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China Targeted Over 5,500 Uyghurs Outside Its Borders With Help of MENA Countries: Report

The report’s database also details 424 cases of Uyghurs forcibly returned to China, most since 2014.


Statecraft Staff

April 26, 2022

A recently published report by the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United States (US) revealed that the Chinese government is not just mistreating members of the Uyghur Muslim community within its own borders but also abroad with the help of ally countries.

The report revealed the scale of the Chinese Ministry of State Security’s efforts to “harass, detain and extradite Uyghurs from around the world,” and highlighted the cooperation Beijing is receiving from other countries, especially in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

The report, titled “Great Wall of Steel,” described the current levels of cooperation with other nations as “unprecedented.” The researchers posit that Beijing’s cooperation in this regard extends to around 44 countries, including running detainment facilities in the US, Japan, and across the European Union.

The report claims that more than 5,500 Uyghurs outside of China have been targeted by Beijing through cyberattacks and threats to family members who remain in China. Moreover, over 1,500 Uyghurs have been detained or forced to return to China to face imprisonment and torture by police.

The report also categorises repression into three distinct stages. In the first phase, from 1997 to 2007, 89 Uyghurs were detained or deported by local security forces primarily in South and Central Asia. In the next phase, from 2008 to 2013, 126 Uyghurs were targeted primarily in Southeast Asia. And in the ongoing third phase, from 2014 to the present, 1,364 Uyghurs have been detained, extradited, or rendered from 18 countries in the MENA region.

“These refoulements are pervasive, tenacious, and often illegal. They reveal a Chinese diplomatic and policing capability that disregards sovereign borders and national and international laws in pursuit of security, as defined by Beijing,” the report reads. The report’s database also details 424 cases of Uyghurs who have been forcibly returned to China, most since 2014, when the Chinese Communist Party launched its own “War on Terror.”

The reports of Beijing targeting its Uyghur Muslim population abroad are not unprecedented. Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia deported an Uyghur woman and her 13-year-old daughter to China, where they risk being detained in the infamous “re-education camps” in western China’s Xinjiang Province. It is unclear if they were formally charged.

A similar report published by the Associated Press (AP) in August 2021 recounted the testimony of a Chinese woman who claimed that she was detained for eight days at a secret Chinese-run detention facility in Dubai, along with two Uyghurs. Wu told AP that she was abducted from a hotel in Dubai and then taken to a villa converted into a jail run by Chinese officials. Although she could not pinpoint the black site’s exact location, Wu claims to have seen or heard two other female prisoners. Wu stated that she was questioned and threatened in Chinese and coerced into signing legal documents incriminating her fiancé for harassment.

Experts said at the time that it was the first piece of evidence of China operating a so-called “black site” beyond its borders. “Black sites” refer to secret jails where prisoners are generally not charged with a crime and have no access to legal remedies, with no bail or court order. The report also claimed that it was common in China to meet with petitioners with grievances against local governments in hotel rooms or guesthouses.

The existence of such sites and China’s expanding control over citizens abroad showcases its growing international influence and soft power to detain or bring back citizens from overseas, including dissidents, corruption suspects, and ethnic minorities like the Uyghurs.

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