Tue, Oct 22, 2019 - Page 9 News List

China threatening EU citizens over Xinjiang

Uighurs living in Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden and France have complained of intimidation by Beijing

By Benjamin Haas  /  The Guardian, MUNICH, Germany

Illustration: Yusha

Two days after Abdujelil Emet sat in the public gallery of the German parliament during a hearing on human rights, he received a telephone call from his sister for the first time in three years, but the call from Xinjiang, China, was anything but a joyous family chat.

It was made at the direction of Chinese security officers, part of a campaign by Beijing to silence criticism of policies that have seen more than 1 million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities detained in internment camps.

Emet’s sister began by praising the Chinese Communist Party and making claims of a much improved life under its guidance, before delivering a shock: his brother had died a year earlier.

Emet, 54, was suspicious from the start; he had never given his family his telephone number.

Amid the heartbreaking news and sloganeering, he could hear a flurry of whispers in the background and he demanded to speak to the unknown voice.

Moments later the telephone was handed to a Chinese official who refused to identify himself.

By the end of the conversation, the facade constructed by the Chinese security agent was broken and Emet’s sister wept as she begged him to stop his activism. Then the Chinese official took the telephone again with a final warning.

“You’re living overseas, but you need to think of your family while you’re running around doing your activism work in Germany,” he said. “You need to think of their safety.”

In interviews with more than two dozen Uighurs living across Europe and the US, tales of threats across the world are the rule, not the exception.

Uighurs living in Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden and France have all complained of similar threats against family members back in Xinjiang, and some were asked to spy for China.

More than 1 million Uighurs and other minorities are being held in extrajudicial internment camps, according to the UN, with some estimates saying the number is “closer to 3 million.”

Emet, originally from Aksu, Xinjiang, has lived in Germany for more than two decades and is a naturalized citizen. He does volunteer work for the World Uyghur Congress and is a part-time imam in his community.

He has never told his family about his activism, hoping the omission would protect them.

“I will not keep my silence and the Chinese government should not use my family to threaten me,” Emet said. “I was clear with them on the phone: If they harm my family, I will speak out louder and become a bigger problem for the government.”

Most Uighurs remain silent and have had little help from European authorities, but German lawmaker Margarete Bause, who represents Munich, said Chinese interference was unacceptable and urged Uighurs to contact their lawmakers.

“We need to protect visitors to the Bundestag. Observing parliament is a fundamental right in any democracy,” Bause said. “It’s also important for the German public to know how China is trying to exert influence here. The Chinese government threatening people in Germany should never become normalized.”

Bause has been interested in Uighur issues for more than a decade, after she was admonished by Chinese diplomats in 2006 for attending an event hosted by the World Uyghur Congress.

In August she was denied a visa as part of a parliamentary visit to China and the trip was eventually canceled in response.

Beyond discouraging activism, Chinese officials have also tried to recruit Uighurs living abroad to spy on others in their community, asking for photographs of private gatherings, names, telephone numbers, addresses and license plate numbers.

This story has been viewed 3240 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top