China is allegedly using the families of Uyghurs living abroad as leverage to gain intelligence on human rights activists, according to research. The country is said to be employing tactics known as ‘transnational repression’, such as orchestrating closely-monitored video calls with family members in China, in exchange for overseas compliance.
- China is reportedly pressuring Uyghurs in foreign countries, including the UK and Turkey, to spy on human rights campaigners by threatening their families who still live in China. These tactics of ‘transnational repression’ include tightly controlled access to family members back home via video calls, and the threat of repercussions if overseas Uyghurs don’t comply.
- Alim, a pseudonym, is a Uyghur refugee in the UK who reported being pressured by a Chinese police officer to gather intelligence about Uyghur human rights activists, with implied threats to his family in China.
- Dr. David Tobin and his colleague Nyrola Elimä have conducted extensive research on the topic, suggesting that all Uyghurs living outside China are victims of transnational repression. Their research indicated that among 48 Uyghurs surveyed in the UK, two-thirds reported direct contact by Chinese police pressuring them to spy or refrain from advocacy work.
- This tactic extends beyond Uyghur diaspora. US-born activist, Julie Millsap, working with the Uyghur Human Rights Project, experienced pressure through her in-laws in China, despite her husband being of Han Chinese descent.
- The US government has begun to address the issue, with senators introducing the Transnational Repression Policy Act, aiming to counter such abuses. Other Uyghur rights campaigners argue for further measures, such as direct confrontations with the Chinese government whenever a case is reported. China, however, has denied these allegations of transnational repression as “totally groundless”.