THE SUNDAY TIMES: China accused of seizing Uighurs who fled abroad

The below article was published by The Sunday Times, photo credit: Sunday Times

Thousands of Uighurs fleeing atrocities in China have been forcibly returned in a campaign of abductions waged by Chinese agents, the International Criminal Court will be told today.

Lawyers for Uighur exiles will file new evidence of forced disappearances and returns to the ICC as part of an effort to hold President Xi accountable on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Because China is not a state party to the ICC, the court does not have jurisdiction to investigate crimes perpetrated in Xinjiang, where more than one million Muslim Uighurs have been incarcerated and subjected to torture, starvation, rape and enslavement.

Instead lawyers are focusing on the actions of Chinese operatives pursuing Uighur exiles in countries where the ICC has jurisdiction, such as Tajikistan, which neighbours Xinjiang. A dossier of evidence submitted to the Hague today documents the shrinking of the Uighur community in Tajikistan from 3,000 to 100 people due to the campaign of abductions.

“The evidence shows a highly organised and systematic plan by the Chinese authorities to round up Uighurs living in an ICC state party and deport [them] back into China where they are never heard from again,” Rodney Dixon QC, the British barrister leading the complaint, said. “Based on this new dossier of evidence presented to the ICC prosecutor, showing the actions of the Chinese authorities directly in Tajikistan, it is clear that the ICC does have jurisdiction to open an investigation.”

China has become increasingly concerned by the role of Uighur exiles abroad in revealing atrocities in Xinjiang, which the Uighurs call East Turkistan, and has redoubled efforts to silence, intimidate and forcibly return them to the province. Some are never seen again. The complaint was lodged by an international team led by Dixon on behalf of two Uighur exile groups, the East Turkistan Government in Exile and the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement.

The evidence documents how officials at the Chinese consulate in Tajikistan spearheaded the campaign to identify and return Uighur exiles at the same time as Chinese security forces fortified the border to prevent more people fleeing Xinjiang.

The dossier registers a “drastic and notable reduction in the number of Uighurs in Tajikistan” from 3,000 to 100 over the past decade, mostly between 2016 and 2018.

“Chinese authorities are responsible for this reduction in Uighur numbers as part of their campaign to target, round up, detain and deport Uighurs,” the dossier says. China’s consulate in Tajikistan exploits its “complete control over the Uighurs’ paperwork and purposely delays the granting of visas, work permits and other documentation that the Uighurs need to live in Tajikistan”.

It adds: “The Chinese Public Security Bureau operatives who are in Tajikistan then direct the carrying out of raids, especially on the bazaars where the Uighurs work, and direct local Tajik police to detain all the Uighurs who do not have the ‘correct’ paperwork.”

It cites a case when “an entire bazaar was raided and blocked off until all the Uighurs working there had been seized. The Uighurs then get deported by Chinese officials back to China in groups of about ten. The deportation groups are kept small to avoid attention.”

Many of those sent back are immediately incarcerated in re-education camps. Others have disappeared, and have not been seen since. Beijing is able to secure Tajik co-operation through economic dependence, including on Chinese loans that the government has yet to begin repaying.

Similar abductions have taken place in other countries to which Uighur exiles have fled but investigators are focused on the situation in Tajikistan to satisfy the ICC’s request for evidence it could assert under its jurisdiction.

The dossier says: “Uighur victims have been unlawfully deported into Xinjiang from Tajikistan and Cambodia and then subjected to crimes together with many other Uighurs detained there, including murder, forced imprisonment, torture, forced birth control and sterilisation, rape and forced marriages.”

The Biden administration has said that crimes carried out against Muslim minorities in Xinjiang amount to genocide, a position endorsed by the British, Dutch and Canadian parliaments. China vehemently denies the charge of genocide, calling it “ludicrous”. Japan and Australia expressed “serious concerns” about Beijing’s abuses against Uighur Muslims in a joint declaration before the G7 summit in Cornwall, which begins tomorrow.

Lawyers have asked the ICC to draw on a precedent set in 2018 that allowed the court to investigate Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims, despite Myanmar not being a member of the court, since they had been deported to Bangladesh, which is a member state.