TIME South Africa

South Africa Shuts Down First Pro-Gay Mosque

The religious cite is apparently in violation of a city law about parking spaces

Local officials in Cape Town, South Africa, have shuttered the country’s first mosque that welcomes gay people and allows women to lead prayers, citing a municipal code violation.

Cape Town city councilor Ganief Hendricks tells the BBC that the Open Mosque, which only opened on Friday, was in violation of a city law that requires one parking space per 10 worshippers at a place of worship. Hendricks said the mosque also failed to secure a permit to convert use of the building from a warehouse to a place of worship, which can take up to six months.

Members of the mosque, which drew harsh criticism from some segments of the local Muslim community, contend the city’s crackdown is an effort to close the mosque for good.

“We have freedom of religion and expression in this country,” said mosque founder Taj Hargey. “No one has the right to tell anyone what to believe in. This is a gender-equal mosque, autonomous and independent and will remain so.”

Hendricks maintains that the issue is not one of religious persecution but of a city zoning law.

“This is an emotive issue – some councillors who are Muslim would want to defend the issue more vigorously than those that aren’t but the bottom line is we have to make sure that the rules are followed,” he said.

[BBC]

TIME Turkey

Photos Show ‘Unprecedented’ Shift of Refugees Into Turkey

More than 138,000 Syrian Kurds have crossed the border

Among the top accusations against Turkey during Syria’s ongoing civil war has been that its government has not done enough to stem the flow of foreigners who slip over its border and into the ruthless jihadi groups operating between Syria and Iraq. But just as those thousands have crossed the boundary into Syria and Iraq to take up arms — some are thought to have joined extremist factions like the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) — Turkey’s 560-mile-long border has also proven a valuable exit for more than 1 million Syrian refugees.

Officials estimate more than 138,000 Syrian Kurds joined them in recent days, putting that exodus among the largest population shifts of the conflict since it began more than three years ago. The influx resulted from fierce battles between ISIS and Kurdish forces near the city of Ayn al-Arab, known to the Kurds as Kobani, following the militants’ seizure of Kurdish villages near the border during a recent advance. To put that figure into perspective, Melissa Fleming, chief spokesperson for the United Nations refugee agency, says the “unprecedented” push into Turkey is nearly equal to the number of Syrian refugees who have sought asylum in Europe during the war.

Kobani is a short leap from the Turkish town of Suruc and had previously been mostly spared from the fighting that has devastated other parts of Syria. “This was really an enclave of relative safety, Kobani, and in fact there were 200,000 internally displaced people who had found some semblance of safety there over the last few years,” she tells TIME. “It was a place to flee to, and now all of a sudden it’s a place to flee from.” Fleming added that the agency is now preparing for a worst-case scenario in which all 400,000 residents of Kobani flee to Turkey to escape the threat.

Bulent Kilic, a Turkish photographer with Agence France-Presse based in Istanbul, arrived to the region late on Sept. 19 and began shooting the next morning. Kilic had seen media reports beginning to focus on this area and, having missed the opportunity in August to document the tragedy of the Yezidis on Mount Sinjar in Iraq, boarded a plane and headed southeast. The first wave began slowly on Thursday but soon ticked up, with the big surge coming over on Friday and Saturday.

Turkish officials had initially barred the Syrian Kurds from passage, but later reversed course and opened border crossings — “without any ethnic or sectarian discrimination,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said at the time. And so they moved, on foot, with whatever they could carry. Those who crossed were mostly women, children and the elderly or injured, Kilic recalls, as most of the men and boys of fighting age stayed behind. “They left everything behind them — their toys, their homes, everything,” he says.

Kilic knows these types of scenes well. He covered the unrest during Turkey’s Gezi Park demonstrations last year, deadly clashes in Ukraine this past February and the Soma mine blast in May. He saw similar scenes of despair over the last few days, but his prior experiences doesn’t make them any easier to encounter. There was one moment he says moved him the most: a family at the border had three children, a few elders and two or three others. There were also a trio of goats that the adults were hoping to walk into Turkey. But the animals’ entry was denied.

“Their mother was trying to get them to come with her, but the children were crying because they couldn’t take the goats. At the same time, she was trying to control the goats. It was very dramatic,” he says.

The family left one or two people to take care of the animals near the border as the others, including the children, pressed on. Kilic says this story reminded him of his childhood because he would often care for his grandfather’s goats in his hometown.

“I understood them,” he admits. “They couldn’t leave these goats on the other side. They loved these goats and they didn’t want to leave because if they leave the goats, they’ll die or disappear or someone will take them. I couldn’t watch, I couldn’t continue, I started shooting something else.”

Making the pictures he wants to make in situations like this is difficult, Kilic says, but the best ones to him are those that show the humanity of his subjects and the reality of what he’s seen.

TIME Turkey

Turkey Grapples With an Unprecedented Flood of Refugees Fleeing ISIS

Turkey has done a better job than most at accommodating refugees, but the burden is proving too large to bear

Even by the standards of Syria’s nearly four-year-long civil war, it is a refugee exodus of extraordinary, if not unprecedented proportions. In less than 72 hours, an estimated 130,000 Syrian Kurds have poured across the border into neighboring Turkey, fleeing an onslaught by Islamist militants near the town of Kobani in northern Syria.

“We are preparing for the potential of the whole population fleeing into Turkey,” Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in Geneva on Tuesday. “Anything could happen and that population of Kobani is 400,000.”

Also on Tuesday, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish militia defending Kobani, called for the U.S. and its Arab allies to expand their air strikes to target positions being held around the city by the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Turkey, which already hosts upwards of 1.3 million Syrians — about 220,000 of them living in tent and container camps near the border — has done a much better job of accommodating the refugees than any of its neighbors. But the burden of providing for those displaced by the most recent fighting has proved too large to bear.

Since Friday, some of the refugees have found a place in newly assembled tent cities, Turkish officials said. Some have stayed with family members. Others have not been so lucky. In Suruc, a Turkish town about 8 miles north of the border gate at Kobani, and all along the road connecting the two, thousands of Syrians sought shelter in public squares, mosques, and in dry, barren fields.

At the crossing itself, a group of perhaps a hundred or more men, most of them from villages around Kobani, pleaded with Turkish soldiers to let them back into Syria. They seemed surprised that anyone should ask why they thought of returning. “To fight Islamic State,” one of them said, using the name ISIS recently gave itself.

At a nearby village, police and riot vehicles squared off against dozens of Kurdish activists from Turkey. The Kurds were protesting the Turkish authorities’ decision, temporary as it turned out, to close the border. They were greeted with a barrage of tear gas and several arrests.

The fighting around Kobani, combined with the massive refugee influx and reports of new atrocities perpetrated by ISIS against Syria’s Kurds, has put Turkey under further pressure, both international and domestic, to review its policy options. Until last weekend, Ankara had insisted it could not play a bigger role in the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS for fear that doing so would put at risk the lives of 46 Turkish hostages captured by the jihadists in in June. But on Sept. 20, in an operation that likely included a prisoner swap, the hostages were set free.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has since suggested his government’s position towards ISIS might be ripe for a rethink. “What happens from now on is a separate issue,” he said Sunday. “We need to decide what kind of attitude to take.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has made it clear he now expects Turkey to make a tangible contribution to the alliance. The Turks “first needed to deal with their hostage situation,” he said Monday. “Now the proof will be in the pudding.”

Anyone who thinks Turkey is about to take part in armed operations against ISIS, however, should think again, says Henri Barkey, a professor at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and former State Department official.

In practice, there are three areas where Ankara might be in a position to help the U.S., Barkey says. It could allow the Americans to use the Incirlik Air Base, in Turkey’s south, to stage strikes against ISIS; it could provide more intelligence cooperation; and it could start dismantling the jihadist-support network in Turkey, stopping people, arms and supplies from entering Syria, and stopping smuggled fuel, arguably the biggest source of ISIS’s wealth, from coming out. Anything beyond that appears to be out of the question. “I don’t think Erdogan can move militarily against ISIS,” Barkey says. “That would open up a huge scenario for him that he is not ready for.”

As it positions itself diplomatically, Turkey is also beginning to face the domestic fallout from the drama unfolding on its doorstep.

Although few of them are able to provide hard evidence, many Kurds on both sides of the border firmly believe that Turkey backs ISIS — and that it is using the jihadists as a proxy against the YPG, an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Turks’ longtime enemy.

The longer the misery in Kobani lasts, Kurdish politicians now warn, the higher the chance that the political atmosphere inside Turkey will turn toxic, derailing a nascent peace process between the PKK and the government.

“They give us an olive branch in one hand, they support ISIS with the other, and they say nothing about the killing in Kobani,” said Mehmet Karayilan, a Kurdish politician from Gaziantep. “That’s putting the whole peace process at risk.”

TIME China

5 Life Lessons From Alibaba Founder Jack Ma

Clinton Global Initiative's 10th Annual Meeting - Day 3
Executive Chairman of the Alibaba Group Jack Ma speaks during the "Valuing What Matters" panl discussion during the third day of the Clinton Global Initiative's 10th Annual Meeting on September 23, 2014 in New York City. Jemal Countess—Getty Images

China's richest man explains how to lead a successful life

Jack Ma, one of Alibaba’s founders, spoke Tuesday at a panel discussion at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York about money, philanthropy and his vision for China. But Ma, now the executive chairman of Alibaba, also disclosed several nuggets of wisdom about how he’s achieved his success and earned his title of China’s richest man, following Alibaba’s massive IPO.

Here are five life lessons that we can learn from Ma’s talk:

Think ahead.

“We got successful today not because we did a great job today—we had a dream 15 years ago,” said Ma, whose company, Alibaba, recently had the biggest IPO ever at nearly $25 billion.

Money isn’t happiness—it’s responsibility.

“When I graduated, I earned $20 a month, which was fantastic,” said Ma, who taught English in China after college. “When you have one million dollars, you’re a lucky person. When you have 10 million dollars, you’ve got trouble, a lot of headaches. When you have more than one billion dollars, or a hundred million dollars, that’s a responsibility you have—it’s the trust of people on you, because people believe you can spend money better than the others.”

Expect the unexpected.

“Life is like a box of chocolates,” Ma said, drawing from a line from one of his favorite films, Forrest Gump. “You never know what you’re going to get.”

You don’t need connections to achieve success.

“We don’t have a rich father or a powerful uncle,” said Ma, who started Alibaba out of his apartment in Hangzhou, China. “We only have the customers that support us.”

To change the world, invest in youth.

“The secret here is helping those who want to be successful,” Ma said. “Help young people. Help small guys. Because small guys will be big. Young people will have the seeds you bury in their minds and when they grow up they will change the world.”

TIME Foreign Policy

How Obama’s War Against ISIS Just Keeps Growing

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama, who is in New York City for the 69th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative on Sept. 23, 2014 in New York City. Spencer Platt—Getty Images

A mission that keeps shedding its limits

Barack Obama’s war against ISIS has come a long way from Sinjar Mountain.

It was six weeks ago, on Aug. 7, that the President announced his first airstrikes against the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). It was a profound decision for a President long determined to avoid military action in the Middle East—and for a war-scarred country resistant to foreign interventions.

It was also the first of many incremental steps towards Monday night’s dramatic strikes in Syria—a piecemeal approach that suggests an improvised mission, and one whose objectives and justifications have repeatedly shifted over the past six weeks.

From a podium in the White House’s state dining room on the night of Aug. 7, Obama gravely described his authorization of two military operations. One was to stop ISIS’s advance on the Iraqi city of Erbil, which Obama described as a threat to Americans stationed there. The other was to rescue thousands of Yezidi people besieged by ISIS fighters atop Sinjar Mountain. “[W]hen we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye,” Obama said. “We can act, carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide.”

The Yezidi rescue was the emotional core of Obama’s speech, and many listeners heard the humanitarian rationale as the real trigger for military action. In hindsight, it doesn’t look that way. For one thing, there were many fewer Yezidi on the mountain than believed, and just a few airstrikes broke their encirclement. Likewise, Erbil emerged quickly from danger as Kurdish fighters in the area regrouped.

Missions accomplished—or so it seemed. But the airstrikes continued. And soon a new mission emerged.

On a Sunday afternoon ten days later, the White House quietly issued a statement announcing air strikes with the goal of liberating the Mosul dam from the clutches of ISIS militants. The White House said the dam’s possible destruction threatened Americans stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad—some 250 miles away.

Even after the dam’s quick recapture by Iraqi government forces, strikes continued in the area. Then, on Sept. 7, came word of still another mission: A Pentagon statement said the U.S. was now bombing ISIS around the Haditha dam, in western Iraq—far from Erbil, Sinjar and Mosul. By now, American drones and planes had conducted about 150 strikes in the country. The U.S. was conducting a de facto air campaign against ISIS in support of Iraq’s government.

As fears about ISIS’s terrorist capabilities grew, and after the group beheaded two American captives, Obama spoke to the nation again on Sept. 10. After weeks of action with limited goals—protecting Americans in the region, averting genocide—the President now declared a bold new objective: “to degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, even if it meant striking across the Iraqi border into Syria.

Obama did just that Monday night. But even this latest version of the mission has already expanded beyond its originally stated objective. American strikes, aided by five Arab allies, targeted not only ISIS fighters in Syria but also militants with the al-Qaeda-affiliated group Khorasan, who the White House says was actively planning terror attacks against the U.S.

Speaking at the White House on Tuesday, Obama said he would “do what’s necessary to take the fight to this terrorist group.” Americans might be forgiven for wondering how much further his mission will expand. Last week, Obama insisted that U.S. troops in Iraq “do not and will not have a combat mission,” and that he would not mount “another ground war in Iraq.”

But the words “combat mission” may mean different things to different people. And while it’s impossible to imagine Obama sending 100,000 ground troops back to Iraq, many current and former Pentagon officials say that American soldiers could be sent into battle alongside Iraqi security forces as advisors and spotters for air strikes without violating the “combat mission” stricture.

And then there are plenty of other open questions. Could the war on ISIS expand to provide air cover for moderate Syrian rebels fighting the group? What if U.S.-trained rebels need help fending off Syrian regime forces? What happens if an American pilot goes down over ISIS-held territory?

“I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq,” Obama told the nation on Aug. 7. But warfare has pulled hard at Obama ever since. And the record so far leaves little reason to think it’s finished with him.

TIME Military

These Are the Weapons the U.S. Is Using to Attack ISIS

Inside the Pentagon's assault in Syria

Things generally seem to go best on the first day of any given military campaign. That certainly seemed to be the case Tuesday, as the U.S. and its allies struck 22 locations across northern Syria in their expanded air war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), and the Khorasan Group, an al-Qaeda offshoot.

Some of the world’s most sophisticated military hardware streaked through darkened skies over Syria, the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea during the five hours the strikes took place. While it was no day at the beach for the two terrorist groups holed up in Syria, they did see three separate waves of kinetic killers headed their way.

The initial volleys of 47 Tomahawk cruise missiles came from the guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke, in the Red Sea, and the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea, in the northern Persian Gulf. The missiles, with a range of up to 1,000 miles (1,700 km), have been the curtain-raiser on U.S. military strikes since 1991’s Gulf War. That makes sense: there’s no pilot to be shot down.

Among other targets, Tomahawks struck an ISIS financial center. “The intended target was the communications array on the roof of the building,” said Army Lieut. General Bill Mayville, the operations director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.. “The Tomahawk cruise missiles detonated as airbursts with the effects focusing on the communications array. And as you can see on the right-hand side in the picture–the after picture—the rooftop communications is heavily damaged while the surrounding structure remains largely intact.”

“The majority of the Tomahawk strikes were against Khorasan group compounds, their manufacturing workshops and training camps,” Mayville told reporters.

That’s interesting: It means most of the missiles attacked no more than the eight announced Khorasan targets. The Khorosan Group is an al-Qaeda affiliate dispatched to Syria to try to develop sophisticated weapons—think non-metallic bombs to be snuck aboard commercial airliners—to be used against U.S. targets. The U.S. made clear it believes it was preparing to strike.

The second wave of warplanes launching strikes looked like something out of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. An all-Air Force show, it featured the B-1 bomber, F-15 and F-16 fighter-bombers, and Predator drones. “Targets included [ISIS] headquarters, training camps, barracks and combat vehicles,” Mayville said.

But the real star of the second act was the Air Force’s F-22 fighter-bomber, making its combat debut. It has been a long time coming: The $350 million per-copy Raptor has been operational since 2005, and Air Force officials have been steaming ever since as Pentagon officials kept it on the sidelines.

“This second picture shows an [ISIS] command and control building in Raqqa that was targeted by U.S. Air Force F-22s during the second wave of strikes,” Mayville said. “This strike was the first time the F-22 was used in a combat role.” Mayville detailed its role. “The flight of the F-22s delivered GPS-guided munitions—precision munitions—targeting, again, only the right side of the building…You can see that the command and control center, where it was located in the building, was destroyed.”

The final act, like the first, was all Navy. F-18 attack planes from the carrier USS George H.W. Bush carried it out. Mayville focused on an ISIS training and logistics site. “The aircraft targeted locations within the boundaries, within the fence line of the residence,” he said. “You’ll note that the effects of the strike were contained within the boundaries of the target area.”

Mayville noted that 96% of the weapons used were precision-guided. But he couldn’t—or wouldn’t—say what percentage of the weapons had been dropped by U.S. allies, instead of the Americans. Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates all fired bombs or missiles from aircraft, “with Qatar in a supporting role,” in the words of Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman. In other words, Qatar didn’t attack anything.

TIME Venezuela

Venezuela’s Maduro Courts Chavez Faithful With Government Shake-Up

President Nicolas Maduro talks during a meeting with ministers at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Sept. 3, 2014.
President Nicolás Maduro talks during a meeting with ministers at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Sept. 3, 2014. Reuters

With the opposition posing little threat for now, Nicolás Maduro's real challenge is keeping the left—particularly supporters of the late Hugo Chávez—united behind his leadership

“Our Chávez who art in heaven, the earth, the sea and we delegates,” began María Estrella Uribe, a red-clad supporter of Hugo Chávez at the lectern of a Socialist party convention in Caracas earlier this month.“Hallowed be thy name… Lead us not into the temptation of capitalism, deliver us from evil and oligarchy.”

The latter part of the prayer to the former Venezuelan President was answered just a few days later, when Rafael Ramírez, the country’s oil minister minister and vice president responsible for the economy, was sidelined. A longtime lieutenant of Chávez, Ramírez had lately begun pushing to overhaul the struggling Venezuelan economy. In June, on his way back from an Opec meeting in Vienna, he took a detour to London to meet investors. His aim? To re-establish “communication with financial markets.” He wanted to refinance the country’s debt by tapping the international markets and talked publicly about raising the price of heavily-subsidized gas (the government loses out on some $12.5 billion a year to ensure that Venezuelans pay no more than a couple of cents per liter at the pump).

But he was pushed aside by Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro, who, ever since he won a Presidential election last April, has struggled to get a grip on spiraling inflation and shortages of basic goods such as flour and shampoo. The crisis has knocked Maduro’s popularity—his approval ratings languish in the mid-thirties—and even fanned speculation in some quarters about the possibility of a default (the government insists it will honor its obligations down to last dollar).

Maduro announced Ramírez’s departure from the oil portfolio on Sept. 2, moving him to the foreign ministry in a televised speech billed as the great sacudón or shake-up. “We must begin a new stage in the revolution,” Maduro said, naming Chávez’s cousin, Asdrúbal, as the country’s new oil chief. Rodolfo Marco Torres, who participated in Hugo Chávez’s failed 1992 coup attempt against the then government of President Carlos Andrés Pérez, took over as the new vice president for the economy. Ramírez also lost his post as the head of the national oil company.

The reshuffle signaled another lurch to the left for Maduro as the souring economy takes its toll on ordinary Venezuelans. Ramírez’s move out of oil ministry also underscored the President’s main challenge—maintaining the support of the thousands of Venezuelans who backed Chávez. The opposition—divided as it is between a radical flank led by the still-imprisoned Leopoldo López and a more moderate faction spearheaded Henrique Capriles—poses little threat, at least for now. February saw the biggest anti-government protests in Venezuela in over a decade as students took to the streets. But the momentum behind that movement has waned. “The students have other priorities,” says Carlos Romero, a Venezuelan political analyst, “to finish their studies, to look for a job or to go abroad.”

Maduro’s real problem is keeping the left united behind his leadership, a challenge that is apparent in the Caracas slum of 23 de Enero—a well known bastion of the left and the place where Chávez and his co-conspirators planned the 1992 coup attempt. “Things are going from bad to worse,” says Winifer López, 20, a nurse who lives in the slum. “I always supported Chávez. He was wonderful for this country. But what on earth made him leave Maduro in charge?”

For Romero, the government reshuffle is a signal that “Maduro believes that a radical path would mean he will have more support from Chavistas [supporters of the late leader].”

“He does not like to be seen as a reformist, rather as a true believer of socialist ideas, of the legacy of Chávez,” Romero adds. “In order to maintain his popularity he has to be more radical to project him as a strong leader. That is why he moved Ramírez.”

TIME Outer Space

Russia Says It’s Putting Another Man on the Moon…By 2030

Soyuz TMA-12M Prepares To Launch
The Soyuz TMA-12M rocket launches to the International Space Station, March 26, 2014 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Joel Kowsky—NASA/Getty Images

One giant leap for mankind, again

Russia’s space agency said Tuesday it will launch a “full-scale” exploration of the Moon as part of a long-term mission to get a human being on the lunar surface for the first time in decades.

The head of Roscomsos, Oleg Ostapenko, said that designs were already underway for a manned spacecraft that he estimated could reach the moon by the end of the next decade. “By that time, based on the results of lunar surface exploration by unmanned space probes, we will designate [the] most promising places for lunar expeditions and lunar bases,” Ostapenko said, according to a translation by Russian state-owned news agency ITAR-TASS.

The mission was announced at a government meeting chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who has previously threatened to sever ties with American space agencies over the West’s reproach of Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine crisis.

“At the end of the next decade, we plan to complete tests of a super-heavy-class carries rocket and begin full-scale exploration of the Moon,” Rogozin said.

TIME China

Uighur Academic’s Daughter Faces Lonely Road After His Life Sentence on Separatism Charges

Ilham Tohti
Ilham Tohti Andy Wong—AP

It was supposed to be an adventure. It was Feb. 2, 2013, and Ilham Tohti, a Beijing-based professor and writer, and his 18-year-old daughter, Jewher Ilham, were on their way from China to the United States. He was to start a year-long residency at Indiana University, she was tagging along to help him settle in. They got to the airport, checked their bags, and made their way through the gleaming terminal. But at immigration, they were stopped.

Security personnel took them to a small room where they sat for several hours. Eventually, they informed them that Ilham Tohti could not leave. Jewher, then 18, was put on a flight to Chicago. She landed in the U.S. alone, with no money and only rudimentary English. “I was so afraid,” she says.”I did not know what to do.”

So began the journey of Jewher Ilham. With the help of a family friend, she made her way safely to Indiana. But she has not seen her father since the airport. And she may never see him again.

On the morning of Sept. 23, Ilham Tohti was sentenced to life in prison on charges of separatism. He is a leading advocate for the Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim minority that has long bristled under Beijing’s rule. His brutal detention, closed-door trial and harsh sentence are yet more signs that when it comes to certain issues, the ruling Chinese Communist Party will tolerate zero dissent.

Ilham Tohti’s case comes at a time when his native Xinjiang is experiencing a rise in violence. The Chinese government says the upheaval in its far northwestern territory, home to the Uighurs and other minority groups, is the work of extremists with links to foreign terror. Though Tohti often wrote about his desire for inter-ethnic harmony, officials have linked him to the recent unrest. “Tohti encouraged fellow [Uighurs] to use violence,” reported Xinhua, a state-backed newswire. They also faulted him for “making domestic issues international.”

Rights groups say the charges are trumped-up and the conviction amounts to political scapegoating. “Ilham was only exercising his right to free expression, for which he should not be imprisoned” read a statement from China Human Rights Defenders, an NGO. “The government is trying to lay blame on him for recent violent incidents and divert attention from its own policy failures that have contributed to rising ethnic tensions.”

Jewher Ilham has always maintained her father’s innocence, and from her new base in Bloomington, Indiana, she has done what she can to clear his name. When she first arrived in the U.S., her father’s friend and colleague, Elliot Sperling, helped get her into English classes. At first, she was unable to communicate in English, and Sperling served as a round-the-clock Chinese-to-English translator. In April 2014, just over a year into Ilham’s studies, she testified before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. She spoke about their fateful trip to the airport, her father’s detention and torture, and the hardships faced by her brothers and stepmother back home. A month later, she accepted the PEN Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award on her father’s behalf.

“I had never imagined that I would be in such a situation; I never thought that one day my father would be imprisoned in Xinjiang and I would be on the other side of the world, trying my best to speak for him,” Ilham said.

But speak she did, beautifully: “My father Ilham Tohti has used only one weapon in his struggle for the basic rights of Uyghur of Xinjiang: words, spoken, written, distributed and posted,” she said. “This is all that he has ever had at his disposal, and all he has ever needed. And this is what China finds so threatening.”

When I interviewed Jewher in August she seemed determined, but tired. She said she started each day by typing her dad’s name into Google, searching for news about his case. “I hate the feeling that I have to learn information about my father on the Internet,” Jewher said. She often gets early morning calls from journalists—appreciated but tough to balance with mid-term exams.

I did not have the heart to call this morning, the day her father was sentenced to life. But I will be thinking of her. She is young and brave, but so very far from home.

TIME faith

Pope Francis Keeps Silent on Syria Strikes

Pope Francis arrives with his popemobile at the Catholic University in Tirana, on September 21, 2014.
Pope Francis arrives with his popemobile at the Catholic University in Tirana, on September 21, 2014. Filippo Monteforte—AFP/Getty Images

The pontiff's decision not to comment on latest airstrikes may be as close as he comes to an endorsement — but it has its risks

One voice has so far remained quiet since the United States and five allied Arab nations launched airstrikes in Syria against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) late Monday: That of Pope Francis.

The Holy Father’s silence is a complete contrast to his all-out effort a year ago this month—almost to the week—to prevent U.S. military strikes against the Syrian regime. Then, Pope Francis dominated the news cycle with his message opposing U.S. intervention. He wrote a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, host of the G-20 summit that President Barack Obama was attending, urging leaders to oppose military intervention in Syria: “To the leaders present, to each and every one, I make a heartfelt appeal for them to help find ways to overcome the conflicting positions and to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution,” he argued.

The Pope singled out a Syrian refugee family during a private visit to the Astalli refugee center in Rome so he could hear their story. He flooded his Twitter feed with messages like, “War never again! Never again war!” and “How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake” and “With all my strength, I ask each party in the conflict not to close themselves in solely on their own interests. #prayforpeace.”

He declared a day of prayer and fasting for Syria and held a five-hour prayer service in St. Peter’s Square as the U.S. and France contemplated military strikes. “How many conflicts, how many wars have mocked our history?” he asked the tens of thousands of faithful gathered. “Even today we raise our hand against our brother. … We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves as if it were normal we continue to sow destruction, pain, death. Violence and war lead only to death.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) sent letters to all members of Congress urging them to vote against military intervention in Syria. The USCCB also wrote to President Obama to make clear that for the Pope and Middle Eastern Bishops “a military attack will be counterproductive, will exacerbate an already deadly situation, and will have unintended negative consequences.”

The Pope’s messaging this past week could not be more different. As the U.S. has considered its next steps in combating the ISIS threat, @Pontifex’s tweets have been about spiritual poverty and God’s love that does not cease. In his visit to Albania, he briefly rebuked (unnamed) religious militants who act in the name of God—“May no one use religion as a pretext for actions against human dignity,” he told diplomats at the presidential palace on Sunday—but that’s about it.

Why the change? Certainly the political landscape has shifted over the past year. The ISIS threat has risen to the global scene, and these latest airstrikes are targeting militant groups rather than Assad’s regime. Russia may now seem like less of an obvious partner for peace after its actions in Ukraine. Pope Francis himself has a panoply of issues on his agenda, from migration crises to Vatican financial reform to the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the family. Plus, there is the risk that the appearance of Vatican support for military intervention against ISIS could flame a “Christian v. Muslim” narrative that could further endanger religious minorities in the region.

The Pope is not usually a figure world leaders look to for foreign policy advice when considering military action—his role is more one of a moral symbol, and so his voice is relevant chiefly for its perceived influence in shaping public opinion. The Catholic Church traditionally holds to the theory of just war, historically accepting military intervention as a sometimes necessary step toward peace. But no one expects a symbol of peace to ever be an advocate for war — and so the Pope’s silence may be as close as the Holy See gets to giving an endorsement.

Francis did hint at his approval of the U.S. bombing campaign in Iraq last month, when it began targeting ISIS positions there. So long as the international community was involved, and not just a sole actor, he told a reporter on his return flight from South Korea, “I can say only it’s licit to stop an unjust aggressor.”

He also sent special envoy Cardinal Fernando Filoni to Iraq to visit displaced and threatened minorities—Christian, Yezidi, and other—in August. “The Church as Church is and will always be against war,” Filoni, who was the Vatican’s ambassador to Iraq under Sadaam Hussein, said upon returning. “But these poor people have the right to be defended. They have no weapons, they have been driven out from their homes in a cowardly way, they have not engaged the enemy.”

But silence about human rights more broadly however has its risks, especially in pivotal political moments like we are seeing this week. Veteran Vatican reporter John Allen Jr. put what’s at stake in the Pope’s diplomatic career best. “To date, the only concrete diplomatic success to which Francis can point is helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad cling to power by opposing Western strikes [last year],” Allen wrote for the Boston Globe’s new Catholic site Crux. “Yet assuming that Assad reasserts control, the question is whether Francis will use the Church’s resources to promote greater respect for human rights and democracy. If not, his major political accomplishment could go down as propping up a thug.”

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