Ethnic Uyghur men take part in a protest against China, in front of the Caglayan Courthouse, in Istanbul, Turkey, on Jan. 4, 2022. (Dilara Senkaya/Reuters)
On December 4, President Xi Jinping gave his first public speech on religion in five years, blandly reemphasizing his “ Sinicization” policy of “actively guiding religions to adapt to the socialist society.” In practice, Xi’s policies toward religious groups are far more wrathful.
Documents leaked to the New York Times include Xi’s private speeches in which he called for Chinese Communist Party cadres to “balance” the demographics in Xinjiang and show “no mercy” toward its minority communities of Uyghur and other ethnic Muslims -- a directive realized in the ongoing Uyghur genocide that features brutal birth prevention measures, mass internment, forced labor and cultural destruction. With the other “legal” religions of Catholics, Protestants and Buddhists, Sinicization is enforced through a strangling web of administrative restrictions aimed to quietly turn their institutions into mere instruments of CCP indoctrination, surveillance, and control.
Beijing goes to great lengths to hide this religious repression from the rest of the world. It enforces strict censorship and bars independent human rights investigators. It deceptively explains Xinjiang’s vast network of concentration camps, documented by Western satellites, as “vocational training centers” to end poverty and terror. To reports of Uyghur women being forced to undergo abortions and sterilizations, Xi’s ambassador in Washington retorted in a tweet that China promotes “reproductive health,” to liberate women from being “baby making machines.”
The CCP is also intensifying its infamous policy of punishing domestic human rights reporters, critics, and defense lawyers. These dissidents perhaps constitute China’s largest group of prisoners of conscience, after religious believers and practitioners, themselves. Ahead of the Olympic Games, Beijing even preemptively rounded up two well- known Chinese rights activists. Religious freedom defense lawyer Xie Yang and free speech advocate Yang Maodong were detained separately, both on “inciting subversion” charges.
Astonishingly, Chinese nationals who dissent and report on abuses from ostensibly safe havens overseas are increasingly being hunted out by the CCP for intimidation and punishment. According to a new report by the Spanish NGO, Safeguard Defenders, Beijing has forcibly repatriated some 10,000 Chinese nationals by extra-judicial means, since 2014, many, if not most, being regime critics. Under government operations Fox Hunt and Sky Net, the CCP uses kidnapping and intimidation to force dissidents back to China, the report finds.
Last summer, the Associated Press interviewed Wu Huan, who reports that she was kidnapped and held in a CCP secret or “black” jail in Dubai. Now seeking asylum in the Netherlands, she was forced to denounce her Chinese fiancé who had criticized Beijing’s policies. In the jail, she met two Chinese Uyghur Muslims. The Uyghur Human Rights Project documented 1,327 Uyghurs detained or deported to China from 20 countries, since 2014.
Beijing also issues red notices, international arrest alerts through Interpol, to extradite Uyghurs and others abroad. Uyghur rights advocate Idris Hasan, for example, is awaiting deportation from Morocco, having lost his extradition case in December, despite a plea for him from the UN Committee Against Torture. China is currently working to place its own security officer on Interpol’s policy committee to gain greater control over the international police.
Expat Uyghurs, such as Gulbahar Haitwaji, report being lured back to China for punishment. Living with her family in France, she was persuaded to visit China by a man who telephoned, saying he was with her former employer, an oil company in Xinjiang. Upon her arrival in Xinjiang, she was shown a photo of her daughter at a Paris protest against Xinjiang repression. Gulbahar was then given the identity of “Prisoner Number 9” and incarcerated in a concentration camp for three years, where she was prevented from praying, indoctrinated for 11 hours a day, slapped and forcibly sterilized.
Chinese dissidents overseas are commonly reported to be spied on, threatened, bullied, and beaten in an attempt to silence them by CCP agents and supporters. In November, former Hong Kong Legislative Council Member and pro-democracy leader Nathan Law, now in refuge in the UK, accused the CCP of organizing clandestine “United Front” operations in London. He called for a probe into a pro-Beijing rally, after rally participants beat up pro-democracy counter-protesters from Hong Kong and rewards were offered on social media for doxxing Law by revealing his home address.
In December, Purdue University president Mitch Daniels warned the university community of an “atmosphere of intimidation” aimed at Purdue’s Chinese students critical of Beijing and banned attempts to deny students’ rights or to “collude with foreign governments in repressing them.” A Purdue grad student who supported the 1989 Tiananmen protests online had been harassed by other Chinese students and reported to China’s State Security, which paid a visit to his family in China. Confucius institutes have also been linked to Beijing and cited for unwanted influence in American schools and campuses, by the US Secretaries of State and Education, in 2020.
While the harshest treatment is reserved for its Chinese national critics, Beijing will take reprisals against non-Chinese who oppose its religious repression, as seen with recent financial sanctions against the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, the State Department’s religious freedom ambassador and several Congressmen. American chipmaker Intel was pressured to remove a posting of its letter to suppliers, prompted by Uyghur forced labor concerns, that it would not use Xinjiang-sourced goods. Athletes should be wary using the China-required Olympic app, which Canadian Citizens’ Lab proved is not secure and is coded to flag for hackers the words “Xinjiang” and “Hong Kong”.
The CCP cover up is making it harder to know the full extent of its religious and other repression. But the sheer scale of abuse and the undaunted courage of Chinese dissidents ensure that its tyranny will continue being exposed worldwide.
Copyright 2022 Nina Shea, The Hudson Institute