Tue, Jul 30, 2019 - Page 9 News List

China’s police state goes global, leaving overseas Uighurs in fear

People now living in Australia, Finland, New Zealand and the US report receiving messages that threaten family members in Xinjiang if they do not respect the CCP

By Andrew Beatty and Samuel Reeves  /  AFP, SYDNEY

Illustration: Yusha

Muslims who escaped China’s crackdown in Xinjiang still live in fear, saying new homes abroad and even Western passports afford them no protection against a state-driven global campaign of intimidation.

With menacing text and voice messages, and explicit threats to relatives still living in Xinjiang, China’s powerful state security apparatus has extended its reach to Uighurs living in liberal democracies as far away as New Zealand and the US in a bid to silence activists and recruit informants.

The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) dragnet in Xinjiang has swept an estimated 1 million ethnic Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities into “vocational education centers” that numerous studies and reports have exposed as harsh internment camps.

For those who managed to get out and settle overseas, the search for a true safe haven has remained elusive as they complain they and their families have been remotely harried and harassed to the point of desperation.

Guly Mahsut, who fled to Canada, said she became suicidal and was hospitalized after being bombarded with messages from Xinjiang police threatening her family in the troubled region.

“You should have been more cooperative. Don’t become the source of misfortune for your relatives and family in Toksun. You should be more considerate of your family,” read one message, allegedly from an official named “Kaysar.”

The 37-year-old believes she was targeted because she spoke out against authorities online, and has helped stateless Uighurs seek help abroad.

She received messages from relatives — including her younger sister — pleading with her to “cooperate” with authorities.

Mahsut is one of more than a dozen Uighur exiles interviewed across four continents who gave access to scores of text and voice messages — purportedly from Chinese security operatives — demanding their silence or cooperation.

Together they point to a systemic effort to infiltrate diaspora communities, recruit informants, sow mistrust and stifle criticism of the regime.

Shir Muhammad Hasan reached Australia in 2017. Having secured refugee status, he thought he was safe. Little more than a year later, the sinister messages began to arrive.

“I suppose your family already told you that I have been searching for you?” the first read.

More texts followed, in turn demanding that the 32-year-old turn over dossiers about his life, and then came persistent requests to arrange a time to “get to know each other better.”

“I told you to send me a brief introduction of yourself, but you didn’t,” the sender said in a local Uighur dialect, punctuated with a smattering of Mandarin Chinese, adding: “We should sit down and have a chat.”

The barrage lasted six months and then abruptly stopped, leaving Hasan in turmoil — unsure if and when the torment would begin again.

Agence France-Presse has no way of independently verifying who sent these or similar messages. They were sent using encrypted WhatsApp accounts and linked to inactive Hong Kong cell numbers or in some cases “ID spoofed” numbers that mask the source.

Asked to respond to this report, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) said accounts of Uighur exiles being intimidated were “groundless” and based on testimony from “professional critics” seeing to smear and slander China.

However, many Uighurs abroad offer strikingly similar testimony: Their families in Xinjiang are approached, they then begin to send unusual questions or demands, before ultimately direct contact is made from suspected security officials via secure messaging services.

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