Two days after Abdujelil Emet sat in the public gallery of Germany’s parliament during a hearing on human rights, he received a phone call from his sister for the first time in three years. But the call from Xinjiang
, in western China, was anything but a joyous family chat. It was made at the direction of Chinese security officers, part of a campaign by Beijing to silence criticism of policies that have seen more than a million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities detained in internment camps.
Emet’s sister began by praising the Communist party and making claims of a much improved life under its guidance before delivering a shock: his brother had died a year earlier. But Emet, 54, was suspicious from the start; he had never given his family his phone number. Amid the heartbreaking news and sloganeering, he could hear a flurry of whispers in the background, and he demanded to speak to the unknown voice. Moments later the phone was handed to a Chinese official who refused to identify himself.
By the end of the conversation, the façade constructed by the Chinese security agent was broken and Emet’s sister wept as she begged him to stop his activism. Then the Chinese official took the phone again with a final warning.
“You’re living overseas, but you need to think of your family while you’re running around doing your activism work in Germany
,” he said. “You need to think of their safety.”
In interviews with more than two dozen Uighurs living across Europe and the United States, tales of threats across the world are the rule, not the exception. Uighurs living in Germany, the Netherlands
, Finland, Sweden, and France all complained of similar threats against family members back in Xinjiang, and some were asked to spy for China.
The Chinese government should not use my family to threaten me
More than a million Uighurs, a Muslim Turkic ethnic group, and other minorities are being held in extrajudicial internment camps, according to the UN
, with some estimates
saying the number is “closer to 3 million”.
Emet, originally from Aksu in Xinjiang, has lived in Germany for over two decades and is a naturalised citizen. He does volunteer work for the World Uyghur Congress and is a part-time imam in his community. He has never told his family about his activism, hoping the omission would protect them.
“I will not keep my silence and the Chinese government should not use my family to threaten me,” Emet said. “I was clear with them on the phone: if they harm my family, I will speak out louder and become a bigger problem for the government.”