NAIROBI, Kenya — The family was startled awake by a loud bang in the middle of the night on the gate of their home on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.
Police officers barged in without a warrant, ransacking the living room and looking under the beds. They seized three members of the family, among them a 76-year-old, one-legged amputee yanked from bed while his sons begged to go in his place.
“They showed him no mercy even after he cried, ‘I am disabled and diabetic,’” said the man’s nephew, Kirubel, who would give only his first name for fear of reprisals.
The family is among hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of Ethiopians belonging to the Tigrayan ethnic group who have been rounded up and detained in the capital and beyond in recent weeks.
routed the Ethiopian army in Tigray, swept south, recently captured two strategic towns and threatened to advance toward the capital.
On Nov. 2, the government declared a state of emergency, and the resulting roundups have swept up anyone of Tigrayan descent, many of whom had no ties to the rebels or even affinity for them. They were not just young men and women, but also mothers with children and the elderly, according to human rights advocates and interviews with nearly a dozen family members and friends of detainees.
They have been seized off the streets, in their homes and even in workplaces — including banks, schools and shopping centers — and taken to overcrowded cells in police stations and detention facilities.
Tigrayans have been targeted by the police based on a mix of hints: their surnames, details listed on identification cards and drivers licenses, even the way they speakAmharic, the national language of Ethiopia.
said Tuesday through a spokeswoman. “Its provisions are extremely broad, with vague prohibitions going as far as encompassing ‘indirect moral’ support for what the government has labeled ‘terrorist groups.’”
The ethnically motivated detentions come amid a significant rise in online hate speech, which is only adding fuel to the civil war tearing apart Africa’s second-most populous nation. Reports of massacres, ethnic cleansing and widespread sexual assault by all sides in the conflict have undermined the vision of Ethiopian unity that Mr. Abiy, the prime minister and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, promised when he rose to power more than three years ago.
The war between Ethiopian federal forces and their allies and Tigrayan rebel fighters has left thousands of people dead, at least 400,000 living in famine-like conditions and millions displaced. It risks engulfing the whole of Ethiopia and the wider Horn of Africa.
Mr. Abiy’s determination to prosecute the war seems to have been only hardened by economic threats from the Biden administration, which has imposed sanctions on his military allies in neighboring Eritrea and suspended Ethiopia from duty-free access to the U.S. market.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who is traveling to Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal this week, has expressed worry that Ethiopia could “implode.”
defend the capital “with our blood” even as African and Western envoys sought to broker a cease-fire.
Police officials have defended the arrests, saying they were seizing supporters of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the country’s former dominant party, which Ethiopia now classifies as a terrorist organization.
Activists, however, say the state of emergency provisions are so nebulous that they give security officials unfettered latitude. The provisions allow for the search of any person’s home or their arrest without a warrant “upon reasonable suspicion” that they cooperate with terrorist groups.
Laetitia Bader, the Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said “the state of emergency is legitimizing and legalizing unlawful practices” and creating “a real climate of fear.”
Many ethnic Tigrayans say they now fear leaving home. Almost all those who agreed to be interviewed declined to be identified by name for fear that they might be arrested or face retaliation.
began a military campaign in the country’s northern Tigray region, hoping to vanquish the Tigray People’s Liberation Front — his most troublesome political foe.
Rebels turned the tide. Despite Mr. Abiy’s promise of a swift campaign, the Ethiopian military suffered a major defeat in June when it was forced to withdraw from Tigray. Now the fighting is rapidly moving south.
Tigrayan forces close in. In late October, Tigrayan rebels captured two towns near Addis Ababa, the nation’s capital. The government declared a state of emergency and called on citizens to arm themselves.
No end in sight. President Biden has threatened to impose sanctions on the country to coax the sides to the negotiating table, but the war’s current trajectory could cause the collapse of Ethiopia.
In Addis Ababa, security officers have demanded that landlords identify Tigrayan tenants. In one secondary school, a teacher said four Tigrayan teachers had been taken into custody as they ate lunch after officers arrived with a letter from the intelligence service containing their names.
A merchant in Addis Ababa, 38, was picked up by security officers after he opened his mobile phone accessories shop. A nearby shop owner phoned that news to the seized merchant’s wife, who said she left their two children with a neighbor and rushed to the shop — only to find it closed and her husband gone.
After a three-day search, the wife said, she found her husband in a crowded Addis Ababa detention facility with no proper bedding or food.
In Addis Ababa, rights groups say, police stations are so full of detainees that the authorities have moved the overflow to heavily guarded makeshift facilities, among them youth recreation centers, warehouses and one major prison. With no access to lawyers, some relatives of detainees say they will not approach these facilities, fearful they could be arrested too.
whistle-blower, have long accused Facebook of failing to moderate hateful incitement speech. With pressure mounting, Facebook this month deleted a post by Mr. Abiy urging citizens to “bury” the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
Twitter also disabled its Trends section in Ethiopia, citing “the risks of coordination that could incite violence or cause harm.”
Timnit Gebru, an Ethiopian-born American computer scientist who spotted and reported some of the posts on Facebook, said the measures were insufficient and amounted to “a game of whack-a-mole.”
For now, many Tigrayans worry that it’s only a matter of time before they are seized. One businessman, who paid a $400 bribe for his release, said officers had told him they would come for him again.
It’s a fate Kirubel said he worried about as his disabled uncle and cousins remained detained.
“My children worry that I will not come back when I leave the house,” he said. “Everyone is afraid.”
Employees of The New York Times contributed reporting from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
For its part, the Chinese government has underwritten the cost of installing Huawei gear, in an effort to dominate networks from Latin America to the Middle East.
Ms. Meng came to personify that effort. Her determination to wire up Tehran, at a time in which the West was seeking to contain Iran’s nuclear program, attracted protests among American officials. For that reason, some China hard-liners objected on Friday to news that the charges were being dropped.
“It sends the wrong message to Chinese business executives around the world that it’s permissible to engage in fraudulent transactions with Iran and North Korea,” said Michael Pillsbury, a scholar at the Hudson Institute who was a top China adviser to former President Donald J. Trump. “I fear that another part of the message has been that the Biden team approved selling Huawei some types of chips and technology, which will also undercut the message that Huawei should not be involved in 5G telecommunications systems of our friends and allies.”
Huawei mustered a furious effort in Washington and in Canada to get Ms. Meng released. But she refused to plead guilty to bank and wire fraud charges stemming from Huawei’s deal in Iran. Months later, she agreed to a deferred prosecution agreement, which will ultimately lead to dropping all the charges against her.
The case began when Canadian authorities arrested Ms. Meng, 49, in December 2018, at the request of the United States. She owns two imposing homes in Vancouver, and was allowed to stay in them with an ankle bracelet to track her whereabouts. She eventually settled at her gated, seven-bedroom mansion in the city’s exclusive Shaughnessy neighborhood, where she received painting lessons and private massages.
She instantly became one of the world’s most famous detainees — especially because she is the daughter of Huawei’s famous founder and chief executive, Ren Zhengfei, a former People’s Liberation Army officer who turned his small telecommunications firm into a national champion.
In January 2019, the Justice Department indicted Huawei and Ms. Meng. While the charges focused on bank and wire fraud, in announcing the indictment, the Justice Department alleged that Huawei employees, including Ms. Meng, lied to bank officials when asked about whether Huawei was unlawfully engaged in business with Iran, knowing that U.S. sanctions on Tehran would prevent the banks from financing the sale.
A scrappy force of local Tigrayan recruits scored a cascade of battlefield victories against the Ethiopian military, one of Africa’s strongest. Times journalists witnessed the decisive week in an eight-month civil war.
Text by Declan Walsh
Photographs by Finbarr O’Reilly
SAMRE, Ethiopia — The Tigrayan fighters whooped, whistled and pointed excitedly to a puff of smoke in the sky, where an Ethiopian military cargo plane trundling over the village minutes earlier had been struck by a missile.
Smoke turned to flames as the stricken aircraft broke in two and hurtled toward the ground. Later, in a stony field strewn with smoking wreckage, villagers picked through twisted metal and body parts. For the Tigrayan fighters, it was a sign.
“Soon we’re going to win,” said Azeb Desalgne, a 20-year-old with an AK-47 over her shoulder.
The downing of the plane on June 22 offered bracing evidence that the conflict in the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia was about to take a seismic turn. A Tigrayan guerrilla army had been fighting to drive out the Ethiopian military for eight months in a civil war marked by atrocities and starvation. Now the fight seemed to be turning in their favor.
The war erupted in November, when a simmering feud between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Tigrayan leaders, members of a small ethnic minority who had dominated Ethiopia for much of the three previous decades, exploded into violence.
airstrike had struck a crowded village market that day, killing dozens. We watched as the first casualties arrived at Mekelle’s largest hospital.
Days later, three aid workers from Doctors Without Borders were brutally murdered by unknown assailants.
In the countryside, the war was moving at a furious pace. Ethiopian military positions fell like dominoes. Hours after the Tigrayans shot down the military cargo plane, we reached a camp holding several thousand newly captured Ethiopian soldiers, about 30 miles south of Mekelle.
Clustered behind a barbed wire fence, the prisoners erupted into applause when we stepped from our vehicle — hoping, they later explained, that we were Red Cross workers.
Some were wounded, others barefoot — Tigrayans confiscated their boots as well as their guns, they said — and many pleaded for help. “We have badly wounded soldiers here,” said Meseret Asratu, 29, a platoon commander.
Further along the road was the battlefield where others had died. The bodies of Ethiopian soldiers were scattered across a rocky field, untouched since a fight four days earlier, now swelling in the afternoon sun.
Personal items cast aside nearby, amid empty ammunition boxes and abandoned uniforms, hinted at young lives interrupted: dog-eared photos of loved ones, but also university certificates, chemistry textbooks and sanitary pads — a reminder that women fight on both sides of the conflict.
Stragglers were still being rounded up. The next day, Tigrayan fighters marched five just-captured prisoners up a hill, where they slumped to the ground, exhausted.
Dawit Toba, a glum 20-year-old from the Oromia region of Ethiopia, said he had surrendered without firing a shot. War in Tigray was not like he had imagined it. “We were told there would be fighting,” he said. “But when we got here it was looting, robbery, attacks on women.”
“This war was not necessary,” he added. “Mistakes have been made.”
Driving off, we came across a figure sprawled on the roadside — an Ethiopian, stripped of his uniform, with several bullet wounds to his leg. He groaned softly.
The wounded soldier appeared to have been dumped there, although it wasn’t clear by whom. We drove him back to the prisoner camp, where Ethiopian medics did some basic treatment on the ground outside a school. Nobody was sure if he would survive.
Artillery boomed in the distance. The Tigrayan offensive was continuing to the north, using captured heavy guns against the Ethiopian troops who had brought them in. A platoon of fighters walked through, bearing a wounded man on a stretcher. Teklay Tsegay, 20, watched them pass.
Before the war, Mr. Teklay was a mechanic in Adigrat, 70 miles north. Then, last February, Eritrean soldiers fired into his aunt’s house, killing her 5-year-old daughter, he said. The following day, Mr. Teklay slipped out of Adigrat to join the resistance.
“I never thought I would be a soldier,” he said. “But here I am.”
As Tigrayans quietly mustered a guerrilla army this year, they drew on their experience of fighting a brutal Marxist dictatorship in Ethiopia in the 1970s and 1980s, under the flag of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
Then, Tigrayan intellectuals used Marxist ideology to bind peasant fighters to their cause, much like the Viet Cong or rebels in Angola and Mozambique.
But this time, the Tigrayan fighters are largely educated and hail from the towns and cities. And it is anger at atrocities, not Marxism, that drew them to the cause.
At the recruitment camp, instructors standing under trees gave speeches about Tigrayan culture and identity, and taught new recruits to fire an AK-47.
The wave of recruits has included doctors, university professors, white-collar professionals and diaspora Tigrayans from the United States and Europe, colleagues and friends said. Even in government-held Mekelle, recruitment grew increasingly brazen.
Two weeks ago, a T.D.F. poster appeared on a wall beside St. Gabriel’s, the city’s largest church. “Those who fail to join are as good as the walking dead,” it read. Hours later, Ethiopian soldiers arrived and tore it down.
Mulugeta Gebrehiwot Berhe, 61, a senior fellow at the World Peace Foundation at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, in Massachusetts, was visiting Mekelle when war erupted in November. I found him near the town of Samre, a leather-holstered pistol on his hip.
“I joined the resistance,” said the academic, who once helped broker a peace deal for the United Nations in Darfur. “I felt I had no other option.”
Even some Ethiopian commanders felt alienated by Mr. Abiy’s approach to the conflict.
Until late June, Col. Hussein Mohamed, a tall man with a gold-tooth smile, commanded the 11th Infantry Division in Tigray. Now he was a prisoner, held with other Ethiopian officers in a closely guarded farmhouse.
Of the 3,700 troops under his command, at least half were probably dead, said Colonel Hussein, confirming that he was speaking voluntarily. “The course of this war is political madness, to my mind,” he said.
He always had serious reservations about Mr. Abiy’s military alliance with Eritrea, Ethiopia’s old foe, he said: “They ransack properties, they rape women, they commit atrocities. The whole army is unhappy about this marriage.”
Still, Ethiopian soldiers have been accused of much the same crimes. I met Colonel Hussein in a stone-walled room, with a tin roof, as rain splattered outside. When the room’s owner, Tsehaye Berhe, arrived with a tray of coffee cups, her face clouded over.
“Take it!” she snapped at the Ethiopian officer. “I’m not serving you.”
Moments later Ms. Tsehaye returned to apologize. “I’m sorry for being emotional,” she said. “But your soldiers burned my house and stole my crops.”
Colonel Hussein nodded quietly.
Even before Ethiopian forces abandoned Mekelle on June 28, there were hints that something was afoot. The internet went down, and at the regional headquarters where Mr. Abiy had installed an interim government, I found deserted corridors and locked offices. Outside, federal police officers were slinging backpacks into a bus.
Smoke rose from the Ethiopian National Defense Forces’ headquarters in Mekelle — a pyre of burning documents, it turned out, piled high by detainees accused of supporting the T.D.F.
Weeks earlier, Ethiopian intelligence officers had tortured one of them, Yohannes Haftom, with a cattle prod. “We will burn you,” Mr. Yohannes recalled them saying. “We will bury you alive.”
But after he followed their orders to cart their confidential documents to the burn pit on June 28, the Ethiopians set Mr. Yohannes free. Hours later, the first T.D.F. fighters entered Mekelle, setting off days of raucous celebration.
Residents filled streets where young fighters paraded on vehicles like beauty queens, or leaned from speeding tuktuks spraying gunfire into the air. Nightclubs and cafes filled up, and an older woman prostrated herself at the feet of a just-arrived fighter, shouting thanks to God.
On the fourth day, fighters paraded thousands of Ethiopian prisoners through the city center, in a show of triumphalism that was a pointed rebuke to the leader of Ethiopia. “Abiy is a thief!” people chanted as dejected soldiers marched past.
The celebrations eventually reached the house where Mr. Getachew, the Tigrayan leader and T.D.F. spokesman, now descended from his mountain base, was staying.
As the whiskey flowed, Mr. Getachew juggled calls on his satellite phone while a generator rattled in the background. Mr. Abiy had once been his political ally, even his friend, he said. Now the Ethiopian leader had cut the power and phone lines to Mekelle and issued a warrant for his arrest.
Buoyed by victory, the guests excitedly discussed the next phase of their war in Tigray. One produced a cake with the Tigrayan flag that Mr. Getachew, sharing a knife with a senior commander, cut to loud cheers.
For much of his career, he had been a staunch defender of the Ethiopian state. But the war made that position untenable, he said. Now he was planning a referendum on Tigrayan independence.
“Nothing can save the Ethiopian state as we know it, except a miracle,” he said. “And I don’t usually believe in them.”
When Belgium said in March that it would repatriate some women who had joined the Islamic State, along with their children, Jessie Van Eetvelde welcomed the decision with relief — even though she knows it will likely mean time in prison.
She and her two children have been living for at least two years in detention camps in Syria. Her dream, she says, is to have her children, whose father fought for the Islamic State, attend school in Belgium. For that, she is ready to pay the price of having joined the militant group in 2014, if Belgium will take her back.
“Maybe they realized that those who want to go back are sorry and want a second chance,” Ms. Van Eetvelde, 43, said recently in a WhatsApp voice message.
Many European countries have balked at allowing the return of people linked to ISIS, yet some, like Belgium and Finland, are now heeding the advice of security experts and rights groups who say that repatriations are the safest option.
lost its last territorial foothold in Syria, more than 200 women from 11 European countries and their 650 children are living in two Syrian camps, Al Hol and Roj, according to figures compiled by Thomas Renard, a researcher at the Egmont Institute, a Brussels-based think tank.
Although the Europeans represent a small fraction of the 60,000 people being held in the camps, who are mostly Iraqis and Syrians, European governments are facing increasing pressure to bring the adults back to face trial amid an argument that the countries’ inaction violates their commitment to human rights.
Security experts, rights groups and lawyers of those who went to ISIS territories acknowledge that European governments face legitimate security concerns, along with political dynamics in countries fearful of terrorist attacks. But a growing number of government and intelligence officials say that leaving European citizens in Syria comes with greater risks, including that they could join terrorist groups that target Europe.
Kazakhstan and Turkey have repatriated many of their own citizens to prosecute them and, in some cases, reintegrate them into society.
The Kurdish leadership in the region that oversees the camps has not prosecuted the women, whose roles under ISIS’s rule often remain unclear. And because the administration is not internationally recognized, any prosecutions would still not get them out of their legal limbo.
Most European countries say that they have no legal obligation to help their citizens in the camps and that adults who joined ISIS should be prosecuted in Iraq and Syria.
Save the Children.
Reprieve says that many women in the camps were trafficked, raped and forced into marriage and domestic servitude.
Yet in several European countries, repatriations remain out of the question, said a French intelligence official who requested anonymity to discuss the topic. Part of the hesitancy, security analysts say, is that repatriated women could receive light or no prison sentences.
Britain has stripped British citizenship from nearly 20 women who joined ISIS, in some cases taking them to court to prevent their return. France has turned down numerous calls for repatriation, even as some of the women staged a monthlong hunger strike. The Netherlands and Sweden said that they might take in children, but without their mothers.
France reels from years of terrorist attacks, the government has opposed calls to repatriate people who left to wage jihad.
Although France has taken in 35 children from the camps on a case-by-case basis, 100 women with French citizenship and their 200 children remain mostly in the Roj camp, according to Jean-Charles Brisard, the director of the Paris-based Center for the Analysis of Terrorism.
France was due to repatriate at least 160 of them in early 2019, according to intelligence documents brought to light by the newspaper Libération that spring and seen by The Times this year. But the situation in the camps became too volatile, the French intelligence official said, and the plan was abandoned.
asked the International Criminal Court to consider whether the country’s policy makes President Emmanuel Macron complicit in war crimes.
A French woman who went on hunger strike in the Roj camp said that there was no running water and that many people there had respiratory problems. (The Times is not publishing her name, because she says she has received death threats from ISIS supporters who oppose their return to France.) “It’s very difficult to see doctors and dentists — there are no medicines,” she said, adding that the Frenchwomen wanted to return “to be tried, to be jailed.”
Jussi Tanner, a diplomat from Finland who is in charge of his country’s repatriations, said the women and children’s return was not a matter of “if, but of when and how.”
“Repatriating them as quickly as we can is better from a security point of view rather than pretending that the problem goes away when we look away,” he said. “You can leave them there, but they will return anyway.”
Claire Moses, Christopher F. Schuetze and Jasmina Nielsen contributed reporting.
NAGOYA, Japan — First came a high fever. Then her face and limbs turned numb. Soon, she could keep down little more than water, sugar and bites of bread as she wasted away in her cell in a Japanese detention center.
By early March, Wishma Rathnayake — a migrant from Sri Lanka who was being held for overstaying her visa — could barely make a fist and was having trouble speaking, according to government records detailing her care. Yet week after week, as she begged to be released to a hospital for treatment, her jailers refused. She and her supporters believed the authorities had already made their own diagnosis: that she was faking her illness to avoid deportation.
On March 6, at the age of 33, Ms. Rathnayake died alone in her cell.
Her case has become a source of outrage for critics of Japan’s immigration system, who say that Ms. Rathnayake was the victim of an opaque and capricious bureaucracy that has nearly unchecked power over foreigners who run afoul of it.
The tragedy has spurred a national reckoning. Japan, a country with a long history of hostility toward immigration, is now grappling with its at-times inhumane treatment of foreigners, especially people of color, and many are calling for change.
They point to a system in which most immigration decisions are made in secret, offering migrants little recourse to the courts. Those who overstay their visas or who have entered the country illegally can be held indefinitely, sometimes for years. And migrants who file asylum claims, as Ms. Rathnayake once did, are particularly unwelcome.
Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, settles less than 1 percent of applicants seeking asylum, including just 47 last year — a point of contention among other countries that have called on Tokyo to do more.
Immigration officials are “police, prosecutors, judges and jailers,” said Yoichi Kinoshita, who left the government’s immigration bureau over its lack of clear standards to guide its sometimes life-or-death decisions. He now runs an advocacy group focused on fixing the system.
On Tuesday, the Japanese government, facing growing pressure over Ms. Rathnayake’s death, made two major concessions.
The governing Liberal Democratic Party abandoned an effort to revise Japan’s immigration law, as opposition lawmakers said they would not start debate over the changes unless the government released video footage of Ms. Rathnayake taken in the detention center just before she died.
The government had argued that the revisions would improve treatment of detainees, in part by stopping lengthy detentions, which have drawn sharp criticism from human rights groups for decades. But critics took particular issue with changes that would have allowed Japan to forcefully repatriate asylum seekers, potentially returning them to dangerous situations in their home countries.
Also on Tuesday, the justice minister, Yoko Kamikawa, agreed to meet with Ms. Rathnayake’s two sisters in order to “express my condolence.” Ms. Kamikawa has repeatedly declined to address the specifics of Ms. Rathnayake’s death, whose cause has yet to be officially determined. She has said she will withhold comment until the immigration bureau has completed an inquiry into the case. The bureau, in a statement, reiterated her remarks.
Ms. Kamikawa announced the meeting as her ministry, which administers the immigration bureau, has come under regular attack in the news media for its role in Ms. Rathnayake’s death and its evasiveness about the causes. Protesters have gathered nearly every day in front of Parliament, and objections lodged by opposition lawmakers have been unusually fierce.
These lawmakers want to overhaul an immigration system in which the outcomes for those caught inside can be bleak. At least 24 detainees have died since 1997, according to the Japan Lawyers Network for Refugees. Activists have alleged government negligence in some cases, most recently the deaths in 2020 of an Indonesian man and in 2019 of a Nigerian man on a hunger strike. Official inquiries have not supported the accusations.
None of those cases have inspired the public anger engendered by the death of Ms. Rathnayake, a hopeful young woman who had come to Japan with dreams of teaching English.
In the summer of 2017, she began studying Japanese at a school in the Tokyo suburbs. On her Facebook page, she shared photos of trips to Buddhist temples and to the mountains, where she delighted in snow.
Around six months into her program, she began skipping class, said Yuhi Yokota, the school’s vice principal. Before long, she moved into an apartment with her boyfriend, another Sri Lankan student she met in Japan. The couple then disappeared, a development that school officials reported to immigration authorities, Mr. Yokota said.
Hoping to stay in Japan, Ms. Rathnayake applied for asylum status, but the government denied a request to renew her residence permit, and she withdrew her application. Officials soon lost track of her.
Then, last August, she appeared at a police station in Shizuoka, on the Pacific coast of central Japan, asking for protection from her boyfriend, who she said had abused her. She said she wanted to go home, but had less than $20 to her name.
The authorities were more interested in another problem: Her residence permit had expired and she was in Japan illegally. They sent her to a detention center in Nagoya, a few hours southwest of Tokyo, to await deportation.
Several months later, she received a letter from her ex-boyfriend. He knew that she had reported him to the police, he wrote, adding that he would seek revenge if she returned to Sri Lanka.
Ms. Rathnayake decided she would be safer in Japan. With the encouragement of a local nonprofit organization, START, she decided to try to stay.
The move irritated officials at the detention center, said Yasunori Matsui, the group’s adviser. They demanded that she change her mind, she told him during one of his frequent visits.
In late December, Ms. Rathnayake fell ill with a fever, and within weeks she was having trouble eating, according to the nonprofit.
She tried to pass the time by watching television, but the commercials for food made her unbearably hungry.
Ms. Rathnayake was suffering from extreme anxiety, doctors found. A nurse suggested dealing with it by writing a diary with all of the things she was thankful for. In late January, a doctor prescribed her vitamins and painkillers. After they made her vomit, she resisted taking more.
Care was limited at the detention center’s medical facility, which was more like an infirmary than a clinic.
Officials said her problems were caused by “stress,” she wrote in a letter to Akemi Mano, a local activist, adding that “they don’t take me to the hospital.”
The authorities took Ms. Rathnayake to a gastroenterologist in early February. The exam was inconclusive, but if she could not keep down her medicine, she should be hospitalized, the doctor wrote in a medical report reviewed by The New York Times. The comment conflicts with the official government account of the visit, which says no recommendation for hospitalization was made.
Ms. Rathnayake was returned to the detention center. Soon, she could no longer walk. When she met with her representatives of START, she was rolled out in a wheelchair with a bucket in her lap.
She had filed for a provisional release in January, citing anxiety. Detention centers had already released hundreds of healthy detainees because of concerns about the coronavirus, but in mid-February, her application was denied without explanation. Soon after, she submitted a second one on medical grounds. She was so weak she could barely sign the form, Mr. Matsui said.
Despite the severity of her symptoms, officials waited until March 4 to take Ms. Rathnayake to a hospital. A psychiatrist who examined her wrote that her sponsors had told her that being sick would improve her chances of being released, according to a medical record reviewed by The Times and first reported by TBS, a Japanese broadcaster. START denies the allegation.
The cause of Ms. Rathnayake’s illness was unclear, the doctor noted. While it was possible that she was faking, he wrote, there would be no harm in granting her request for medical release, adding that “if you think about the patient’s benefit, that’s probably best.”
Two days later, Ms. Rathnayake was dead.
At the end of April, a group of opposition lawmakers held a video meeting with Ms. Rathnayake’s mother and sisters. One after another, they conveyed their deepest apologies and asked what they could do to help assuage the family’s grief.
“I want to know why they let her suffer,” her mother said. “Why didn’t they take her to the hospital as soon as possible?”
For now, the family can only speculate. An interim report on Ms. Rathnayake’s death, released by immigration officials last month, is filled with minute detail, like blood pressure and oxygen saturation readings during each checkup, the exact time she was administered medicine for her headaches or chest pain, every bite of food she ate or rejected.
But it omits the most important information: an answer for Ms. Rathnayake’s mother.
The Biden administration has approved three detainees at Guantánamo Bay for release to countries that agree to impose security conditions on them, including the oldest of the remaining wartime prisoners, lawyers and United States government officials said on Monday.
The approvals raised to nine the number of the 40 detainees currently at the wartime prison who have been approved for transfer to other countries. But it is unclear where the three men will go, or when, in part because the State Department has to make diplomatic and security arrangements with countries to take them.
Some of the other detainees who have been cleared for release over the years have been waiting for a decade for another country to agree to take them. In some instances, countries are asked to continue to jail the detainees or put them on trial. In most cases, they are asked to prevent them from traveling outside the country for at least two years.
Among those who have been granted approval is Saifullah Paracha, 73, of Pakistan, who was captured in Thailand in 2003. In addition to being the oldest of the detainees, he has also been described as among the sickest there, with heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Abdul Rabbani, 54, also a citizen of Pakistan, and Uthman Abdul al-Rahim Uthman, 40, a Yemeni. None have been charged with a crime by the United States in the two decades they have been in custody.
Of the other remaining detainees, 12 have been charged with war crimes, one of them has been convicted, and 19 are considered too dangerous for transfer to the custody of another country.
Word that the men were approved for release initially came from their lawyers, who heard about it from prisoners in attorney-client telephone calls. Two government officials confirmed the three release decisions, but on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it.
The decision to approve the three releases, one official said, was made early last week by the attorney general, the director of national intelligence, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretaries of defense, homeland security and state. All of them have representatives who sit on the Periodic Review Board, the organization that assesses the threat posed by the detainees.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and Mr. Mohammed’s nephew, Ammar al-Baluchi, with financial transactions in Pakistan after the attacks. Both men are accused of conspiring in the Sept. 11 attacks, a capital case.
returned to Pakistan last year in a deal with prosecutors to drop the case if he relinquished his status as a permanent resident of the United States.
Saifullah Paracha’s younger son, Mustafa Paracha, said in an interview last year that his father aspired to spend time with family upon his return to Pakistan, and a first concern would be to attend to his health care needs. Early in his detention, U.S. military doctors had airlifted a cardiac catheterization lab and surgical team to Guantánamo, but he refused to consent to the procedure out of concern about the quality of the medical care available to him there.
Typically, the Periodic Review Secretariat, which administers the board, publishes the justifications for making the release decisions on its website. The decisions usually include a recommendation for security assurance as well as the board’s recommendations for rehabilitation, repatriation or resettlement of the detainee who is approved for transfer. But it had not done so by Monday night.
WASHINGTON — A detainee at Guantánamo Bay has agreed to a deal intended to lead to his release in the next few years in return for giving up the right to question the C.I.A. in court about its torture program, United States government officials said.
The deal, negotiated by the Pentagon official who oversees the military commissions that serve as a court for some detainees, was reached in recent weeks, and comes as a number of those who have been charged at Guantánamo are seeking to cite their abuse at the hands of the C.I.A. as part of their defense.
Under the deal, the prisoner, Majid Khan, 41, who has pleaded guilty to serving as a courier for Al Qaeda, would complete his prison sentence as early as next year and no later than 2025 and then could be released to another country, assuming one will take him, according to people who have seen the terms or are familiar with its details.
In exchange, Mr. Khan will not use his sentencing proceedings to invoke a landmark war court decision that allowed him to call witnesses from the C.I.A.’s secret prison network to testify about his torture.
2014 Senate investigation. He was also sleep deprived, kept naked and hung by his wrists, and hooded, to the point of hallucinations.
Mr. Khan was transferred to Guantánamo Bay in 2006 and saw a lawyer for the first time in his fourth year of detention. In 2012, he pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges stemming from his work for Al Qaeda after the Sept. 11 attacks, and agreed to postpone his sentencing while he cooperated with government prosecutors.
On April 16, he and his lawyers reached agreement with the overseer of military commissions for a sentence that would end sometime between early next year and March 1, 2025.
The agreement itself is under seal, at least until a judge questions Mr. Khan on whether he voluntarily entered into it. But several people, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe details of the deal, said that it has a sentencing range of 11 to 14 years, applied starting with his guilty plea in 2012.
prosecutors failed to disclose certain evidence. Colonel Watkins retires from the Army on Aug. 1 and was replaced on the case Wednesday by an Air Force judge, Col. Mark W. Milam.
The agreement is the first involving a Guantánamo detainee that the Biden administration has reached since taking office. It was made by Jeffrey D. Wood, a National Guard colonel who was appointed by the Trump administration to the civilian role of convening authority for military commissions.
had actually seen Mr. Khan in C.I.A. detention.
The issue had been simmering but had not come to a head because travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic brought most military commission hearings to a standstill for the last year.
The question of whether Mr. Khan could receive a reduction in his sentence because of his torture was also a potential model for the defense in the capital conspiracy case against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other men accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks. Defense lawyers for all five defendants say there is evidence that each was systematically tortured in the black sites, and they want a judge or jury to hear graphic details about it to avert a death sentence when the long-delayed case eventually proceeds.
Two contract psychologists who devised the C.I.A.’s interrogation program, James Mitchell and John Bruce Jessen, have been publicly identified. But the identities of the people who interrogated Mr. Khan, and in which countries where they did it, are still classified at the court, which operates under rules that the government says are intended to balance state secrets and fair trial rights.
Prosecutors argued that anonymous, in-person testimony about Mr. Khan’s treatment, whether in a classified session or in public, risked exposing covert U.S. government employees, and said it was not possible to take them to Guantánamo Bay. That left the possibility of the judge ordering their appearances, prosecutors refusing to bring them and as a remedy, the judge reducing Mr. Khan’s sentence.
filing on April 22, Mr. Khan’s lawyers will also ask the judge after sentencing to void the June 2020 ruling that found credit for pretrial punishment is an available remedy at a military commission — undercutting its potential use in the Sept. 11 case.
Mr. Khan has been kept apart from the other former C.I.A. prisoners at Guantánamo since he pleaded guilty. At that time, he became a government informant, and has been debriefed on demand although prosecutors have yet to hold a trial where his testimony would be needed.
In pleading guilty he admitted to delivering $50,000 from Mr. Mohammed to militants in Indonesia that was used to finance the bombing of a Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2003, killing 11 people. Three men at Guantánamo have been charged in that plot, but have yet to be arraigned and have no trial date.
During the Trump administration, Mr. Khan was also listed as a government witness in a planned federal prosecution of another Pakistani man, Uzair Paracha. Mr. Paracha was convicted in 2005 in New York of federal terrorism-related offenses, but the conviction was overturned. Rather than retry him last year, federal prosecutors dropped the case in exchange for Mr. Paracha voluntarily giving up his U.S. residency and returning to Pakistan, after 17 years of incarceration.
For Mr. Khan, the path out of Guantánamo may be more complex. Successive U.S. administrations have argued that a convicted war criminal who completes his sentence may still be held at Guantánamo in the quasi-prisoner of war status of a detainee, as long as the United States considers itself to be at war with Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
Also, it is unclear where Mr. Khan would go. He was born in Saudi Arabia, lived as a child in Pakistan but went to high school in suburban Baltimore and had asylum in the United States before he returned to Pakistan after the Sept. 11 attacks. By law, he cannot be sent to the United States.
WASHINGTON — A Justice Department lawyer said in federal court on Monday that, even as the Pentagon is withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan, the United States has the authority to continue to detain a former Afghan militia member at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, because of his past association with members of Al Qaeda.
“We remain at war with Al Qaeda,” the lawyer, Stephen M. Elliott, said at the start of hearing in U.S. District Court in Washington in a case brought by Asadullah Haroon Gul, an Afghan citizen who has been held by the U.S. military since 2007.
The hearing was the first in a Guantánamo habeas corpus case since the Biden administration took office, and its defense of his detention appeared identical to the positions taken by previous administrations, despite President Biden’s order to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan and his stated ambition to close the Guantánamo detention operation.
Mr. Elliott said Al Qaeda is “morphing and evolving” and that the U.S. “war on terrorism” continues.
when the militia made peace with the U.S.-allied Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani. The foreign ministry of Afghanistan has filed a brief in the case seeking his return.
Most of the hearing, expected to last five to eight days, is closed to both the public and the detainee because the substance is considered classified. Mr. Haroon was permitted to listen in on the opening arguments via a phone line from Guantánamo that broke at least once, requiring a lengthy recess.
Before holding a session in open court on Monday, Judge Amit P. Mehta left his bench in Washington, D.C., to preside in a closed portion of the hearing at a secure facility in Virginia, with Mr. Haroon addressing the judge by video.
“I am not a terrorist,” he said in a statement released by his lawyers. “I am an Afghan.”
In the closed portion of the hearings, government lawyers intend to use U.S. intelligence accounts of Mr. Haroon’s interrogations to defend his continuing detention. Mr. Elliott said U.S. intelligence reports linked him to three Qaeda leaders now held at Guantánamo, starting with his attendance at a young age, apparently in the early 1990s, at seminars sponsored by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is accused of being the mastermind of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Judge Mehta, an appointee of President Barack Obama. Under the current timetable, the court could reopen the hearing for unclassified closing arguments on May 28.
When the government ordered women in her mostly Muslim community to be fitted with contraceptive devices, Qelbinur Sedik pleaded for an exemption. She was nearly 50 years old, she told officials in Xinjiang. She had obeyed the government’s birth limits and had only one child.
It was no use. The workers threatened to take her to the police if she continued resisting, she said. She gave in and went to a government clinic where a doctor, using metal forceps, inserted an intrauterine device to prevent pregnancy. She wept through the procedure.
“I felt like I was no longer a normal woman,” Ms. Sedik said, choking up as she described the 2017 ordeal. “Like I was missing something.”
Across much of China, the authorities are encouraging women to have more children, as they try to stave off a demographic crisis from a declining birthrate. But in the far western region of Xinjiang, they are forcing them to have fewer, as they tighten their grip on Muslim ethnic minorities.
internment camps and prisons. The authorities have placed the region under tight surveillance, sent residents to work in factories and placed children in boarding schools.
By targeting Muslim women, the authorities are going even further, attempting to orchestrate a demographic shift that will affect the population for generations. Birthrates in the region have already plunged in recent years, as the use of invasive birth control procedures has risen, findings that were previously documented by a researcher, Adrian Zenz, with The Associated Press.
crimes against humanity and genocide, in large part because of the efforts to stem the population growth of Muslim minorities. The Trump administration in January was the first government to declare the crackdown a genocide, with reproductive oppression as a leading reason; the Biden administration affirmed the label in March.
Ms. Sedik’s experience, reported in The Guardian and elsewhere, helped form the basis for the decision by the United States government. “It was one of the most detailed and compelling first-person accounts we had,” Kelley E. Currie, a former United States ambassador who was involved in the government’s discussions. “It helped to put a face on the horrifying statistics we were seeing.”
Beijing has accused its critics of pushing an anti-China agenda.
in March. “No one nor any agency shall interfere.”
To women in Xinjiang, the orders from the government were clear: They didn’t have a choice.
Last year, a community worker in Urumqi, the regional capital, where Ms. Sedik had lived, sent messages saying women between 18 and 59 had to submit to pregnancy and birth control inspections.
“If you fight with us at the door and if you refuse to cooperate with us, you will be taken to the police station,” the worker wrote, according to screenshots of the WeChat messages that Ms. Sedik shared with The Times.
encourage births, including by providing tax subsidies and free IUD removals. But from 2015 to 2018, Xinjiang’s share of the country’s total new IUD insertions increased, even as use of the devices fell nationwide.
The contraception campaign appeared to work.
report by a Xinjiang government research center read. “They have avoided the pain of being trapped by extremism and being turned into reproductive tools.”
Women like Ms. Sedik, who had obeyed the rules, were not spared. After the IUD procedure, Ms. Sedik suffered from heavy bleeding and headaches. She later had the device secretly removed, then reinserted. In 2019, she decided to be sterilized.
“The government had become so strict, and I could no longer take the IUD,’” said Ms. Sedik, who now lives in the Netherlands after fleeing China in 2019. “I lost all hope in myself.”
‘The women of Xinjiang are in danger’
leaked last year from Karakax County, in southwestern Xinjiang, which revealed that one of the most common reasons cited for detention was violating birth planning policies.
government notice from a county in Ili, unearthed by Mr. Zenz, the researcher.
operated under secrecy — many were subjected tointerrogations. For some, the ordeal was worse.
Tursunay Ziyawudun was detained in a camp in Ili Prefecture for 10 months for traveling to Kazakhstan. She said that on three occasions, she was taken to a dark cell where two to three masked men raped her and used electric batons to forcibly penetrate her.
“You become their toy,” Ms. Ziyawudun said in a telephone interview fromthe United States,where she now lives, as she broke down sobbing. “You just want to die at the time, but unfortunately you don’t.”
Gulbahar Jalilova, the third former detainee, said in an interview that she had been beaten in a camp and that a guard exposed himself during an interrogation and wanted her to perform oral sex.
The three former detainees, along with two others who spoke to The Times, also described being regularly forced to take unidentified pills or receive injections of medication that caused nausea and fatigue. Eventually, a few of them said, they stopped menstruating.
The former detainees’ accounts could not be independently verified because tight restrictions in Xinjiang make unfettered access to the camps impossible. The Chinese government has forcefully denied all allegations of abuse in the facilities.
Beijing has sought to undermine the credibility of the women who have spoken out, accusing them of lying and of poor morals, all while claiming to be a champion of women’s rights.
‘We are all Chinese’
Even in their homes, the women did not feel safe. Uninvited Chinese Communist Party cadres would show up and had to be let in.
The party sends out more than a million workers to regularly visit, and sometimes stay in, the homes of Muslims, as part of a campaign called “Pair Up and Become Family.” To many Uyghurs, the cadres were little different from spies.
The cadres were tasked with reporting on whether the families they visited showed signs of “extremist behavior.” For women, this included any resentment they might have felt about state-mandated contraceptive procedures.
When the party cadres came to stay in 2018, Zumret Dawut had just been forcibly sterilized.
Four Han cadres visited her in Urumqi, bringing yogurt and eggs to help with the recovery, she recalled. They were also armed with questions: Did she have any issues with the sterilization operation? Was she dissatisfied with the government’s policy?
“I was so scared that if I said the wrong thing they would send me back to the camps,” said Ms. Dawut, a mother of three. “So I just told them, ‘We are all Chinese people and we have to do what the Chinese law says.’”
But the officials’ unwelcome gaze settled also on Ms. Dawut’s 11-year-old daughter, she said. One cadre, a 19-year-old man who was assigned to watch the child, would sometimes call Ms. Dawut and suggest taking her daughter to his home. She was able to rebuff him with excuses that the child was sick, she said.
Other women reported having to fend off advances even in the company of their husbands.
Ms. Sedik, the Uzbek teacher, was still recovering from a sterilization procedure when her “relative” — her husband’s boss — showed up.
She was expected to cook, clean and entertain him even though she was in pain from the operation. Worse, he would ask to hold her hand or to kiss and hug her, she said.
Mostly, Ms. Sedik agreed to his requests, terrified that if she refused, he would tell the government that she was an extremist. She rejected him only once: when he asked to sleep with her.
It went on like this every month or so for two years — until she left the country.
“He would say, ‘Don’t you like me? Don’t you love me?’” she recalled. “‘If you refuse me, you are refusing the government.’”
“I felt so humiliated, oppressed and angry,” she said. “But there was nothing I could do.”
Amy Chang Chien and Fatima Er contributed reporting.
WASHINGTON — The United States and Iran could each come back into compliance with a 2015 nuclear deal within weeks, a senior State Department official said on Thursday, on the eve of what could be a final round of negotiations before an agreement is brokered.
Significant hurdles remain. But the comments were an optimistic signal by the Biden administration that an American return to the accord between Iran and world powers could be within reach.
Briefing journalists on the condition of anonymity, the senior official described the likelihood of an agreement before Iran’s presidential elections in mid-June as both possible and doable. He did not rule out that it could come in the round of talks that begin on Friday in Vienna.
Still, the official cautioned that the United States and Iran continued to diverge on the extent to which each side needed to comply with the original terms of the 2015 deal — namely, unwinding economic sanctions by Washington in exchange for Tehran scaling back its nuclear program.
withdrew from the deal in 2018 to pressure Iran into a broader agreement that would have also limited its missile program and military activities across the Middle East. Later that year, the United States reimposed sanctions on Iran’s key financial sectors, including its lucrative oil industry, to squeeze its economy and try to force Tehran back to the bargaining table.
Instead, Iran resisted the pressure campaign by accelerating its nuclear program and raising its prospects for building a weapon.
President Biden has pledged to rejoin the nuclear accord — but has also called for negotiating a “longer and stronger” deal afterward to curb Iran’s missile program and its support for proxy forces in places such as Iraq, Syria and Yemen, where they threaten U.S. allies, including Israel and Saudi Arabia.
As American negotiators have warned in recent weeks that an agreement on reviving the 2015 deal may ultimately be thwarted, Iranian officials have cast the negotiations in a far rosier light.
Iran’s installation of advanced centrifuges last month.
The centrifuges shorten the time needed to enrich uranium, the fuel for nuclear bombs, and Western negotiators have demanded they be destroyed, Iran’s state media reported. Iran, however, wants to maintain the centrifuges, but would allow them to be monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog.
Asked about the centrifuges in his briefing to reporters, the senior State Department official would not directly discuss them, except to suggest that their capabilities for enriching uranium would exceed the terms of the 2015 agreement.
Iranian state media also reported that Tehran’s negotiators want the United States to drop its terrorism designation against the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, a powerful arm of Iran’s military. American officials have made clear that they do not intend to lift sanctions or address issues in the current nuclear talks that go beyond the limits of the 2015 deal. The terrorism designation was imposed in 2019.
The senior State Department official left open the possibility of an unrelated but parallel deal with Tehran to immediately release four American detainees held in Iran, regardless of the timing of a nuclear agreement. Iranian officials have also been pressing for a prisoner swap of its citizens being held in the United States.
is presumed dead — in describing intense and continuing discussions through intermediaries to free the detainees.