Uighurs in Australia fear retaliation from China for speaking out about 'ethnic genocide'

Representatives from the Uighur community in Australia have told a parliamentary committee about their fears of retaliation for speaking out about the “ethnic genocide” unfolding in northwest China’s Xinjiang region.

Members of Australia's Uighur community protest outside the Chinese consulate in Melbourne.

Members of Australia's Uighur community protest outside the Chinese consulate in Melbourne. Source: AAP

Uighur representatives in Australia have warned a parliamentary inquiry the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is using intimidation and harassment to silence dissent from their community that is deemed a threat to its regime.

China is accused of forcing more than one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities into re-education camps in its remote Xinjiang region. 

But Beijing has repeatedly rejected the assertions, describing the facilities as job training centres aimed at steering people away from terrorism.

Members of Australia's Uighur community have told a Senate inquiry about the “intimidation and harassment” they face.
Source: AP

Uighur representatives told a parliamentary committee on Friday that members of their community continue to fear speaking out over fears of retaliation.

Uyghur Association of Victoria president Alim Osman said Chinese authorities have adopted a “divide and conquer” strategy using proxy-groups and individuals to attempt to sow disunity among their community.  

“Uighurs have come to Australia to seek safety but many continue to be harassed by the Chinese Communist Party and feel unable to voice their opinions,” he told the committee.

“From espionage to fake social media accounts, the Chinese Communist Party makes a concerted effort to sabotage the Uighur movement by causing disharmony among community members.”

The parliamentary inquiry is examining the challenges confronted by diaspora communities in Australia, including concerns over the rising threat of interference coming from foreign governments. 

Mr Osman shared a quote from his wife to the committee to demonstrate the concerns being felt by his community.

"I have left my homeland but I continue to live in fear. If I speak out for my people in my homeland, I am afraid of retaliation on my family left behind," he told the committee.

"If I don't speak out, I feel guilty of keeping the freedom and democracy all just to myself in a free country."

The Uighur representatives recounted to the committee their continued horror at the “ethnic genocide” unfolding in northwest China’s Xinjiang region.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne has raised serious concerns about the treatment of Uighurs in China directly with government counterparts.

But the Uyghur Association of Victoria and Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Women’s Association are calling on Australia to do more to address the human rights concerns.

This includes advocating for the boycotting of companies determined to be using “slave labour” conducted in the Xinjiang region and seeking to export products to Australia.

Uighur Australians are concerned about the persecution of their people back in China.
Source: AAP

This week, the NSW government tasked a government department with investigating revelations a company contracted to build trains in Sydney and Melbourne had been identified as a beneficiary of Uighur labour and recently blacklisted by the United States.

“Australia needs to work with international governments to speak up with one voice,” Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Women’s Association Ramila Chanisheff told the commitee.

“We need to stay our ground … we can't saviour profits over people's lives - they are talking about eradicating a whole nation - a whole ethnic group - this is absurd.”

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) last month warned of the threat posed by foreign governments targeting multicultural groups in Australia through threats of intimidation and harm.

Refugee Council of Australia CEO Paul Power told the committee the concerns extended across many at-risk multicultural communities.

“It is definitely clear that governments in a number of countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia are actively working in diaspora communities to harass and intimidate people who are perceived as critics of those governments,” he said.

However, Wang Xining, the deputy head of China’s embassy in Australia, told the National Press Club in August that China held no interest in interfering in Australia’s internal affairs.

“We are not trying to turn Australia into the People’s Republic of Australia,” Mr Wang said.

“We’re not asking Hungry Jacks to sell Chinese dumplings.”

Chinese authorities have also been accused of carrying out forced sterilisations of Uighur and other ethnic minority women, according to a study published in June. Beijing has similarly strongly denied these allegations.

Published 9 October 2020 at 1:35pm, updated 9 October 2020 at 1:42pm
By Tom Stayner