Muslims who escaped China’s crackdown in Xinjiang still live in fear, saying new homes abroad and even Western passports afford them no protection against a state-driven global campaign of intimidation.
With menacing text and voice messages, and explicit threats to relatives still living in Xinjiang, China’s powerful state security apparatus has extended its reach to Uighurs living in liberal democracies as far away as New Zealand and US, in a bid to silence activists and recruit informants.
The Communist Party’s dragnet in Xinjiang has swept an estimated one million ethnic Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities into “vocational education centres” that numerous studies and reports have exposed as harsh internment camps.
For those who managed to get out and settle overseas, the search for a true safe haven has remained elusive as they complain they and their families have been remotely harried and harassed to the point of desperation.
Guly Mahsut, who fled to Canada, says she became suicidal and was hospitalised after being bombarded with messages from Xinjiang police threatening her family in the troubled province.
“You should have been more cooperative. Don’t become the source of misfortune for your relatives and family in Toksun. You should be more considerate of your family,” read one message, allegedly from an official named “Kaysar”.
The 37-year-old believes she was targeted because she spoke out against authorities online, and has helped stateless Uighurs seek help abroad.
She received messages from relatives -- including her younger sister -- pleading with her to “cooperate” with authorities.
Mahsut is one of more than a dozen Uighur exiles AFP interviewed across four continents that gave access to scores of text and voice messages -- purportedly from Chinese security operatives -- demanding their silence or cooperation.
Shir Muhammad Hasan managed to get to Australia in 2017. Having secured refugee status, he thought he was safe. Little more than a year later, the sinister messages began to arrive.
The assault has led some Uighurs -- even those with foreign nationality or permanent residency abroad -- to believe nowhere is safe from China’s police state.