In a recent interview, when presented with evidence that China was committing genocide against the Uyghurs (including imprisonment in camps, torture, forced sterilization, and the destruction of mosques), Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan responded that according to “our conversations…with the Chinese, this is not the case, according to them.”
When the interview later called China’s treatment of the Uyghurs“ a grotesquely large human rights atrocity,” Khan responded, “I’m not sure about that.”
Pakistan is one of several Muslim-majority states that have been running interference for China’s human rights violations against the Muslim Uyghurs. According to the recent report No Space Left to Run by the Uyghur Human Rights Project and the Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs, Pakistan joins Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Syria as Muslim-majority nations that have signed two letters of support (one in 2019 and one in 2020) to the UN supporting China’s actions in the Uyghur region (Xinjiang). Additionally, the report also mentions that Muslim-majority nations Morocco, Tajikistan and Qatar have all signed one of those letters.
More disturbingly, according to this report China has been leveraging several Muslim-majority nations to act as co-conspirators in human rights violations of Muslim Uyghurs via “transnational repression” beyond China’s borders. Such transnational repression is further defined into three stages in increasing severity. The report stated that in Stage 1 repression, the Uyghur is “put on notice.” During Stage 2 repression, he is arrested or detained. Stage 3 repression is of an “end game” nature, including “formal extradition, informal rendition, disappearance, serious attack and assassination.” As the report highlights, Muslim-majority nations dominated the list of nations that have the most documented instances of Stage 2 and 3 transnational repression of Uyghurs. Specifically, Turkey had the second highest number (with 399 cases), Egypt came in third (with 231 cases), Malaysia fourth (188 cases), Kyrgyzstan fifth (75), Pakistan sixth (57), Afghanistan seventh (40), and Kazakhstan eighth (23).
Muslim-majority states with bilateral extradition treaties with China, who also have documented cases of transnational repression of Uyghurs include: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Tajikistan, and Turkey (Turkey’s extradition treaty is pending parliamentary ratification).
The report gave several specific examples of Muslim-majority nations engaging in transnational repression of Uyghurs. In Kazakhstan, security forces arrested Uyghur activist Serikhzhan Bilash in March 2019, and was released in August 2019. According to the report, “Bilash had been providing the world with a window into China’s mass internment of Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples in the Uyghur Region through his work with Atajurt, a human rights organization in Almaty.” As a condition of his release, he pled guilty to his charges and promised to stop his activism.
Egypt is involved in the transnational repression as well. According to the report, Egypt detained over 200 Uyghurs, many of them students, starting in 2017. China then forced their relatives in the Uyghur region to call at least many of them, in an attempt to bring the students back to China. The report estimates that 57 of these Uyghurs were imprisoned in China following their return. Additionally, that same year a Uyghur man who had recently returned to the Uyghur region from Kyrgyzstan was pressured by China to persuade his two sons to return from Egypt, after which all three of them were arrested.
Saudi Arabia has also repatriated least six Uyghurs to China in the past four years. According to the report, these Uyghurs were residing in Saudi Arabia legally or on pilgrimage to Mecca. Saudi Arabia detained one Uyghur, Osman Ahmat, for six months before being sent back to China in February 2019. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman even publically supported China’s policy towards the Uyghurs in 2019.
Turkey has softened its criticism of China and has increased detentions of Uyghurs, especially since 2017, reaching a high water mark of 201 detentions in 2019 alone, according to the study.
Several Muslim-majority states are now carrying water for Chinese repression of the Uyghurs.
By providing diplomatic cover, and in some cases engaging in the repression themselves, some Muslim-majority nations are furthering China’s malevolent aims on the global stage.
You can follow Steve Postal on Twitter @HebraicMosaic