Chinese influence on neighboring states leads to extradition, suppression of Uyghurs

For immediate release
July 5, 2006, 06:50 EDT
Contact: Uyghur Human Rights Project +1 (202) 349 1496

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) is deeply concerned about a recent spate of Uyghurs reportedly being returned to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from central and southern Asian states. These individuals are apparently being forcibly returned at the request of Chinese government authorities, where they are likely to then face arbitrary detention, torture, and even execution.

On June 26, UHRP reported the return to the PRC of Huseyin Celil from Uzbekistan; Amnesty International in London also recently reported that two other Uyghurs, Yusuf Kadir Tohti and Abdukadir Sidik, were recently returned to the PRC from Kazakhstan.

These three cases are almost certainly not the only instances of people being returned to the PRC. However, they are notable for coming to light in the immediate wake of a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s (SCO) member states in Shanghai in mid-June. As the SCO marks a decade of existence, China has been putting pressure on neighboring countries, and particularly members of the SCO, to forcibly return Uyghur Muslims suspected of “separatist” activities, including asylum-seekers and refugees.

Under the formation and expansion of the SCO, central Asian nations have placed an emphasis on placating China, which is growing rapidly in terms of the economic and political influence it exerts on central Asia. China has recently been providing central Asian countries with hundreds of millions of dollars in credits. It has also been entering into lucrative business deals with members of the SCO. For instance, China’s National Oil and Gas Exploration and Development Corporation (CNODC) announced on June 15 that it would spend $210 million to explore for oil and gas in Uzbekistan.

Last month, Chinese President Hu Jintao met with the leader of Kyrgyzstan, Kurmanbek Bakiev, in Beijing. During their meeting, in addition to cementing agreements related to transportation and the export of electricity from Kygryzstan to China, the two leaders agreed to crack down on extremism, and specifically on “East Turkistan terrorist forces.”

In 2004, Uzbek authorities agreed to Chinese demands to further suppress any Uyghur activities in Uzbekistan that were related to the advocacy of human rights, political rights and cultural rights for Uyghurs in East Turkistan. In June 2004, Hu signed an agreement with Uzbek president Islam Karimov which stated that the two countries would “continue to adopt powerful measures to fight all forms of terrorism, including terrorism waged by the so-called “East Turkistan terror groups” in order to engender peace and tranquility in the two countries and in the region.”

China’s influence within the SCO with regard to the Uyghur people appears to be extending to nations with “observer” status as well. Pakistan’s current “observer” status with the SCO, as well as the 2003 remarks of President Musharraf that he would not allow anyone to use Pakistani territory to “carry out anti-China activities”, raises concerns that Pakistan will begin persecuting innocent Uyghur Muslims, or sending them back to East Turkistan, in order to please China.

In an ominous development, the Pakistani news media has recently been reporting on warnings that were received by the Chinese diplomatic mission in Pakistan that members of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) are planning to kidnap senior Chinese diplomats and consular officers there. According to a June 26 report in the Pakistan-based newspaper Daily Times, Chinese diplomats said members of terrorist organizations, including Al Qaeda, were providing support to ETIM activists for the kidnapping.

Earlier this week, reports published by Pakistani and Indian newspapers published news reports citing Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu as saying that China would seek international cooperation to “strike at members of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM)”, whom she said are “seeking to separate the oil-rich Xinjiang from the rest of the country.” Furthermore, Jiang stated that “striking at the ETIM forces is an integral part of international cooperation in counter-terrorism activities.”

Chinese authorities have previously taken similar actions to “warn” foreigners of the threat of attacks on them by al Qaeda-linked Uyghur groups. For instance, last year, as the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom visited East Turkistan, Chinese officials announced that ‘elements of al Qaeda were targeting the Commission itself during its visit.” However, as was later stated by the Commission’s chairman, enquiries by U.S. embassy staff in Beijing determined that these claims were totally false and an apparent attempt to intimidate the visiting members of the Commission.

In another example, in August 2005, Wang Lequan, Communist Party Secretary of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), claimed at a press conference that Rebiya Kadeer, a Uyghur businesswoman, human rights activist and former prisoner of conscience who is now president of the Uyghur American Association, “[…] had met with heads of terrorist groups abroad to plot to sabotage the celebration for the 50th anniversary of the founding of the XUAR”. This accusation was not supported by any evidence. Instead, it appears that the Chinese government was simply attempting to “demonize” Ms. Kadeer, in reaction to the peaceful human rights advocacy she had undertaken on behalf of the Uyghur people since her arrival to the U.S. in March 2005.

In the wake of September 11, lacking any evidence of terrorist attacks occurring in the past few years, the Chinese government has attempted to create an illusion of a terrorist threat from the Uyghurs in order to garner international support for its ongoing suppression of Uyghurs under the pretext of the “war on terror”. Chinese officials have generated unsubstantiated accounts of a terrorist danger from so-called Uyghur militants, and have presented these accounts to foreign governments, such as the government of Pakistan.

Regardless of the accuracy of the latest warnings delivered to Pakistan by the Chinese authorities, various inconsistencies are present in China’s recurring arguments. China’s own reporting on the nature and extent of violence in East Turkistan has often been exaggerated and contradictory. For example, a document issued by China’s State Council Information Office in 2002 presents an image of the situation in East Turkistan that is largely inconsistent with Beijing’s position prior to September 11. The document portrays a wide variety of separatist groups in East Turkistan as being closely connected and unified as part of a pan-Islamic network, when in fact these groups are highly fractionalized and diverse.

According to the group Human Rights Watch, the document lacks any independent intelligence to support its conclusions, and there are problems in the document’s treatment of events in the 1990s. For instance, while its preface claims that terrorist acts killed 162 (and injured 440) over the past decade, the document itself enumerates only 57 deaths. Most of these people died in small-scale incidents with only one or two victims.

Prior to September 11, China publicized an opinion on East Turkistan that painted a picture of the opposition as small in number and doomed to fail. Xinjiang Party Secretary Wang Lequan, together with Abdulahat Abdurishit, said at a trade fair in Urumqi on September 2, 2001, that the situation in Xinjiang was “better than ever in history.” While mentioning separatism, they stressed that “society is stable and people are living and working in peace and contentment.”

These types of statements appear distinctly inconsistent with China’s post-9/11 assertions regarding Uyghur separatism, and they appear to strongly suggest that China modifies its portrayal of Uyghur separatist forces, and of Uyghur Muslims in East Turkistan in general, according to its political goals.

UHRP fears that Huseyin Celil, a naturalized Canadian citizen who fled China several years ago, is at extremely high risk of arbitrary detention, torture, and even execution.

Amnesty International reported on June 27 that Yusuf Kadir Tohti and Abdukadir Sidik were being held in incommunicado detention in China after being forcibly returned from Kazakhstan on May 10. The two men are at risk of serious human rights violations, and possibly the death penalty, if their ‘crimes’ are deemed to be ‘serious.’

Chinese authorities have recently mounted a crackdown on the “three evil forces” of “separatist, terrorist and religious extremists” in East Turkistan. This has resulted in serious and widespread human rights violations directed against the region’s Uyghur community, prompting many of them to flee the country.

See also:

June 26, 2006: Uzbekistan deports a Canadian Uyghur to a deeply uncertain fate in China


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The Uyghur American Association (UAA) works to promote the preservation and flourishing of a rich, humanistic and diverse Uyghur culture, and to support the right of the Uyghur people to use peaceful, democratic means to determine their own political future.

The UAA has undertaken the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) for the purpose of promoting improved human rights conditions for Uyghurs and other indigenous groups in East Turkistan, on the premise that the assurance of basic human rights will facilitate the realization of the community’s democratic aspirations.

Uyghur Human Rights Project

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