China's campaign against ethnic Uyghurs extends well beyond its borders, with Chinese agents tracking, harassing, and threatening members of the Muslim community in 22 nations, revealed a new report from a rights advocacy group—Uyghur Human Rights Project.
The UHRP advocates the rights of the Uyghur people—Turkic-speaking Muslims from the Central Asian region and the largest population lives in China's autonomous Xinjiang region.
The 65-page report—titled "‘Your Family Will Suffer’; How China Is Hacking, Surveilling and Intimidating Uyghurs in Liberal Democracies”—published in collaboration with the UHRP, a nonprofit located in Washington, DC and the academic exchange group Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs, is based on survey data from Uyghurs residing all over the world.
The recently released report adds more than 5,500 warnings and threats to individuals and their families in 22 countries to an already-existing database of surveillance, harassment and intimidation actions against ethnic Uyghurs.
They surveyed Uyghurs residing in diaspora communities in liberal democracies spanning North America, Asia, and Europe.
The report highlighted that 95.8 per cent of surveyed people said they felt threatened, with 73.5 per cent saying they had faced digital risks, threats, or other types of online harassment. Members of Uyghur communities around the world are concerned about their safety, with 89.7 per cent of respondents saying they want to learn more about security.
According to Radio Free Asia, Omer Kanat, executive director of the UHRP said, “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.”
As per Peter Irwin, who is the senior programme officer for advocacy and communications at the UHRP, cyberattacks, internet harassment and public smear campaigns are among the strategies used by Chinese operatives.
Similarly, Bradley Jardine, who is the director of research at the Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs, said that the breadth and reach of China's state-backed hackers and intelligence operations have grown in nations that shelter Uyghurs since 2014.
The Chinese government initiated a "strike hard" campaign against "terrorist" acts in Xinjiang's western region in May 2014 that included police raids on Uyghur homes, limitations on Islamic activities and restrictions on the Uyghur people's culture and language, according to RFA.
Since 2017, China has detained up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a network of detention camps ostensibly serving as vocational training institutes. The camps are at the heart of a repressive campaign that includes forced birth control, as well as forced labour and has sparked accusations of genocide and crimes against humanity in Western countries.
According to Jardine, “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.”
The newly published report suggested that respective governments should accept more Uyghur migrants and punish Chinese people who commit acts of transnational repression.
While echoing the same recommendation, UHRP’s Irwin said: “Governments have a role to play. They have an obligation to ensure that in some cases their own citizens are protected from this kind of intimidation and harassment.”
However, the report also noted that the private sector should also monitor digital threats on internet platforms in all key languages, including Uyghur, Chinese and Turkish, as well as build technologies to detect state-actor harassment.
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