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The human rights crisis and war of misinformation continue in Xinjiang province, western China, as the government of the People’s Republic has reportedly begun to put pressure on ethnic Uyghurs in Europe. The Guardian reported that individuals living outside the Uyghur homeland have received threats against the safety of their families still living in China, on account of their activism abroad. Abdujelil Emet, a Uyghur living in Germany, was called by his sister at the demand of Chinese authorities who forced her to repeat party slogans and emphasize that conditions had improved before the staged call fell apart and Emet demanded to speak with the officials behind the call. “You need to think of your family while you’re running around doing your activism work in Germany,” an official warned. “You need to think of their safety.”
The detention of over one million Uyghurs within Xinjiang, as well as invasive surveillance, indoctrination centres, culture erasure, and the destruction of religious sites, have been well documented in the international media in recent months and years, despite Beijing’s claims to the contrary. Expatriate Uyghurs have increasingly engaged in activism, setting up an online database of persons known to be missing and publishing the stories of relatives in Xinjiang province. But now the Chinese government’s war on its western Muslim citizens has gone to the diaspora. Stories such as Abdujelil Emet are typical of Uyghurs living abroad in Europe or the U.S., whose relatives are threatened if expatriates speak out against abuses at home and abroad.
The PRC is making “a determined push to silence overseas critics,” says Kevin Carrico of Macquarie University, Sydney. Those who oppose the party, where ever they may be, will begin to feel the pressure of censorship. Rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have roundly condemned Beijing’s actions against its citizens, but to little avail.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party has spun the need for re-education centres in Xinjiang as part of the global campaign against terrorism. Pressure on overseas Uyghurs and threats against their families is also framed by the war on terror, as the Chinese government maintains that these actions are necessary to protect their citizens and halt the supposed flow of harmful ideologies across the Central Asian border. In reality, however, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is a vast and resource-rich landmass which Beijing has been attempting to draw into the main body of the country, through means of ethnic majority in-migration, ruling through local elites aligned with national interest, undermining regional autonomy, and eradication of religious and cultural expressions that differ from the official party line. It is in this context that Uyghurs like Abdujelil, and many others around the world, receive threats from the CCP.
So far only the governments of Germany and Sweden have guaranteed that they will not deport Uyghur refugees. More nations need to acknowledge the scale of the crisis in Xinjiang and protect ethnic Uyghurs living within their borders. Without this, the international community is simply abandoning the Uyghurs to their fate, whatever it may be, and in spite of any rhetoric around the promotion of human rights and civil liberties. Moreover, pressure from the United Nations Human Rights Council has been tepid at best: an accord demanding that China close the camps and release detainees, signed in Geneva between several Western countries and Japan, was circulated without a principal leader. None of the signatories wished to stake out their position against the Chinese, which the New York Times suggested is a way to diffuse responsibility and avoid direct retribution.
If there is to be a significant challenge posed to the situation in Xinjiang, it must come from individual governments. Unfortunately, international actors see the People’s Republic as too important on the world stage to condemn their brutal regime against a Muslim minority. Until this changes, the situation in Xinjiang will likely only worsen.