HomeOppression and Human RightsChina Holding Families as Hostages to Quash Uyghur Dissent Abroad

China Holding Families as Hostages to Quash Uyghur Dissent Abroad

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The Uyghur crisis has reached new heights in oppression, with China resorting to sinister tactics to silence dissenting voices beyond its borders. Reports reveal that China is using families of Uyghurs living abroad as “hostages” to pressure these individuals into spying on human rights campaigners. This transnational repression has deeply affected Uyghur communities worldwide, leading to broken bonds, fear, and intimidation. The situation calls for urgent international attention and action to protect the rights and safety of the Uyghurs living abroad and their families in China.

One poignant story that encapsulates the plight of Uyghurs living abroad is that of Alim, a refugee now residing in the UK. Six years after fleeing China, Alim had a bittersweet reunion with his mother via a video call. However, their interaction was closely monitored and controlled by a middleman due to the intense surveillance in Xinjiang, China. The heart-wrenching moment underscored the level of fear and control imposed on Uyghurs and raised concerns about the safety of Alim’s family.

The tactics employed by the Chinese government to control its diaspora are multifaceted. Dr. David Tobin, a researcher from the University of Sheffield, highlights that family separation is the central tactic. Uyghurs living abroad face difficulties in directly contacting their relatives in China due to surveillance and fear of repercussions. The Chinese police capitalize on this separation, offering tightly managed access over video calls as a means to compel compliance with their demands.

In the UK, where hundreds of Uyghurs reside, a concerning number have been directly approached by Chinese police officers. These officers pressurize them to spy on fellow Uyghurs, halt advocacy work, or cease media interactions. The intimidation and threats also extend to families of activists and those involved in raising awareness about the Uyghur crisis.

The sense of camaraderie and unity within Uyghur communities abroad has been shattered due to China’s manipulative tactics. In Turkey, long considered a safe haven for Uyghurs, the community of 50,000 individuals faces a growing sense of fear and suspicion. Reports of Chinese police pressuring people to spy on their compatriots have created rifts and distanced young Uyghurs from attending protests and gatherings for fear of spies.

Julie Millsap, a US-born activist, witnessed first-hand how Chinese authorities targeted her husband’s family in China as a means to pressure her into compliance. The threatening messages she received from her sister-in-law’s phone were clear attempts to intimidate her and force her into submission.

The gravity of the situation has prompted the US government to introduce the Transnational Repression Policy Act, seeking to counter coercion by proxy, including threats to family members overseas. However, implementing effective responses remains a challenge, as these tactics might not constitute a crime on foreign soil.

Abduweli Ayup, a Uyghur rights campaigner in Norway, insists that Western governments should hold China accountable for these coercive tactics. He calls for raising questions directly with the Chinese government whenever a case is reported, to ensure the safety of the Uyghurs’ families back in China.

The ongoing Uyghur crisis has escalated to alarming proportions, with China resorting to using families as “hostages” to silence Uyghurs living abroad and suppress human rights activism. The emotional toll on Uyghur communities is profound, as they grapple with fear, intimidation, and fractured bonds. International action and solidarity are urgently needed to protect the rights and safety of the Uyghurs and their families and to challenge China’s coercive tactics. As the world stands witness to this grave injustice, it is incumbent upon governments and organizations to act decisively to put an end to the suffering of the Uyghur people.

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