Uyghurs living abroad in NZ tell of campaign of intimidation from China

Chinese authorities are systematically harassing Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic groups even after they have left the country, according to new testimonies gathered by Amnesty International. Uyghur New Zealanders were among those interviewed, despite the threat of further intimidation.

The case studies, published online today, reveal how Chinese authorities target members of the Uyghur and other Chinese diaspora communities across the globe through pressure from its embassies abroad, as well as through messaging apps and threatening phone calls.

Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand Executive Director Meg de Ronde says it’s part of an ever-growing body of evidence of the Chinese Government’s attempts to control and repress people speaking out about continued human rights abuses both inside and outside China.

“Governments have a responsibility to ensure people are free to practice their beliefs, whatever they may be. In China, the Government is using tactics like enforced disappearances, intimidation and detainment to prevent these freedoms. The Chinese Government is not only preventing them from practicing their religious beliefs, they’re extending this to other countries as well.”

Amnesty International Executive Director Meg de Ronde

De Ronde says Uyghurs living in New Zealand, a majority of whom have fled persecution in the autonomous territory of Xinjiang in northwest China, have to maintain a low profile for their own safety.

“The situation for Uyghurs living in New Zealand is very delicate. We urge anyone working with this community to be mindful of their safety and of what information is shared on what platforms to ensure they are not inadvertently putting anyone at risk. Uyghurs must be given autonomy over any processes undertaken with Government departments or external organisations, their freedom over their own lives here must be protected.”

Amnesty International Executive Director Meg de Ronde

She adds the New Zealand Government must monitor and protect against attempts to repress people living within New Zealand. “It’s incredibly important that the Government takes measures to protect the Xinjiang diaspora living here because the threats of further intimidation and oppression are very real for those living in fear. Everyone has the right to live in peace with the religion they choose. Amnesty International is also calling on Chinese authorities to allow UN human rights experts access to the region to conduct an independent investigation into the situation in Xinjiang.”

The Case Studies

Amnesty International collated information from approximately 400 Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Uzbeks and members of other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups living in 22 countries across five continents over the course of a year between September 2018 and September 2019. Their accounts reveal the harassment and fear being experienced by these communities on a daily basis.

Several Uyghur interviewees told Amnesty International that local authorities in Xinjiang had targeted their relatives back home as a way to suppress the activities of Uyghur communities living abroad. Others said the Chinese authorities had used social messaging apps to track, contact and intimidate them.

The testimonies illustrate the global scope of China's campaign against Uyghurs, Kazakhs and others originally from Xinjiang, with Chinese embassies and consulates tasked with collecting information about members of these ethnic groups residing in other countries.

Since 2017, China has pursued an unprecedented campaign of mass detention of Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in Xinjiang.

An estimated one million or more people have been held in so-called “transformation-through-education” or “vocational training” centres where they have endured a litany of human rights violations.

Earlier this week, a 137-page Chinese government document leaked to several international media outlets listed the personal details of people from Xinjiang, including their religious habits and personal relationships, as a means of determining whether they should be interned in “re-education” camps. The leaked details supported evidence of violations previously documented by Amnesty International.

An estimated 1–1.6 million Uyghurs live outside China, according to the World Uyghur Congress. Significant diasporic communities of Uyghurs can be found in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Smaller communities live in other countries, including Afghanistan, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Norway, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, the Netherlands, Turkey and the United States.

The full case studies can be found and .

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Uyghurs living overseas have bravely shared with us their experiences of intimidation by China. For them, nowhere feels safe. To see the global scale of this intimidation, check out .