Restoring Freedom and Independence to East Turkistan and its People

THE TIMES: Evidence of exiled Uighurs’ abduction adds to pressure for investigation of Beijing

The below article was published by The Times, photo credit: GARRY LOTULUNG/REX FEATURES

Evidence of China’s campaign to abduct and forcibly return Uighurs who have fled overseas will be presented to the International Criminal Court (ICC) today amid warnings that time is running out to save the Uighur people from obliteration.

Lawyers for Uighur exiles want the court to open an investigation into Beijing’s abuses in Xinjiang province in northwest China, based on the forced disappearances and returns of Uighurs from foreign countries, to circumvent the fact that China is not an ICC member.

The same principle was applied to investigate Myanmar’s persecution of the Rohingya people, who were forced across the border into Bangladesh. The ICC is also investigating Russia’s alleged abduction of thousands of Ukrainian civilians who have disappeared across the frontier.

“The gravity of mass deportations and disappearances has rightly been recognised by the ICC prosecutor in stating that his office will gather evidence of Ukrainians being sent into Russia,” Rodney Nixon QC, the British barrister leading the case, said. “Similarly such evidence should be assembled and reviewed by the ICC for Uighurs and others being forced into China from ICC territories.”

The evidence being presented to the court includes a first-hand account from a witness who escaped one of the detention camps in Xinjiang, where detainees were routinely warned that they would be tracked down and returned should they escape abroad.

It follows previous submissions detailing the abduction of Uighurs from Tajikistan and Cambodia, including the shrinking of the Uighur population in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, from 3,000 to 100 over ten years, thanks to Beijing’s returns policy.

The witness, now in the United States, recounts that “daily announcement in the camps threatened detainees that they will never be able to escape the reach of the Chinese state if they went abroad and that they would be tracked down and forced back into China”.

Names of “wanted” Uighurs were broadcast on televisions in the camp alongside announcements and images of people who had been forced back to China. Detainees were promised rewards for information helping to identify and locate those who were missing. Footage of Uighurs being hooded and forced on to aircraft was aired as a warning to anyone thinking of fleeing the country.

The witness recounts the harsh treatment he and others received on their return to Xinjiang, including torture in which victims are locked in a “tiger chair”, unable to move while being shocked with electric prods. He also describes forced medical procedures, including injection with an unknown substance.

Today’s submission is the third tranche of evidence sent to the Hague in an effort to persuade the chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, to investigate genocide and crimes against humanity committed against the Uighur population.

Lawyers have been forced to rely on China’s actions in countries where the ICC has jurisdiction rather than solely on the mounting evidence of atrocities. The submission notes that China’s “rounding-up strategy is typical of state authorities that seek to destroy in whole or part another racial, ethnic or religious group”.

“The strategy has parallels to plans in genocides in which victims were rounded up from where they lived and deported into the territory of the perpetrator where they would be targeted,” it continues.

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. Some are never seen again.

The complaint to the court 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.

Salih Hudayar, the prime minister of the East Turkistan government in exile, warned that time was running out to save the Uighurs from China’s attempts to erase them.

Since Beijing began its crackdown in Xinjiang in 2014, 850,000 Uighur children have been taken from their parents and sent to boarding schools where they are indoctrinated out of their Uighur identity and taught to be Chinese citizens.

“It’s an entire generation,” Hudayer said. “We are running out of time to save the Uighur people. If the ICC does not act soon to open this investigation, there may no longer be any Uighurs left to help.”

More than 100 of Hudayer’s extended family have been imprisoned in Xinjiang as a result of his activism abroad. “Either I betray my family or I betray my entire nation,” he explained. “We either push back or we accept and die.”

The new submission comes after a widely condemned visit to China by the United Nations human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, which Hudayer called “a disaster” after she allowed Beijing to stage-manage what she saw of Xinjiang and failed to roundly condemn China’s actions. Bachelet subsequently announced that she would not seek a second term in her role.

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