China’s police state goes global, leaving refugees in fear

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This recent undated screen grab taken from video from AFPTV on July 22, 2019 shows 33-year-old ethnic Uighur cameraman Shawudun Abdughupur during an interview with AFP in Auckland. (AFP / AFPTV / Diego Opatowski)
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This photo taken on July 6, 2019 shows 32-year-old Melbourne-based Uighur refugee Shir Muhammad Hasan displaying messages on his phone at his Melbourne home. (AFP / William West)
Updated 23 July 2019

China’s police state goes global, leaving refugees in fear

  • An estimated one million ethnic Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang province have been swept into “vocational education centers”

SYDNEY: Muslims who escaped China’s crackdown in Xinjiang still live in fear, saying new homes abroad and even Western passports afford them no protection against a state-driven global campaign of intimidation.
With menacing text and voice messages, and explicit threats to relatives still living in Xinjiang, China’s powerful state security apparatus has extended its reach to Uighurs living in liberal democracies as far away as New Zealand and the United States, in a bid to silence activists and recruit informants.
The Communist Party’s dragnet in Xinjiang has swept an estimated one million ethnic Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities into “vocational education centers” that numerous studies and reports have exposed as harsh internment camps.
For those who managed to get out and settle overseas, the search for a true safe haven has remained elusive as they complain they and their families have been remotely harried and harassed to the point of desperation.
Guly Mahsut, who fled to Canada, says she became suicidal and was hospitalized after being bombarded with messages from Xinjiang police threatening her family in the troubled province.
“You should have been more cooperative. Don’t become the source of misfortune for your relatives and family in Toksun. You should be more considerate of your family,” read one message, allegedly from an official named “Kaysar.”
The 37-year-old believes she was targeted because she spoke out against authorities online, and has helped stateless Uighurs seek help abroad.
She received messages from relatives — including her younger sister — pleading with her to “cooperate” with authorities.
Mahsut is one of more than a dozen Uighur exiles AFP interviewed across four continents that gave access to scores of text and voice messages — purportedly from Chinese security operatives — demanding their silence or cooperation.
Together they point to a systemic effort to infiltrate diaspora communities, recruit informants, sow mistrust and stifle criticism of the regime.

Followed by sinister messages
Shir Muhammad Hasan managed to get to Australia in 2017. Having secured refugee status, he thought he was safe.
Little more than a year later, the sinister messages began to arrive.
“I suppose your family already told you that I have been searching for you?” read the first.
More texts followed, in turn demanding the 32-year-old turn over dossiers about his life, and then came persistent requests to arrange a time to “get to know each other better.”
“I told you to send me a brief introduction of yourself, but you didn’t,” the sender said in a local Uighur dialect, punctuated with a smattering of Mandarin Chinese, adding: “We should sit down and have a chat.”
The barrage lasted six months and then abruptly stopped, leaving Hasan in turmoil — unsure if and when the torment will begin again.
AFP has no way of independently verifying who sent these or similar messages. They were sent using encrypted WhatsApp accounts and linked to inactive Hong Kong cell numbers or in some cases “ID spoofed” numbers that mask the source.
The Chinese foreign ministry and the Xinjiang government did not respond to request for comment.
But many Uighurs abroad offer strikingly similar testimony: Their families in Xinjiang are approached, they then begin to send unusual questions or demands, before ultimately direct contact is made from suspected security officials via secure messaging services.
One Uighur man now living with his wife in the US said his family in Xinjiang were asked to “provide information about my school, status, how I was able to go overseas.”
“When I asked them ‘why do you need this information?’ they told me that they need to fill some kind of form,” he explained.
Other families in Xinjiang were asked for phone numbers of overseas relatives that allowed the assault of texts and phone messages to begin.

Sowing mistrust and friction
The harassment has had a devastating impact for many as they are shackled by fears for the fate of loved ones left behind if they do not comply.
Arslan Hidayat lives in Istanbul, which had opened its doors to fellow Turkic-speaking Muslims. He was not targeted directly, but nationalist trolls have bombarded his Facebook blog.
Australian-born, he wants to speak out, but older family members — including his mother-in-law, whose husband is in detention — believe silence will limit the authorities’ wrath.
China’s bid to create a network of informants has also sown mistrust and friction within Uighur communities abroad.
For much of the last decade, Uighur students who received a scholarship to study overseas were asked for a raft of sensitive information, and some believe they were effectively asked to become spies.
“When applying for the scholarship, the applicant has to fill in very detailed information about their family back in China, but also need to provide extensive information about their studies, life, and activities in the corresponding country,” said one PhD student now living in Australia.
“One condition of the scholarship is that the recipient has to keep close contact with the Chinese Embassy and a contact person from the Xinjiang Education Bureau.”
The student added: “It could be used to collect information about the applicants and their close friends in foreign soil, or even worse it’s the salary of spies disguised as scholarship.”

Methodical intimidation
According to James Leibold, an expert on ethnic relations in China and a professor at Melbourne’s La Trobe University, the intimidation is systematic and methodical.
“The reach of the Chinese party-state now is far more extensive, and it has, in some regards, violated the sovereignty of countries across the globe, by interfering in the affairs of citizens of different countries,” he warned.
Leibold added Uighurs with overseas connections are seen as a potential security risk: “The best way to deal with that was to send them back to Xinjiang where they could be monitored or ‘re-educated’.”
As for those who have moved overseas permanently, he said Beijing wants them “to stay quiet about this issue, not lobby politicians, not to speak with the media, not to cause trouble for the Chinese Embassy and consulates.”
Similar actions overseas have been reported against Tibetans, political dissidents, Taiwanese activists, adherents of the spiritual group Falun Gong as well as Chinese students overseas.
The assault has led some Uighurs — even those with foreign nationality or permanent residency abroad — to believe nowhere is safe from China’s police state.
In the past five years, Thailand and Egypt have rounded up Uighurs and sent them back to China. But even in open democracies such as New Zealand and Finland, the picture is bleak.
Shawudun Abdughupur fled to Auckland after witnessing inter-ethnic riots in July 2009 that left hundreds dead.
Despite now being a New Zealand citizen, he remains reluctant to speak publicly, fearing for himself and for his 78-year-old mother, who he believes is in a camp.
“I can’t say too much,” he told AFP, fighting back the tears in his first on-camera interview.
The 43-year-old added: “I don’t know if the New Zealand government can protect me. How can they protect me?“
After he refused to give details of his meetings with other Uighurs, he received this chilling message: “We can find you. We are in New Zealand.”

Call for democracies to ‘close ranks’
When Abdughupur reported the incident to the New Zealand police they treated it like any other nuisance call, referring him to the non-profit online safety organization Netsafe, who then referred him back to law enforcement.
New Zealand police, like several of their counterparts worldwide, said they could not discuss the cases for privacy reasons.
Halmurat Uyghur, a 35-year-old who lives north of Helsinki, said he reported threatening messages to the Finnish police on several occasions but nothing changed.
“I don’t feel safe, who knows what will happen next,” he said.
One former senior US national security official confirmed the issue of China pursuing so-called “fugitives” abroad had been raised with Beijing “through law enforcement channels and also at the top level.”
Current US officials acknowledged reports of Uighur intimidation in America but declined requests to comment on the record.
Ben Rhodes, who spent eight years as a senior national security aide during Barack Obama’s presidency said democracies could mitigate some of China’s actions but allies would need to “close ranks.”
Beijing was “usually intransigent about things that they felt dealt with internal matters,” he said.
He added: “The way to really deal with it would be for the United States to rally other countries to collectively stand up to the Chinese on this.”

Indian police kill rape-murder suspects, sparking celebrations

Updated 50 min 56 sec ago

Indian police kill rape-murder suspects, sparking celebrations

  • The men, who had been in custody for a week over the latest rape case to shock India, were shot during a re-enactment of the crime
  • Television images showed the shoeless bodies of the suspects still lying in an open field on Friday afternoon, with guns in the hands of two

SHADNAGAR, India: Indian police on Friday shot dead four gang-rape and murder suspects, prompting celebrations but also accusations that they were extrajudicial executions.
The men, who had been in custody for a week over the latest rape case to shock India, were shot in the early hours during a re-enactment of the crime organized by police in Shadnagar, outside the southern city of Hyderabad.
“The police brought the accused to the crime spot as part of the investigation. The accused then started attacking the police with stones and sticks and then snatched the weapons and started firing,” police commissioner V.C. Sajjanar said.
“The police warned them and asked them to surrender but they continued to fire. Then we opened fire and they were killed in the encounter,” he told reporters at the scene, adding that the men had confessed to the crime during interrogation.
Television images showed the shoeless bodies of the suspects still lying in an open field on Friday afternoon, with guns in the hands of two of them.
The four men were accused of gang-raping and murdering a 27-year-old veterinary doctor before setting fire to her body underneath an isolated bridge late on November 27.
Like in the infamous 2012 rape and murder of a woman on a Delhi bus, the case sparked demonstrations and calls for swift and tough justice.
Shortly after their arrest hundreds of protesters also tried to storm the police station where they were held.
At one demonstration in Delhi, some women wielded swords while one lawmaker called for the men to be “lynched” and another for rapists to be castrated.
Police are often accused of using extrajudicial killings to bypass the legal process to cover-up botched investigations or to pacify public anger.
A huge backlog of cases in the slow Indian criminal justice means that many rape victims wait years for justice.
Several hundred people flocked to the scene of the men’s deaths on Friday, setting off firecrackers to celebrate and showering police with flower petals and hoisting them on their shoulders.
“I am happy the four accused have been killed in an encounter. This incident will set an example. I thank the police and media for their support,” the victim’s sister told a local television station.
Women distributed sweets and tied Hindu ritual threads on the wrists of policemen to thank them.
Further celebrations were held elsewhere in the country, including in the western state of Gujarat.
Many social media users, including politicians, celebrities and athletes hailed the Telangana state police.
“Great work #hyderabadpolice ..we salute u,” top women’s badminton player Saina Nehwal tweeted, while fellow badminton star P.V. Sindhu wrote that “Justice has been served!“
Cricketer HarbHajjan Singh congratulated police and the state government for “showing this is how it is done(.) no one should dare doing something like this again in future.”
And Rajyavardhan Rathore, a former minister and current MP from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party wrote on Twitter: “Let all know this is the country where good will always prevail over evil.”
But lawyer and activist Vrinda Grover told AFP the killings were “absolutely unacceptable.”
“Instead of investigation and prosecution the state is committing murders to distract the public and avoid accountability,” she said.
India’s former federal minister for women and child development, Maneka Gandhi termed the incident “dangerous.”
“They would have anyway got hanging for their heinous crime, but you can’t just pick up guns and kill people because you want to. Because law is tardy, you can’t kill people,” Gandhi told reporters.
“To appease public rage over state failures against sexual assault, Indian authorities commit another violation,” tweeted Meenakshi Ganguly from Human Rights Watch.
Amnesty International India said the “alleged extrajudicial execution” raised disturbing questions and called for an independent investigation.
“In a modern and rights-respecting society, using extrajudicial executions to offer justice to victims of rape is not only unconstitutional but circumvents the Indian legal system and sets a grossly wrong precedent,” it said in a statement.
Police said a postmortem was completed Friday of the four suspects’ bodies, PTI reported.
The state high court directed that a video of the procedure be delivered to a principal district judge and that the bodies be preserved until Monday evening, the newswire said.