Uighur exiles in Turkey 'blackmailed into spying for China'

Uighur exiles in Turkey 'blackmailed into spying for China'
Several Uighurs say they have been pressured to give information on other exiles, according to a new report.
3 min read
04 December, 2020
Chinese authorities reportedly use detained family members to blackmail exiles [Getty]
Uighur Muslims in Turkey have been pressured into spying on other exiles, a report has revealed.

Chinese authorities are using family members still living in China to blackmail exiles into giving information about fellow Uighurs living in Turkey, The Times reported on Friday.

Handlers reportedly give Uighur exiles the opportunity to make contact with relatives imprisoned in China's vast network of detention camps, as well as offering them money.

At least a million Muslims from China's ethnic minority groups, most of them Uighurs, are held in detention camps in the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang. 

While the Chinese government describes these camps as "re-education centres" geared at guiding Muslims away from Islamist extremism and Uighur separatism, leaked documents and testimonies allege torture, forced labour, forced birth control and other severe rights violations.

Around 30,000 Uighurs currently live in Turkey, many of them having fled Xinjiang since China intensified its crackdown on the region in recent years.

The Uighur diaspora has been central in calling attention to China's imprisonment and mass surveillance of Muslim minorities.

As such, authorities have attempted to recruit Uighurs living abroad as spies to gain more information about the diaspora, exiles told The Times.

"I received a call from China. The man knew my name. He knew my business partner's name too," a Uighur man who fled Xinjiang in 2013 said. The man, who asked not to be named, runs a repair shop in Istanbul but had been forced to leave his family behind.

Read more: China forces birth control on Uighurs to suppress Muslim population

"I wanted them to give my wife and child passports, and to send them here. They told me I must give something worthy in return. I thought for at least a week," he said. "On one side, my family. On the other side, innocent people. If I give information about my friends for the sake of my own mother and father, what would happen to parents of those friends?"

Another Uighur who fled to Turkey in 2016, leaving her husband and daughter behind, told The Times Chinese authorities had attempted to blackmail her for information about exiles.

"They asked me whether I know any other Uighurs here. When I said that I don't, they didn't believe me. They texted me every day: 'You lie. We have your daughter and husband'," she said.

"I considered going outside and taking photographs of strangers. Then my son objected. I threw away that sim card afterwards," the woman, who did not wish to be named, added.

Jevlan Shirmemmet, 29, moved to Turkey in 2011 for his undergraduate studies.

He was first approached by Communist Party officials on a trip back to Xinjiang in 2016.

"We sat in a cafe in Urumqi for more than two hours, and they were speaking with me very kindly... They told me: 'The government likes you, you are a son of China. You went to school and to Turkey because of the CCP, you have to do something to thank them'," Shirmemmet told The Times.

The Chinese agents kept in contact with Shirmemmet when he returned to Turkey, asking him to inform them of his next visit to China so they could meet him at the airport.

But Shirmemmet decided not to return after news about the network of detention camps began to leak out. Several of his Uighur friends living in Turkey had disappeared after returning to China.

In January 2018, Shirmemmet lost all contact with his family, and friends and relatives deleted him as a contact on social media. Last year he learned that his parents and brother had been sent to the camps.

The only contact Shirmemmet has had with his family since then has been a phone call with his since-released father last year. 

"We hadn't spoken for 30 months, but what was the first thing my father said to me? He told me to stop my campaign to free my mother" who remains in detention, Shirmemmet explained.

Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram to stay connected