Photo c/o Kyle West

By Nicholas Marshall, Contributor

This article has been edited as of Oct. 5, 2019

In February 2019, the McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice and the Muslim Students Association hosted an event called “The Genocide of Uyghur Muslims — Talk by Uyghur Survivor”. During this event, activist Rukiye Turdush spoke about the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Western China.

MMPJ co-presidents Batool and Elaaf, who requested to have their last names omitted from this article, explained that the event was meant to be a vehicle through which Turdush could share her experiences. Batool added that the event was also meant to raise awareness for the severe human rights abuses happening against Muslims in China.

The Turdush event came just a few months after reports were published of “re-education camps” in the Xinjiang region of north-western China, where Uyghur Muslims were being forced to abandon their religion and face abuse as detainees. In addition to reports of Mosque demolitions, the camps stand as a record of the Chinese Communist Party’s resistance against  heterodox opinions in China. 

On Feb. 13, McMaster’s Chinese Students and Scholars Association made a public statement accusing Turdush of inciting national hatred, stating that MACCSSA had contacted the Chinese consulate in Toronto about Turdush’s speech. Having anticipated the subject matter of the Turdush event, a group of Chinese students at McMaster created a group on the social media app WeChat specifically for the purpose of opposing the event. Student protestors filmed and protested against the Turdush event. Turdush herself was harassed. 

International CSSA organizations have either openly admitted or been proven to be affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party. Based on information that CSSAs at universities around the world have publicly released, the Chinese government has provided funding for individual CSSAs as incentive to populate overseas political events. For instance, the George Washington University CSSA received funding from the Chinese embassy in Washington as motivation for members to attend events welcoming President Xi Jinping to the city. 

On Sept. 22, a CSSA Evidence report was submitted to the SRA in favour of revoking the McMaster CSSA’s status. 

At this same meeting, SRA representative Simranjeet Singh delivered a presentation to the rest of the assembly called “Why We Should Revoke Club Status For The [MAC]CSSA”.

Singh’s presentation cited a 2018 report from the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission. The report stated that CSSAs across the U.S. have governmental ties with Chinese embassies and consulates, noting that similar operations could be taking place in US-allied countries.

“The nature of the [CSSA] ties [with Chinese government] appears to involve direct subordination and political direction rather than mere affiliation or cooperation,” stated the Commission’s report.

When asked about their role in contacting the Chinese consulate following the MSA/MMPJ event, MACCSSA stated that they did not have an official relationship with the Chinese embassy. However, in a letter responding to questions from the SRA in July 2019, MACCSSA stated that they had cooperated with the Chinese embassy on issues related to cultural exchange and safety education for international students. 

The MACCSSA evidence report presented to the SRA took notice of this contradiction, alleging that the use of the word “official” was an attempt to obscure MACCSSA’s ties to the Chinese embassy. 

According to the report, MACCSSA’s failure to fully report any links outside of the MSU was in direct violation of an MSU club operating policy. The policy in question required clubs to disclose any affiliations with bodies outside of the MSU. 

As of June 19, 2019, this MSU policy now includes affiliations with political parties or governmental bodies, regardless of whether the non-MSU organization is Canadian or international.  

Singh cast MACCSSA’s act of contacting the Chinese government, which the SRA deemed to be a dangerous action, as a key detail in his decision to vote in favour of de-ratifying MACCSSA. According to Singh’s presentation to the SRA, contacting the Chinese government was an attempt by MACCSSA to intimidate students into avoiding discussions that criticized the Chinese regime. 

During the Sept. 22 SRA meeting, a Chinese student’s testimony highlighted the lack of action from MSU representatives in response to MACCSSA’s reporting of student affairs to the Chinese government. 

“If you are privileged enough to not know what it feels like to live under an authoritarian regime — one where saying something critical of the ruling party is often enough to land you and your family in prison — then please, I implore you, please listen to those who do,” said the student.

Slides from Singh’s presentation warned: “Expert testimony, including from Human Rights Watch, has confirmed that students’ safety could have been endangered if the Chinese government … got info about them attending the MSA/MMPJ event.”

“That was enough grounds for us to decide that they are a threat to free expression on campus and may be a danger to students … We cannot normalize the extremist ideologies behind the CSSA’s actions,” said Singh. 

The SRA sided with Singh, voting to de-ratify MACCSSA and cut off the club’s access to MSU resources and services. 

Over seven months after Turdush’s initial talk, she returned to McMaster on Sept. 27 in response to an invitation from the MMPJ to speak about the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China. According to Batool, the event was a success, with over 100 spectators and no disruptions.


A previously published version of this article stated that MACCSSA’s act of contacting the Chinese government was considered an attempt by the SRA to intimidate students. This has since been corrected to state that it was considered an attempt by MACCSSA to intimidate students into avoiding discussions that might disrupt the Chinese regime.

A previously published version of this article stated that WeChat is a Chinese multi-purpose app used by members of the McMaster Chinese community. It has since been corrected to state that a group of Chinese students at McMaster created a group on the social media app WeChat specifically for the purpose of opposing the event. 

A previously published version of this article stated that no evidence was provided to directly connect the CSSA with the Chinese Communist Party. This has since been removed, and evidence has been presented.

A previously published version of this article did not reference CSSA’s response to questions from the SRA. This has since been updated.

A previous version of this article stated that Turdush returned to McMaster seven months after the de-ratification. This has since been corrected to state that she returned after her initial talk.

This version of the article has been updated to differentiate between MACCSSA and CSSAs around the world.



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By Anonymous

On Sept. 22, the Student Representative Assembly decisively voted to revoke club status for the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, ending months of disgraceful inaction from the McMaster Students Union board of directors and clubs department.

As a Chinese student, I applaud the SRA’s decision to stand up for student safety. The CSSA — which is linked to the Chinese Communist Party — has openly admitted to reporting people on campus to the Chinese government. By policing people and reporting them to a totalitarian dictatorship, the CSSA seriously endangered students who criticize the Chinese Community Party — especially Chinese, Tibetan and Uyghur students with family in China, given the Chinese government’s extensive human rights violations.

Many of us oppose the genocides in Tibet and Xinjiang, object to police brutality and rising authoritarianism in Hong Kong, and ultimately yearn to one day see freedom and democracy in our ancestral homelands. For us, the SRA’s monumental decision represents a strong affirmation of our right to exist safely on campus, and a rejection of Chinese Communist Party attempts to surveil and intimidate students.

Beyond my own opinion, the SRA has received sweeping praise. Rukiye Turdush, the Uyghur speaker condemned by the CSSA, applauded McMaster student representatives for standing up for our rights. Zhou Fengsuo, a famous Chinese human rights activist, called the vote momentous. Former Canadian ambassadors to China, David Mulroney and Guy Saint-Jacques, strongly commended the SRA’s move.

However, we should not let widespread approval obscure an important nuance: the SRA’s decision to de-ratify the CSSA was long overdue because of inaction from the MSU board and staff.

The SRA’s decision comes seven months after international media first reported on the CSSA in February. However, the MSU board and staff caused most of the delay, as they were occupied with speculation about lawsuits and fretting over potential backlash, instead of actually addressing the issue.

For starters, at the March 24 SRA meeting, then-MSU President Ikram Farah stunningly claimed that there was mere “speculation” about what happened — despite numerous detailed reports from international media and Human Rights Watch.

“We look at federal, provincial, municipal, and university [policies], and … based on the information we currently have, none of that had been infringed upon,” stated Farah in the Mar. 24 SRA meeting, oblivious the reason why international media sounded the alarm in the first place.

Beyond replying to SRA members who questioned them, the MSU board of directors did nothing to address concerns. There was no public response to the international news articles or Human Rights Watch recommendations. Meanwhile, the clubs department took no action either.

Finally, even immediately prior to the vote, the board of directors continued trying to avoid the issue in the SRA meeting on Sept. 22. Alexandrea Johnston (vice president finance) suggested moving the CSSA motion to the next meeting. Sarah Figueiredo (vice president administration) and Shemar Hackett (vice president education) refused to vote on the deratification motion. MSU President Joshua Marando had conveniently left the meeting earlier.

The board’s persistent attempts to avoid touching the CSSA fueled rumours of intentional efforts to hush this issue, or self-censor, due to pressure from university administration and fear of Chinese government retaliation. Although these rumours are speculation, the MSU’s ominous silence on social media so far (in contrast to Marando’s dramatic public statement excoriating the Dominion Society, another de-ratified MSU club) does nothing to reassure concerned students.

Faced with such cowardice from the MSU board and staff, the SRA cut through the nonsense and did what’s right. While the board and staff buried their heads in the sand for seven months, it was SRA members who gathered evidence, made a presentation, and motioned to de-ratify the CSSA.

Moving forward, SRA members should continue to keep the board in check. Evidently, the board’s approach is not always correct, so having the SRA hold the board accountable makes for a better MSU.

Marando, however, needs to show better leadership. Similar to his strong condemnation of white supremacy, Marando should publicly and unequivocally make clear that the MSU will not tolerate attempts to police marginalized students; efforts to surveil and control Chinese, Tibetan and Uyghur students on campus; or the hateful ideologies that enable genocide in Xinjiang. His silence so far on these concerns is deeply worrying.

The SRA has taken a bold first step in making campus a safer place, especially for students with family in China. Now it is time for Marando and the rest of the MSU board to stop twiddling their thumbs, match the SRA’s courage, and speak out against the threats and intimidation that students face.


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