China’s repression of overseas Uyghurs has spread to nearly 30 countries: Report

Beijing: China’s persecution of Uyghurs overseas has spread to nearly 30 countries around the world, largely because the governments of these host countries fear Beijing’s power and influence, claims a new report.

At least 28 countries across the world complicit in China’s harassment and intimidation of Uyghurs, with countries in the Middle East and North Africa as worst offenders, reported Voice of America (VOA), says the report compiled jointly by rights group Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs and the Uyghur Human Rights Project.

Titled ‘No Space Left to Run, China’s Transnational Repression of Uyghurs’, it argues that Beijing uses a number of methods to intimidate Uyghurs living in other countries, including everything from the use of spyware and hacking, to releasing red notices against targeted individuals through Interpol.

“Since 2017, the most common method for silencing overseas dissent is to threaten an individual’s relatives residing within China’s borders with detention, and in some cases, have a target’s close family issue public statements as part of government smear campaigns designed to undermine an activist’s credibility,” Bradley Jardine, research director at Oxus Society and one of the authors of the report, told VOA via email.

The majority of targeted Uyghurs are located in Muslim-majority countries including Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which have been called the largest offenders of transnational repression of the Uyghurs, according to Jardine. He said that some of these countries have no legal protections for vulnerable minorities and the rule of law tends to be weak or susceptible to political interference.

“This has made the Middle East fertile ground for China’s campaign of global intimidation,” Jardine added.

According to the report, the first such case happened in Pakistan in 1997, when the Pakistan government deported 14 Uyghurs to Beijing who were accused of being separatists. All of them were executed upon arrival in China, VOA reported.

Between 1997 and December 2016, China was involved in the detention or deportation back to China of more than 851 Uyghurs across 23 countries.

Since 2017, Beijing’s actions have expanded dramatically, resulting in at least 695 Uyghurs detained or deported to China from 15 separate countries, the report said.

Additionally, upon Beijing’s request in 2017, Egyptian police detained scores of Chinese students of the Uyghur ethnic minority. Some had to flee to Turkey, others were sent back to Beijing.

The report indicated that often, these major offenders are economically dependent on China. They tend to use Uyghurs living overseas as bargaining chips when negotiating with Beijing.

“The main motivations tend to be opportunism. The major offenders in the report tend to have very strong economic or security ties with China, cracking down on Uyghur minorities in exchange for investments, concessions or military hardware,” Jardine told VOA.

Close to two million Uyghurs are currently held in internment camps in Xinjiang. Rights organisations and former detainees refer to them as concentration camps, while Chinese officials maintain them as “vocational education centres established in accordance with the law in the face of frequent violence and terrorism in the past.”

China has been globally rebuked for cracking down on Uyghur Muslims by sending them to mass detention camps to undergo some form of forcible “re-education or indoctrination”.

Over the past four months, the Canadian, Dutch, British, Lithuanian, and Czech parliaments adopted motions recognising the Uyghur crisis as genocide.