China’s Repression of Uyghurs Extends Beyond Borders, Report Says 

3 Min
China’s Repression of Uyghurs Extends Beyond Borders, Report Says 

Najmudin Ablet, a Uyghur man from Xinjiang in northwest China, travelled to Turkey in 2016 with a Chinese-issued passport. But since 2017 he has been unable to reach his family still living in Xinjiang, including his wife, two sons and three brothers.

All of them were detained and subsequently sentenced for various alleged offenses. One brother died in prison, and another died two months after leaving an internment camp, according to a recent report published by the University of Sheffield in England.

Many Uyghurs have similar stories of persecution by Chinese authorities, but in Ablet’s case, the report’s authors say Chinese police also tried to use Ablet’s family as leverage to recruit him as an informer against other Uyghurs in Turkey.

On Tuesday, the two authors of We Know You Better Than You Know Yourself: China’s Transnational Repression of the Uyghur Diaspora presented their findings in the report during a panel organized by the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project.

According to the authors, David Tobin, a lecturer in East Asian Studies at the University of Sheffield, and Nyrola Elima, an independent researcher, the report mainly focused on China’s transnational repression of the Uyghur diaspora in Britain, Turkey and Thailand.

Offer from Chinese police

Tobin said Chinese police in Xinjiang contacted Ablet through WeChat, a Chinese messaging app, and offered him the opportunity to see his imprisoned son through a camera. They then asked him to work for them, taking photos of Uyghurs in Turkey, and promised to release his son and pay him in exchange. Ablet refused.

According to Tobin, Uyghurs were offered information about their detained family members in exchange for conducting surveillance of Uyghur diaspora activists.

He discussed the story of one Uyghur woman who was called by a Chinese police officer ordering her to take photographs and collect information about Uyghur friends in Turkey. When she refused, the police responded, “We know you better than you know yourself.”

Tobin said that “although she is a Turkish citizen living in Istanbul, thousands of miles from her homeland, she was under constant surveillance and always governed by the party state.”

According to the Sheffield report, while China claims that its approach to international relations is guided by principles of state sovereignty and noninterference, in practice, Chinese authorities consider all citizens, former citizens and their family members, regardless of where they are living in the world, to be under Beijing’s legal and moral jurisdiction.

“The PRC’s transnational repression globally exports its domestic model of governance and genocidal oppression to target all Uyghurs and their family members,” the report stated.

In recent years, Beijing has been accused of arbitrarily detaining more than 1 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang since as early as 2017. The U.S. and some parliaments around the world have accused Beijing of perpetrating genocide or crimes against humanity. The U.N. has reported the existence of significant evidence of mistreatment in the region, which may constitute “crimes against humanity.”

Chinese officials have consistently denied allegations of human rights abuses against Uyghurs, dismissing them as “lies” and “fabrications.” They contend that their policies in Xinjiang are geared toward combating extremism and fostering development. Chinese officials have accused Western countries of interfering in China’s internal affairs and attempting to destabilize the country.

Elima said more than 100 participants took part in the report’s survey, and fewer than half were interviewed individually.

“We interviewed more than 50 Uyghurs about their experiences on transnational repression,” Nyrola said during the panel. “The majority of them have faced transnational repression.”

According to the authors, about two-thirds of Uyghurs surveyed in Britain had been directly threatened, and 80% of the Uyghur diaspora in Turkey reported feeling unsafe from the Chinese party-state. About 4 in 5 Uyghurs reported being directly threatened or having their families threatened by Chinese authorities while living in Turkey. Only half of Britain-based Uyghurs felt safe from the Chinese party-state.

Immigration quotas

For national governments, the report suggests implementing immigration quotas based on the Canadian model to enhance human rights by ensuring safe passage and protection for Uyghurs at risk of persecution. In February, the Canadian Parliament passed a resolution to accept 10,000 Uyghur refugees living in third countries, such as Turkey.

Additionally, the report suggests introducing Magnitsky sanctions to punish individual Chinese police officers, security personnel and cadres who perpetrate transnational repression.

For U.N. agencies, the report recommends the UNHCR should increase its outreach among and support for Uyghurs in Turkey and Thailand, and also investigate their claims of deportations and harassment. Additionally, the report calls for the appointment of a U.N. special rapporteur for transnational repression to outline and explain its actions to counter potential Chinese crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.

— VOA REPORT, Apr 14, 2023