China’s campaign against ethnic Uyghurs extends well beyond its borders, according to a new report from a rights advocacy group that says Chinese agents have tracked, harassed and threatened members of the Muslim community in 22 countries.
“The scale of China’s transnational repression of Uyghurs is breathtaking. From the rendition of individuals to the everyday online threats, there is no peace for Uyghurs living overseas,” said Omer Kanat, executive director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP).
The 64-page report — released jointly by the UHRP, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., and the academic exchange group Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs — is based on survey data from Uyghurs living around the world.
The report adds more than 5,500 instances of warnings and threats to individuals and their family members in 22 countries to an existing dataset that tracks incidents of surveillance, harassment and intimidation against ethnic Uyghurs.
Peter Irwin, senior program officer for advocacy and communications at the UHRP, said the tactics used by Chinese agents include cyberattacks, online harassment and public smear campaigns.
The scale and scope of China’s state-backed hackers and intelligence operatives have expanded in countries that host Uyghurs since 2014, said Bradley Jardine, director of research at the Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs.
In May of that year, the Chinese government launched its “strike hard” campaign against “terrorist” attacks in the western region of Xinjiang, including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people.
Since 2017, China has held as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a network of detention camps that Beijing claims are vocational training centers. The camps are the center of a campaign of repression that also includes enforced birth control and forced labor and has drawn charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in the West.
“If democracies do not act to ensure the civil liberties of vulnerable communities within their borders, a vital China policy constituency will be forced into silence — emboldening the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] to continue challenging the fundamental human rights that impact us all,” Jardine said in a statement.
The organization surveyed 72 Uyghurs living Asia-Pacific, Europe and North America, with 74 percent saying they had experienced digital risks, threats or online harassment.
The report recommends that governments take in more Uyghur refugees and sanction Chinese citizens responsible for acts of transnational repression.
“Governments have a role to play,” Irwin told RFA. “They have an obligation to ensure that in some cases their own citizens are protected from this kind of intimidation and harassment.”
The report also says the private sector should monitor digital threats on online platforms in all relevant languages — including Uyghur, Chinese and Turkish — and develop tools to identify state-actor harassment.
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