China’s Transnational Repression of Uyghurs

There have been reports of how the Beijing government has been coercing different nations to deport its nationals especially minority Uyghurs back to China. Several countries and international organisations including the United Nations (UN) have highlighted the poor plight of ethnic Muslim minority Uyghurs and have criticised China over the gross violation of human rights. Yet, China is managing to get its nationals, who are critical of the Beijing government, deported back to the country giving a glimpse of the strong influence China holds now. According to research, as many as 1,546 cases of detention and deportation of Turkic ethnicity Muslims (Uyghurs) from 28 different countries have been recorded since 1997.

The first case of action against a Uyghur personal as a part of China’s transnational suppression was reported from Pakistan in 1997. Social activists in Pakistan have recorded 50 cases of illegal renditions or detentions of Uyghur Muslims so far. In 2018, Ahmad Talip, a Uyghur living in the UAE, was summoned by Dubai police one night. A fortnight later, he was extradited to China without informing him or his family of the grounds for the detention. The move by the UAE was surprising since it is considered one of the conservative Muslim countries that tolerate liberal values. Many such cases have unnerved Muslim communities across the world. In 2017, about 62 Uyghur Muslims were arrested in Egypt without furnishing any reason and denied access to lawyers. At least 12 of them were extradited to China. In 2014, over 200 Uyghurs were arrested in Thailand and half of them were deported to China. According to activists, the cases of illegal or unethical deportation of Turkic Muslims have seen a surge during current President Xi Jinping regime, as it carries out the massive expansion of the surveillance system in the Xinjiang region.

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), an advocacy group, has published a research-based report that reveals how the Beijing government has executed “transnational repression on a massive scale”. Uyghurs living outside China are being targeted though it is beyond its jurisdiction. A majority of detention and deportation are recorded from the Middle East and North Africa, with 647 cases, followed by South Asia, with 665 cases. UHRP Executive Director Omer Kanat said China’s transnational repression did not come as a surprise to Uyghurs living abroad. “Virtually every Uyghur living outside East Turkistan has experienced some form of repression at the hands of the Chinese government, from phone calls from Chinese police and attempts to block international travel, to even more serious dangers such as detention, arrest, or deportation to China,” he said.

There is one more way that the Beijing government has adopted to trap the Uyghurs who are not willing to return to China over the fears of imprisonment. Chinese diplomatic missions in different countries are denying the renewal of expiring passports. Refusal to issue a passport violates human rights according to prescribed international law. However, China seems to have weaponised the passport renewal process as a means of keeping control over Uyghurs. In order to renew their passport, Uyghurs are forced to visit China, where they are detained and imprisoned. The UHRP has chronicled how many of the Uyghurs who returned to China eventually disappeared.

At the recently-held UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session, over 40 countries demanded an inquiry into human rights abuses inflicted on Uyghurs by the Beijing government. They voiced grave concerns over China’s action in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong. “Credible reports indicate that over a million people have been arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang and that there is widespread surveillance disproportionately targeting Uyghurs and members of other minorities and restrictions on fundamental freedoms and Uyghur culture,” reads the statement issued by these countries.While it triggered a counter-attack from China.

Beijing attempted to pressurise Ukraine—one of the signatories to the statement – to withdraw its support through a direct warning that the supply of Covid-19 vaccines would be stopped.China’s global economic rise and links with other nations through Belt Road Initiative (BRI) has helped Beijing carry out transnational repression of the Turkic minority living abroad, blamed the UHRP.

About the Author
Fabien Baussart is the President of CPFA (Center of Political and Foreign Affairs)