview with Human Rights Attorney and Yale Law Fellow Rayhan Asat. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired February 11, 2022 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
ANDREW YOUNG, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: There's been an awakening of the population. And I think there's a significant change worldwide.
AMANPOUR: Democracy in focus. First, a conversation with one of the last of the civil rights warriors, former Mayor Andrew Young on his
extraordinary life fighting for equality then and now.
JODIE GINSBERG, INCOMING PRESIDENT, COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS: the picture for journalists and journalism is pretty grim.
AMANPOUR: Press freedom under attack. I speak to Jodie Ginsberg, new head of the Committee to Protect Journalists, and to NYU journalism Professor
Jay Rosen, about the war on truth around the world.
Then: China under scrutiny. With the eyes of the world on the Beijing Olympics, Uyghur advocate and human rights attorney Rayhan Asat fights for
her brother, who she says was disappeared.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
And, tonight, we return to our focus on democracy under increasing threat around the globe, from the assault on voting rights in the United States,
to the worldwide attacks on journalists and on press freedoms.
First, the ongoing struggle for civil rights in America.
And my first guest, Andrew Young, fought closely beside Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, and all those on the front lines for equality. He will be
90 years old in a few weeks.
And here's how the National Archives describes an American treasure: "A pastor who spread the practice of nonviolence in the rural South, at the
risk of being killed, an activist who participated in the most pivotal acts of protest for the suffrage of African-Americans, a man who witnessed the
assassination of his friend who would become the everlasting symbol for civil rights, a politician and diplomat who successfully transitioned his
stands for human rights into an international campaign."
And, Andrew Young, former congressman, ambassador to the U.N., and mayor of Atlanta, joins me from his home city.
Ambassador Andrew Young, welcome to our program.
YOUNG: Thank you very much.
AMANPOUR: So, look, I couldn't help but notice when I did a whole load of reading about you, and that it is the Olympics in China right now, that
you, as a young man, were really athletic. You even were training to try to take part in the 1952 Olympics.
Honestly, you could have blown me down with a feather. Tell me all about that and why it didn't come to be.
YOUNG: Well, I actually started being an Olympic fan at 4 years old.
I lived on the corner in New Orleans. Fifty from where I was born was the headquarters of the Nazi Party. And my father, explaining to me white
supremacy, said that it's a sickness, and you don't have to worry about that. You know that God made of one blood all the nations of the Earth. And
he said, you never get upset with sick people, and you never let them get you upset.
And he took me to see Jesse Owens in the "Movietone News" in a segregated theater. But the message he got across was that, when Jesse won the 100
meters, Hitler walked out, rather than presenting him with his medal. And he said, the message that you should always remember is, don't get mad, get
smart, that stay calm, stay cool.
He said, you're not going to be able to beat up everybody. But if you stay calm, your mind can help you deal with any situation you find yourself.
And so that that's sort of where I got the Olympic bug. It was in New Orleans. And I was not allowed to compete in the events for young people
who were white. And so I spent my life knowing that I could run faster than anybody in town.
But I never had a chance to I got to college. And I was in theological seminary. And the conference superintendent called and said, that: I need
somebody to go to a little church in Marion, Alabama. And I said, well, I'm scheduled to go to New York for the summer, and I have a job. And I'm going
to train with a Pioneer track club for the '52 Olympics.
And he said, well, everybody wants to go to New York, and everybody wants to go to the Olympics. And whether you go or not, they will have an
Olympics and they will get along in New York. He said, but if you don't go to Marion, Alabama, we will lose the church.
So you went. You became a pastor. And kind of the rest is history, because that led to your incredible civil rights work.
So, let's just start a little bit at the beginning. Where did you start to learn about nonviolence, because that was your and Dr. King's philosophy?
But you were surrounded by violence, violence of the white majority against the black community.
YOUNG: Well, the little town that I went to with that church, the first place I went, the young lady who -- in the house had a Bible, and I looked
at it, and it was underlined, and it was all the passages on nonviolence.
And then she had a senior life savings certificate on the wall, and I'd been on the swimming team too, and a basketball letter. And so before I met
her, I decided I must have been sent here to marry this woman.
YOUNG: And that's -- and that's the way it turned out.
She was in a college. Actually, she and Coretta King went to the same high school in Marion, Alabama. And a Quaker couple arranged for them to go to
college in different colleges, but they were both peace-oriented colleges. And I started reading the Quaker literature on nonviolence.
AMANPOUR: Obviously, you became friends with Dr. King. You were there in that motel when he was assassinated. You have seen violence all over the
So, I guess, after all the years that you have been involved in this peaceful struggle, do you believe that it works -- that it works, that it's
still a worthwhile -- or, rather a practical, pragmatic way of getting your rights?
Because John Lewis getting beaten over the head, you were there on the Selma bridge.
YOUNG: I not only -- well, I got beat up too.
YOUNG: But that is sort of -- the amazing thing to me was, after I got beat up by 200 and some Klansmen, I didn't even have a headache.
YOUNG: And I continued to march through with -- because I was concerned, basically, that it was the women and children I was trying to protect.
I think that my time with Jimmy Carter at the U.N. proved that -- to me, that we were able to reconcile the differences in the Panama Canal. He did
a magnificent job with Begin and Sadat in Camp David. And I think that -- I think, if Jimmy Carter had been reelected, we would have done a new
relationship with Iran, because I was in the middle of the negotiations trying to get the hostages out of Iran.
But another four years, and I think we could have changed the world.
AMANPOUR: Let me just ask you this question, because you -- Jimmy Carter was the first American president who brought peace between Israel and an
Arab nation, obviously, Egypt, at Camp David. And that was an electrifying moment.
AMANPOUR: I mean, it was just an electrifying moment.
And then you, though, as ambassador to the U.N., you thought you were doing your bit for the administration to try to figure out the more tricky bits
between the Palestinians and the Israelis. You met with the PLO. It wasn't U.S. policy, and you were forced to resign.
I wonder, if you fast-forward today...
YOUNG: But it was...
AMANPOUR: ... and you see there's still no peace.
YOUNG: Could I just say a word about that?
AMANPOUR: And nobody is talking to the Palestinians.
Well, but before I met with the Palestinians, I had met with -- actually, it was in Harry Belafonte's home. He had Shimon Peres to dinner and invited
me over. And we spent four hours talking about how I could help Israel deal with the Palestinian question.
And then, later on, I met with Moshe Dayan. And it was only after that -- and I was trying to get them to put it off to give us time to reconcile
some of the things that Israel was hoping for and that the Palestinians actually said they were agreeing to.
But it couldn't be done in the U.N. It had to be done in face-to-face talks.
AMANPOUR: You mentioned Moshe Dayan. You mentioned Shimon Peres. Moshe Dayan obviously was the defense minister in Israel. Shimon Peres held a
number of posts, including foreign minister and prime minister. So you were you were right in the middle of all that.
I just want to know what you think that, all these decades later, there is still no peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
YOUNG: Well, I think that's why I kind of decided that I had to come back to Atlanta and deal with Atlanta, because the international situation was
far too complicated at that time.
And our country was not ready to be as flexible and creative as Jimmy Carter was and as I was trying to be. We found a level of flexibility in
the world that I think -- I think -- well, I still feel that way. There's almost no place I go where I haven't been well -received and where I
haven't been able to find some common ground where we could start to talk about something.
And so I'm not -- I'm not at all cynical about the world in which we live. This is fear and neglect on our part.
YOUNG: And I think one thing you learn about non -- in nonviolence is you have to overcome your fear and insecurity towards your opponent.
AMANPOUR: OK, that's really interesting, from your perspective, yes.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you?
Because you raised the issue of Harry Belafonte, and, of course, the great civil rights activist, as well as artist. And you say that he was
practically single-handedly responsible for you running for Congress.
How did that happen? What how did -- how did he help you make that happen?
YOUNG: Well, the last meeting I had with Martin Luther King and Harry Belafonte was in New York just before Martin went to Memphis.
And we were talking about how to get the energy of the civil rights movement into politics. And when we closed down about midnight, and Harry
went home, Martin said -- I said: "You need to get a good night's sleep."
And he said: "No, I'm going to catch the 6:00 plane in the morning in Memphis."
And, of course, he never left Memphis. That that's where he was killed.
But the last conversation we had with him and Harry and me was about politics. I transferred that into, I wanted to find three congressmen to
run in Savannah and Atlanta and Birmingham, and I was going to run the campaigns. And nobody wanted to run.
Well, it was kind of dangerous. I mean, Malcolm X had been killed. Martin had been killed. John Kennedy had been killed. I mean, it was not --
politics wasn't a safe profession. And Harry just said: "Well, it looks like you have got to run."
YOUNG: And I said: "No, not me."
And he said: "Well, nobody else wants to run, and you believe in what Martin said."
And I said: "Yes, I do."
He said: "You got to run."
AMANPOUR: Ambassador Young, let me ask you something.
When you recall all of these amazing moments, and you see how so much progress has been made in the United States, but with it has come backlash
-- so we get the first black president in Barack Obama. Then you have a backlash. You have Donald Trump. You have populism. You have more and more
Fast-forward to the death in police custody of so many black Americans, including, most famously, recently George Floyd, and it's all roiling
Where do you see the struggle that you spent your life...
YOUNG: Well, it's not.
AMANPOUR: OK, tell me.
YOUNG: It's not broiling again. It never stopped.
I mean, I grew up in New Orleans. And I would say the kind of thing that we have had this last year, we had throughout my life. We just didn't know
about it. There were 60 bombings of homes in Birmingham in 1959 and '60. And it didn't appear even in the Atlanta papers 100 miles away.
And that's why Martin Luther King decided to go to Birmingham to start a movement there, because, well, we didn't have the kind of television we
have now. We didn't have -- we didn't have cell phones. And the difference is now we know what's going on. And we have people who can take pictures
with their cell phones while it's going on.
And so I think there's been an awakening of the population. And I think there's a significant change worldwide. Now, it doesn't mean that we have
resolved the issue. But it means that we are making constant progress.
And we talk about what Joe Biden has not done, but, for instance, he's appointed more black judges in his first year than any -- all the
presidents put together up to him.
AMANPOUR: So what would you say, Ambassador Young, if you could talk to the Supreme Court right now? And he has promised to put a black justice or
nominate a black justice to the Supreme Court, a woman.
And yet -- and let me just read this to you -- this week, the conservative majority there let stand an Alabama congressional map that blatantly
discriminates against black voters.
That's a big issue, this constant effort to suppress black voters.
YOUNG: But that was what we did -- had to deal with in 1965. And we dealt with it.
And the civil rights -- the voting rights bill that we passed in 1965, the Republicans renewed under George Bush, and 97 senators voted for it. So
we're not talking about -- we're talking about democracy.
AMANPOUR: You are turning 90. You're amazing. You're turning 90 March 12.
And I interviewed Mavis Staples not so long ago. And I understand that one of the songs that she recorded and her family recorded has particular
significance to you. It's called "This May Be the Last Time." And I'm going to play a little clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I heard that you were singing along. That's fantastic.
Of course, she was so great in the civil rights movement.
YOUNG: Well, that was something we used -- that was something we used to sing in the middle of the civil rights movement, because almost every time
we went out on a demonstration, we knew we could possibly not come back.
But we continued to go. And I have made it to almost 90, I remember Martin Luther King saying that, look, we are -- and he called us. He said, we are
a bunch of clinically insane individuals.
YOUNG: And he said, nobody in their right mind would think that here we are, 15, 20 people, all of us under 30 or under 40. And he said, you got to
be sick to think that, with no money, and only the resources we have in our minds and souls and spirits, that we can change this nation.
And he said, we might not make it to 50, but, if we make it to 50, we got to make it to 100, because it's going to take 100 years or so to get this
And we were changing America bit by bit. And we were changing the world bit by bit.
And I -- there's another song that we used to saying, "I Don't Feel Noways Tired." We have come too far from where we started from. And nobody told us
that the way would be easy, but I don't believe he brought us this far to leave us.
AMANPOUR: That is beautiful.
What a wonderful way to end this conversation.
Congressman, Ambassador, Mayor, civil rights leader Andrew Young, thank you so much.
YOUNG: OK, thank you.
AMANPOUR: Now, journalism is a fundamental pillar of democracy and human rights, and yet crackdowns, manipulation and surveillance of the press are
even more evident right now at the Beijing Olympics, for instance, and around the Russia-Ukraine tensions.
The most visibly audacious attack in recent years happened last year, when a commercial plane forced to land by Belarusian authorities did so, only
for them to remove and arrest a prominent opposition journalist.
The number of imprisonments and deliberate killings continue to rise.
And I spoke to the incoming president of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Jodie Ginsberg, and to the journalism professor Jay Rosen to
assess these threats.
AMANPOUR: Welcome, Jay Rosen and Jodie Ginsberg.
And let me start by saying, congratulations to you, Jodie, for becoming the new executive director of the CPJ, the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Let me just start out first with you then, because the latest statistics are somewhat discouraging. There are 293 journalists in prison by the end
of 2021 and 66 journalists missing. There are at least 27 journalists killed and another 18 other journalists dying in some murky circumstances,
and, most recently, another several from Mexico.
So, Jodie, when you look at those stats, what do they tell you about the state of our profession around the world?
GINSBERG: What they tell me is the picture for journalists and journalism is pretty grim.
And it's clear that the decline in press freedom, the threats to journalists are a symptom of a decline in democracy more generally. But,
quite often, what we're seeing is, if you like, the journalists are the canaries in the coal mine.
Threats against journalists, the killings of journalists, the imprisonment of journalists often is a flag for democratic backsliding. We often see
that as a precursor to increased violence more generally.
And journalism is so key, it's so central. It's a pillar of our democracy. It's a pillar of free societies. And we need to be protecting journalists.
And all too often, what we're seeing is the politicians from democracies using language that you would expect authoritarian regimes to discredit and
And that's what's creating an environment that makes it incredibly dangerous to be a journalist. No longer is it the case that you're in
danger if you're in a war zone. That used to be the case, but, actually, the more recent statistics show that the majority of those killings you
talk about, certainly in recent years, have been in non-conflict environments. That's really disturbing.
Jay, I want to ask you what you think is, I want to say the main reason for this backsliding, in terms of safety of journalists, in terms of their
ability to operate freely and fairly, not just around the world, but also in the United States.
And I know that you have written about content. And I'm really interested in the content and whether that is part of what we're seeing. You also --
you say: "The new system isn't really designed for public understanding. It's designed to produce new content every day."
Describe what you mean about that and how it falls into this particular threat.
JAY ROSEN, NYU SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM: Well, the simple example of what I mean is when public opinion polls show how little people know about some
essential issue that's talked about in the news all the time, journalists don't say, take responsibility for that. They don't say, well, we're not
doing a very good job because people don't know about -- instead, they point to what they published about it.
And that is normally a pretty good defense. So, we don't have a news system that tracks how well people understand the news. We don't have a news
system that is built for easy understanding. Instead, it's, to coin a phrase, one damn thing after another.
And that's part of the problem with our news environment today, is that it is overwhelming people in many different ways. And now we are at a further
stage in the development of that, where we have public figures, people in power who realize that the flood of -- quote, unquote -- "content" can be
itself a kind of manipulation.
That's what Steve Bannon meant when he said to Michael Lewis several years ago, the Democrats don't matter, withdrawing from the normal contest of
politics. The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with crap. But he used a more vivid word than crap.
And this is the same method that Putin uses in Russia. There, it's called the fire hose of falsehood, where, instead of trying to persuade people to
your point of view or even get a coherent idea across, you benefit from chaos, from too much confusion, from contradiction, from the sheer
difficulty of making sense of the news.
And this is a form of propaganda that is perfect for the Internet age and for a world in which the cost of producing additional content is almost
AMANPOUR: I think what I'm getting from both of you is that, in this context that we live in right now, the assault on truth, the weaponization
of the media, plus the physical assault on actual individuals, is combining to produce a very dangerous situation, whereby nobody actually quite knows
what to believe, on the one hand.
And, on the other hand, people are probably seeing the chilling effect of actually trying to report the truth.
So, Jodie, when you look at that, and you think of the journalists you're trying to protect in either China or in Russia, what do you think you can
do, as the new executive director? What can CPJ do for those journalists who are routinely rounded up and where there's no space at all for any
difference of opinion from the ruling authorities?
GINSBERG: Well, to begin with, let me just pick up on something that Jay mentioned about this flood of dis- and mis-information.
And I want to be very clear that the safety of journalists and this flood of mis- and dis-information are directly linked. What we see time and time
again is, the more that you cast doubt on individuals' trustworthiness, the more they are seen as fair game for harassment online.
And what we see often is that harassment online then turns into actual physical threat and violence. And so there is a direct link between that
discrediting and people's safety and security. And I don't think we talk about that enough. And I don't think we call out politicians and people of
authority when they engage in that, because what they're doing is making journalists and other political figures and figures in the public eye fair
What we, as CPJ can do -- and, just to be clear, I haven't started yet. I don't start until April. I'm still running another organization called
But one of the things I think we can do is push much harder for countries that say they believe in press freedom, in media freedom to be much more
vocal when they see other countries engaging in this kind of behavior. I think we need to see much more use of targeted sanctions against
individuals in countries that are limiting press freedom.
And I think we need to invest much more in supporting journalists, so that they have access to digital security and other tools to enable them to
defend themselves against these kinds of both verbal and physical attacks.
AMANPOUR: And, Jay, I want to follow on from what you were saying about flooding the zone. And you mentioned Steve Bannon. And, obviously,
President Trump was a master of this. He got it from the very beginning.
And right at the beginning, before he was even inaugurated, he had that famous sit-down with Lesley Stahl of "60 Minutes." And she then recounted
one of the, frankly, most chilling things that he had said to her.
I'm going to play this and then and then get you to respond.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LESLEY STAHL, "60 MINUTES": He's attacking the press.
And there were no cameras. There was nothing going on. And I said:"'You know, that is getting tired. Why are you doing this? You're doing it over
and over, and it's boring. And it's time to end that. And you have won the nomination. And why do you keep hammering at this?"
And he said: "You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so, when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: It still is the most coherent thing that I have ever heard the president say, because that's exactly true.
He just piled on, until nobody knew what was true, what was false, what was real, what wasn't, and nobody -- well, vast swathes certainly of the
American population decided that the media was the enemy.
How does one come back from that assault, Jay?
ROSEN: I don't think we know. And it's even worse than that chilling anecdote from Lesley Stahl suggests. It is true what he said that part of
the purpose of attacking the press was to make sure that his supporters didn't believe what journalists reported. But it's gone a step further than
that or two steps further.
In the sense that now for Trump's base, which is most of the Republican Party, whether he runs or not, the mere fact that the main stream media is
reporting on something means it's something to disbelieve and oppose and erase. And so, presence of a truth in the news media is itself a sign to
disbelieve it. That's a step further than Lesley Stahl's anecdote.
And then, there's something even weirder than that and more disturbing than that to which I've given the description verification in reverse. A
verification is basic to journalism. It is the most important thing journalists do. It's when something might be true or rumored to be true,
you try to nail it down with facts, documents, witnesses, going there and seeing yourself. That's verification.
Verification in reverse is when you take something that has been nailed down and you introduce doubt about it, and that doubt creates commotion and
controversy and anger and backlash and you use that energy released by the denial of factual reality and you power your political movement with it.
And that's a step beyond line, it's a step beyond or at least different than attacks on journalists. And it's a very difficult thing to counter.
And this is how Donald Trump made his appearance on the political stage is he became a birther, which was verification in reverse.
So, I think Lesley Stahl's story is chilling. She introduces a little bit more coherence to it than he probably had when he said it, but it's gone
several steps beyond what she warned about.
AMANPOUR: And so, from your perspective globally, Jodie, you know, we see and I've seen in my own reporting around the world that in many, many
autocracies journalists, as I say, have been politicized by the system. You're either with us or you're a terrorist. That's what happens in Egypt,
that's what happens in Russia, that's happens in China in one way or another. That's the paradigm. You're either with us or you're against our
country and you're a traitor.
So, I want you to talk about that. And also, how this -- you know, the American State of Affairs came to you, you said it was very chilling when
you met some American journalists back in 2018 talking about this.
GINSBERG: Yes. So, what is really interesting about all that we talked about is it's not just politics where this is an issue, right? There's all
sorts of information and we've seen it very clearly in the past two years over COVID. The number of -- particularly authoritarian regimes who have
used COVID as a cover to introduce further emergency legislation, to prevent journalists from reporting on things.
We saw in Tanzania, for example, journalists were prevented from reporting any kinds of statistics that weren't produced by the government who are
essentially in denial that there was COVID at all. People weren't allowed, journalists weren't even allowed to produce foreign reporting. And you can
imagine the effect on that. If you cannot access accurate information about healthcare, how to prevent yourself getting COVID, accurate information
about vaccines, you are putting your life literally in danger.
So, journalists are politicized in all sorts of ways by these regimes in ways that put potentially entire populations lives at risk. And what I
think we need to understand is that by this constant chipping away of agreements about the truths by this constant chipping away of doubt that
journalists -- presenting journalists, as you say, as sort of the enemies of the people. If you're not with us, you're against us, as we've seen in
Myanmar, for example, which has gone from being a country that had no journalists in 2020 to being the second worse journalists in the world.
Largely through legislation presents criticism of the ruling as Junta as treason effectively.
What we need to understand is without those people doing that work, we as individuals do not have the access to information that we need to lead our
lives. And it's not just White House journalists, as you said, I met who were talking about getting death threats. Increasingly, we're hearing that
from people who work in local media. You talked about the journalists, the four journalists who have been killed in Mexico.
The vast majority of journalists who are killed are not working internationally. They're local journalists who are incredibly vulnerable in
their local communities. And what we really need to do is be supporting those local journalists much more aggressively so that they have the
financial resources and they have the tools to report freely and openly.
AMANPOUR: And I want to just briefly and finally, whether both of you think that social media has added to this and has really -- not just added,
but fundamentally affected the way information is received by people. Adds to the fake news, adds to the conspiracy theories and adds to, again, the
weaponization of information. And whether you think, like they do in Europe, there should be regulation and control of some kind on social
What do you think, Jodie, and then, Jay, and then, we'll wrap it up?
GINSBERG: Look, there's no doubt that social media has made all of this so much worse. It amplifies negative content, it amplifies harassment, it
amplifies hate speech, absolutely. And we've heard that time again. We heard it very powerfully from Nobel laureate, the journalist, Maria Ressa,
talking about the influence that Facebook and others have had in the Philippines. There's no doubt about that.
I think we need to be cautious, however, though, of thinking that simply regulating the social media companies is going to be the fix for this. And
in many cases, what we've seen is governments introducing so-called fake news laws or other laws to regulate social media essentially in order to
crack down on legitimate political speech. I think we need to be extremely cautious of thinking that regulating the social media companies is going to
get us out of this situation.
AMANPOUR: Jay, from your perspective, is there a way to thread that needle?
ROSEN: Well, I would sign on to everything that Jodie said, but I would add something. 95 percent of the conversation about misinformation and
disinformation among activists, scholars, journalists, foundations, people of good will focuses on the supply side, the people who are introducing it
into the public sphere.
Very little of our attention goes to the demand side. And we're going to have to try and understand that on a much deeper level, partly because the
algorithm system that social media uses Facebook, but not only Facebook, is so potent in surfacing the demand for misinformation or confirmation bias
as a social scientists call it.
So, as long as we keep treating this as a problem with supply, I don't think we're going to get there. We have to start looking into why there is
such demand for bad information and the systems that turn that demand into cash and influence and political power. And it's a much more complicated
problem than simply finding the bad guys and getting them to stop.
AMANPOUR: Fascinating. And, obviously, you know, existential for all of us. Jay Rosen, Jodie Ginsberg, thank you very much indeed for joining us.
GINSBERG: Thank you.
ROSEN: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: As we mentioned, the eyes of the world are on the Beijing Winter Olympics for more than just its sporting achievements. China is under
intense global scrutiny for its treatment of the Muslim Uyghur population. Actions, the U.S. State Department has labeled a genocide.
For human rights attorney and Uyghur advocate, Rayhan Asat, China's abuses are personal. She says, her own brother was forcibly disappeared by the
government and subjected to indefinite solitary confinement. She joins Hari Sreenivasan to share her brother's story and why some are calling these
games the genocide Olympics.
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, thanks. Rayhan Asat, thanks so much for joining us.
When you are watching the Olympics right now, what do you want people to remember and think about?
RAYHAN ASAT, HUMAN RIGHTS ATTORNEY AND YALE LAW FELLOW: You know, at this moment, when China is being accused of committing genocide, it gets to
celebrate its legitimacy as well as this wonderful game that's designed to bring the entire world together. And I don't want people to be tricked by
the facade or image that China is trying to portray but remember what is happening behind those scenes in the dark corners of the world where at
least a million Uyghur are locked up in the concentration camps and the (INAUDIBLE) factories and its vast prison camps, including innocent
individuals like my own brother.
SREENIVASAN: Tell me for people who might still be learning about what happens to the Uyghur population in the west side of the country, what are
the people there living through? What do we know as a certain fact?
ASAT: At the moment, the Chinese government under pretax are fighting against three evils, what they call three evils, extremism, terrorism and
separatism, actually, cracking down on people for just simply being who they are. And that is being Uyghur, a (INAUDIBLE) and their own target
identity. All the people who are locked up in these camps are innocent. They could be persecuted because simply being young or passing regular
religion that the Chinese government's own constitution law allows or just by studying abroad or having connection to foreign country r using a
WhatsApp VPN, and these are just simple methods of the Chinese government used it as an excuse to detain somebody in its (INAUDIBLE) crackdown
against a race against ethnicity.
So, basically, what we can conclude is that the Chinese government leads a war against a race.
SREENIVASAN: You know, back in January of 2021, State Department, Secretary Blinken, affirmed back in January that the people's Republic of
China, PRC, is committing genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghur. So, how does this translate? What is the Chinese government doing
that elevates this to the level of genocide?
ASAT: Well, the Chinese government in the views of many lawyers and legal activists breached its obligation under the genocide convention. Like, for
example, like everything that is happening the camps, whether the full separation of children or causing emotional and physical harm against this
population and against the people and as well as force civilization of women, the torture and the politically indoctrination, all of that are
happening in the camps meet the U.N. definition of genocide by building all these concentration camps and by putting people through these unspeakable
human suffering. China is, indeed, committing genocide.
SREENIVASAN: I want to ask a little bit about your brother. Tell our audience who he was and why it is that he is in a Chinese prison today.
ASAT: You know, my brother is my best friend. He's -- I love him dearly. He's a wonderful dance partner, son and a friend. But also, somebody who
truly believed in the power of technology and how it can advance and point opportunities for many young and upcoming musicians, artists, writers. So,
he provided a platform, basically, a combination of a lot of social media platforms like Facebook or "The New York Times" or "CNN." So, you do have
this networking features, but as well as you can actually have access to news, columns and even Chinese laws that you can read about.
But in addition, at his core, he's very much committed to philanthropy. So, he provided -- he engaged in a lot of philanthropic commitment concerning
kids with disabilities, elderly or survivors of sexual violence. Because of all of that, he was invited to participate in the State Department's very
(INAUDIBLE) program that have produced many world leaders, including the U.N. secretary-general, Antonio Gutierrez, who at the moment is attending
the Olympic in China.
And yet, my brother's fate could not be further apart from him. And because of him being an intellectual and just because he was Uyghur and he came to
the United States, they put him in the concentration camps. He disappeared within weeks after returning from the U.S.
SREENIVASAN: So, we reached out to the Chinese embassy about it and they pointed us to a statement that they gave back in 2020 to ABC News where
they said, Chinese citizen Ekpar Asat was sentenced to 15 years in prison on conviction of inciting to splitting the country. He confessed to his
crime and is serving the sentence in good health. He was convicted because he violated the law of China and this has nothing to do with if he attended
a certain activity in the United States or not.
ASAT: You know, the charges changed repeatedly. The initial charge was inciting ethnic hatred and ethnic discrimination. And I pointed out how a
member of ethnic group who is systematically oppressed by the state can commit ethnic discrimination against the majority who is by definition is
his oppressor. I think as a result of that, they now changed it to a new crime which is inciting splitting.
Now, the Chinese government couldn't point to single evidence that supports its claim, but yet, they're just so hasten to change the crime as they
please, and that speaks volume as to the justice system, what kind of justice system (INAUDIBLE) Chinese government has, and this is nothing but
a travesty of justice.
SREENIVASAN: Do you have access to your brother? Does your family get to see your brother?
ASAT: That is the whole mockery of the justice system itself. For almost five years, my parents didn't have any access to him. They couldn't even
visit him or see him. They didn't even know where he is being held. Only until after I became a public advocate for him, the Chinese government was
forced to showcase him in some sort of what is called proof of life video. And this only took place almost five years after he forcibly disappeared.
And in that video, he looked gone, he looked like a shadow of his former self. In fact, he's held in solitary confinement since January of 2019.
Now, under the international law, if you hold somebody for more than 14 days under solitary confinement, that is the definition of torture.
SREENIVASAN: Are you concerned that your advocacy on his behalf could make life more difficult for your parents or other relatives who are still in
ASAT: I'm always concerned. And I think that is the far -- the long arm reach of the Chinese government. Even here in the U.S., I can never be free
because you are always self-censoring yourself, you're walking this really fine line and trying to understand where you want to be very firm in your
advocacy but are you also don't want to do more harm by putting your family in danger. And, you know, nobody should live the life like that.
You know, you're constantly calculating, is this strong enough? Can I demand from it? And I should be able to do that as an advocate, as a sister
and as a family member. But at the same time, like the Chinese government often retaliates against people who speak up and I am always worried about
him. Would he be tortured every time I speak?
In fact, right now, speaking to you, I'm -- you know, he's in my mind. What's going to happen to him? But the truth shines and I must speak up. If
I don't, the world wouldn't know what has happened to him. And I want to make sure the world knows his finding, his story but as well as what is
happening to the millions of innocent like him.
SREENIVASAN: Do you ever feel guilty? I mean, here you are having a conversation with me after having a career in law, you're safe and sound,
and yet, your parents are kind of in this weird limbo where they have one child who is safe and one child who they know hardly anything about any
ASAT: Survivor's guilt is a real thing. I think I'm a survivor but I'm also a fighter. And I am very much reminded of that every day he spends in
the Chinese government concentration camp, it reminds me that I narrowly escaped from the very same camps that my brother is suffering right now.
Just imagine for a second, I could be in that camp and I think that intimate understanding of my fate is what fuels me to be his advocate. So,
yes, it's a guilt, as well as well immense responsibility.
SREENIVASAN: So, why do you think it is that if the U.S. State Department agrees that there is a genocide that is under way that even decide to not
have diplomatic ties or diplomatic boycott during this Olympics, but why do we go forward? Why do we -- and all the other nations that are there right
now, why do they engage in this Olympics if something so egregious is happening?
ASAT: Well, I think China's lonely economic influence dictates today's outcome. Many countries are reluctant to engage even in diplomatic boycott,
let alone sending the athletes to excel while many people are locked up in the prison camps. I think the International Olympic Committee has been so
And Thomas Bach, who is the senior executive of the Olympics actually said that they don't want to get in between two parties, the Chinese
government/Uyghurs. Let's set the record straight, this is not two state actors who are engaged in some sort of dispute. This is -- it's is not even
dispute. It is a crackdown between a powerful state actor against people who have no agency whatsoever.
SREENIVASAN: I want to get your reaction to this statement from the IOC. And it says, the IOC has neither the mandate nor the capability to change
the laws or the political system of a sovereign country. Given the diverse participation in the Olympic Games, the IOC must remain neutral on all
global, political issues.
Is this a global political issue?
ASAT: This not of a global and political issue. This is a human rights issue. This is a humanitarian crisis. And in fact, if anything, the IOC is
actually politicizing and taking side of the oppressor. And for me, that is a political choice that they are making. They're not making a humanitarian
decision based on massive and unspeakable and immeasurable human suffering that is taking place.
IOC has been very much a complicit in the aftermath of Peng Shuai star tennis player enforced disappearance. And now, she's totally walking back
all her allegations, and the IOC is there to orchestrate this whole campaign. So, no, I think if anything the IOC is complicit in the Chinese
government whitewashing the genocide and totally claiming its legitimacy while the entire world is watching.
SREENIVASAN: When people watch the opening ceremony, they saw that the torch was lit by someone with a Uyghur last name. And I think she's a cross
country skier. And so, when you heard that news, what did you think?
ASAT: Well, I was still in a bit of disbelief. Like I knew that the Chinese government would, you know, put forward some sort of like a
showcase, but I wasn't expecting that in honor of such magnitude would be given to a Uyghur torch barrier. If this is a different timeline, it could
have been a moment of pride and celebration for the Uyghur community as well as China. Only if China is a country that celebrates (INAUDIBLE) and
But it's not a selection executed in good faith. It's a deliberate choice. It's a proactive choice while the Chinese government is being accused
committing ethnic cleansing and genocide and crimes against humanity to the Uyghur population. It is trying to showcase that Uyghurs are not tortured,
Uyghurs do have these opportunities.
And I actually compare this to the Berlin Olympics, Helene Mayer, that -- like she was forced to deliver a Nazi salute and she later claimed it may
have saved her family. And you can see from the initial roll out of her and this whole grand gesture to the point of how her family was captured in
that moment celebrating her. All of that is part of the propaganda campaign to paint a different narrative as to what's happening in Xinjian.
But in some ways, I also took it as a reactionary move. We put the Chinese government on defense. That it has to respond.
SREENIVASAN: When you turn on the Olympics tonight, you see no shortage of global companies, American companies still advertising at these games. What
goes through your mind when you see that corporate support is still strong?
ASAT: You know, one thing I need to highlight is that American companies are eager to have their values on racial equity and justice when it sells
its interests. In America, it's trendy to stand up for oppressed community, whether the Black Lives Matter or the controversial Georgia's voting laws
and such. But, I mean, when it comes to China, if they do speak the truth, then they would be cut out from this massive and lucrative economy and the
market. Hence, they couldn't uphold the values they so proclaimed to be in the United States.
So, we see a lot of double standards from the American companies. And, you know, it's really disheartening to see that because American companies, at
the end of the day, they are incorporated under the U.S. law. And not being complicit in genocide should be the basic norms of ethical business. But
that's not the kind of practice we're seeing right now.
SREENIVASAN: Yale Law fellow and human rights attorney Rayhan Asat, thanks so much for joining us.
ASAT: Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: And we continue to keep the spotlight on massive abuses of human rights, the treatment of Uyghurs in China and ono the struggle to preserve
democracy and press freedom around the world.
That is it for now. If you ever miss our show, you can find the latest episode shortly after it airs on our podcast. You can find it at
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Remember, you can always catch us online. Thank you for watching and good- bye from London.