Cruel Treatments

Strong Evidence That Beijing’s Policies Meet the Criteria for Genocide of the Uyghur People

Strong Evidence That Beijing’s Policies Meet the Criteria for Genocide of the Uyghur People

Strong Evidence That Beijing’s Policies Meet the Criteria for Genocide of the Uyghur People

Chinese Flag Barbed Wire

Uyghur population policies could lead to 4.5 million lives lost by 2040, according to study.

A new study out today provides the most compelling evidence to-date that China is deliberately reducing its population of Uyghurs – a Muslim minority ethnic group – through enforced birth control, forced displacement of citizens, and internment in sinister ‘re-education camps.’


World-leading expert on the topic and lead author of the new paper, Dr. Adrian Zenz, suggests this campaign to destroy an ethnic minority population could class as genocide under the 1948 U.N. Genocide Convention.

His findings, published in the peer-reviewed journal Central Asian Survey, also show it could also cost a potential 2.6 to 4.5 million lives by the year 2040.

There are more than 10 million Uyghurs living in Xinjiang, an autonomous territory in northwest China. Predominantly Muslim, they speak a Turkic language and more closely resemble the peoples of Central Asia than they do China’s majority population, the Han Chinese.

In 2018, research by Dr. Zenz, Senior Fellow in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, uncovered compelling evidence that up to one million Uyghur people were detained in what the Chinese state defines as “re-education” camps.

China initially denied the existence of the camps, before defending them as a necessary measure against terrorism following separatist violence in the Xinjiang region.

However, a series of leaked official documents make clear that many of those detained are accused only of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas.

In 2020, Dr. Zenz published a further study revealing that Xinjiang authorities are administering unknown drugs and injections to Uyghur women in detention, forcibly implanting them with intrauterine contraceptive devices (IUDs), coercing women to accept surgical sterilization, and using detention as punishment for birth control violations.

Now in this new study, Dr. Zenz provides further evidence of a sustained, organized campaign to reduce population growth amongst Muslim Uyghurs, using birth control as well as other measures.

His findings provide the strongest evidence yet that Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang meet the criteria for genocide, as cited in the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

In the study, Zenz systematically analyses a trove of publicly available documents in Xinjiang, alongside articles written by prominent academics in the region. Throughout, he finds a common narrative revealing a wish to “optimize” the ethnic population structure in Xinjiang.

This instruction comes right from the top, with the central government in Beijing “attaching great importance to the problem of Xinjiang’s population structure and population security.”

In most cases, the need to ‘optimize’ the Uyghur people is seen as key response to a perceived terrorism threat in the region. Zenz cites prominent academics and public officials in Southern Xinjiang who have publicly argued that to reduce terrorism, changes in the population structure need to be made so that the Uyghur are no longer the dominant ethnic group.

As well as rhetoric, the study reveals the presence of a state-run scheme to forcibly uproot, assimilate, and reduce the population density of Uyghur people. A string of extremely draconian measures have been introduced by the Chinese government since 2017, ranging from mass internment of Uyghurs for political re-education, to systematic birth prevention, mass sterilization, and forced displacement.

The expressed goal of these measures is to ‘optimize’ southern Xinjiang’s population structure by increasing the number of Han Chinese and decreasing the number of Uyghurs in the region.

As a consequence, natural population growth in Xinjiang has declined dramatically in recent years, with growth rates falling by 84% in the two largest Uyghur prefectures between 2015 and 2018, and declining further in 2019, according to the paper. In comparison, the birth rate in Han majority counties declined by only 19.7 percent.

Zenz argues that in order to ‘optimize’ the ethnic population, Beijing will increase southern Xinjiang’s Han population share to 25 percent. In doing so, he estimates that birth prevention could result in a potential loss of between 2.6 and 4.5 million lives by the year 2040.

“My study reveals the presence of a long-term strategy by Beijing to solve the Xinjiang “problem” through “optimization” of the ethnic population structure,” says Dr. Adrian Zenz.

“The most realistic method to achieve this involves a drastic suppression of ethnic minority birth rates for the coming decades, resulting in a potential loss of several million lives. A smaller ethnic minority population will also be easier to police, control, and assimilate.”

“The most concerning aspect of this strategy is that ethnic minority citizens are framed as a “problem”. This language is akin to purported statements by Xinjiang officials that problem populations are like “weeds hidden among the crops” where the state will “need to spray chemicals to kill them all. Such a framing of an entire ethnic group is highly concerning.”

Reference: “End the dominance of the Uyghur ethnic group’: an analysis of Beijing’s population optimization strategy in southern Xinjiang” by Adrian Zenz 25 August 2021, Central Asian Survey.
DOI: 10.1080/02634937.2021.1946483 


Xinjiang: Relatives of Refugees Who Speak Abroad Manipulated, Jailed, Tortured

Xinjiang: Relatives of Refugees Who Speak Abroad Manipulated, Jailed, Tortured

Xinjiang: Relatives of Refugees Who Speak Abroad Manipulated, Jailed, Tortured

Those who managed to escape tell the truth about the horror of the camps. The CCP compels their relatives to denounce them, those who don’t end up in jail.

by Ruth Ingram

Khalmat Rozakhon addressing the Uyghur Tribunal concerning his imprisoned brother.
Khalmat Rozakhon addressing the Uyghur Tribunal concerning his imprisoned brother.

A catalogue of sadistic brutality is reserved for the families of victims of the CCP’s internment regime who dare to speak out. Elaborate games of cat and mouse, humiliation and mental cruelty have characterized life for the families and dear ones of those taken from them at dead of night or simply vanished after being called in for questioning by police.

Witnesses giving evidence in June at the first session of the Uyghur Tribunal, were mercilessly humiliated and attacked by CCP-orchestrated panels of Xinjiang-based relatives and colleagues on national television, coerced into speaking against them.

The three who testified on behalf of their relatives during the second session, represent the many Uyghurs and Kazakhs among the diaspora who have found it impossible to get to the truth about the fate of their loved ones, and dared to come forward.

A young bride hears that her husband of barely a year will not be coming back for twenty-five years. He begs her to wait for him. A brother studying in Japan is broken during a forced video call seeing the swollen neck and weakened body of an elder brother forced to denounce his so-called anti-China activities. The message was clear, spy for China and inform on his Uyghur colleagues in Japan, or be prepared never to see his brother again. A son, heartbroken by the disappearance of his father, a prominent Uyghur intellectual, silent for four years, is campaigning for the release of hundreds of other Uyghur academics who have also vanished over the past four years. He is crushed by the trickle of news that has confirmed the deaths of 43 of them, either in captivity or shortly after their release. Many of them were in their seventies or eighties.

Exiles who live in the democratic world, live a half life of waiting and hoping. There might be an occasional glimmer of light during a staged telephone call, only to be snatched away and darkness descend once more. They are threatened by the CCP, ridiculed and character-assassinated by loved ones who are forced to parade on state media to discredit their evidence, and live with the daily torture of guilt, self recrimination and doubt wondering how best to help. Very few of them ever manage to move on.

Bahram Sintash’s father was everything the state could have wanted from a Uyghur citizen. He was a fluent Mandarin speaking, prominent Uyghur intellectual, and former editor-in-chief of the Communist Party-controlled Uighur journal “Xinjiang Civilization.” A CCP member, he was known for selecting works by the region’s most influential writers on Uyghur culture, history, politics, and social development for publication. All his work was approved and passed Party censorship with flying colors.

Bahram Sintash being questioned on his witness statements concerning destructions of mosques and the fate of Uyghur intellectuals, including his own father whom he has not heard from for four years.
Bahram Sintash being questioned on his witness statements concerning destructions of mosques and the fate of Uyghur intellectuals, including his own father whom he has not heard from for four years.

“As a retired 71-year-old who spent decades building a professional career, he is not in need of further ‘vocational training,’” said Sintash, stressing the fact that he had always worked under strict government scrutiny. “To publish important works on Uyghur culture and Uyghur society in the magazine, he always had to know the red line in the eyes of the government at that time. He had to work very close to the red line to publish those important works and sensitive topics from Uyghur authors.” He labored without incident for twenty-five years before retiring in 2011.

Six years later in 2017 the “red line” suddenly moved, and violators were retrospectively sanctioned. Sintash now has no idea whether his father is alive or dead. A constant reminder of the danger his father is daily are the stories of deaths of his colleagues and close friends coming out of the camps.

Bahram Sintash’s presentation to the tribunal of intellectuals who have died or been sentenced to death by the CCP in Xinjiang.
Bahram Sintash’s presentation to the tribunal of intellectuals who have died or been sentenced to death by the CCP in Xinjiang.

Mehray Mezensof’s mother found the perfect match for her daughter, whom she gave birth to and raised in Australia. Through a matchmaking site she found Mirzat Taher, three years her senior, living in Urumqi. They met in Turkey where he went to study in 2014, married in Urumqi in 2017, and planned a future together in Australia. Two days before they were about to fly out, he was taken away by police, tortured, and interrogated for six months. A series of false alarms, hope raising telephone and video calls proved to be part of the psychological tactics to break detainees, and they did not see each other again for two years.

Mehray Mezensof, Australian-born Uyghur, appealing on behalf of her husband whose twenty five year prison sentence for
Mehray Mezensof, Australian-born Uyghur, appealing on behalf of her husband whose twenty five year prison sentence for “separatism” she heard about this year.

Endless memorization of Communist ideology, national songs, and self criticisms, combined with meagre rations, unhygienic and humiliating sanitary arrangements filled his days. “Detainees were told they would never go home, they would never see their loved ones again, and the only way they would get out was in a body bag,” she said. Meals which were passed through a small opening in the door were only given after detainees knelt on the ground and sang a song. “Anyone who couldn’t or wouldn’t sing the song was left to starve.”

Hooded and bent double in shackles, prisoners were transferred between facilities, medical examinations were carried out on arrival, and nights were spent listening to the screams of those undergoing torture in neighboring cells.

Daily reporting to the police characterized his eventual release, combined with harassing phone calls and random summons to their headquarters. When Mehray’s six month visa came to an end, she was forced to return to Australia but in May 2020 their correspondence came to an abrupt end. She later heard he had been released for a month, but taken again by police who had travelled 600 kms especially to arrest him. Since September 2020 there has been complete silence.

Through contacts in Urumqi, she heard this April that he had been sentenced to 25 years. His crime, involvement in separatist activities while in Turkey, which he denies.

Khalmat Rozakhon decided to stay on in Japan after completing a university degree in 2019. In May 2020, he had a surprise call from his brother in Xinjiang. There were obvious sign of his having been beaten on his face and neck, and security officials were lurking in the background. His brother vehemently denied torture and urged Rozakhon not to speak against the CCP. “Don’t go to protest,” he had urged his brother, “the policy of Xi Jinping is good, China’s policy is good.”

Khalmat Rozakhon showing his brother’s swollen face while answering panel legal counsel, Aarif Abraham’s, questions.
Khalmat Rozakhon showing his brother’s swollen face while answering panel legal counsel, Aarif Abraham’s, questions.

One of the officials made it clear that in exchange for information about the activities of the Uyghur Association in Tokyo, his brother’s safety would be secured. He also promised to help expedite his Japanese residency through high level contacts in the embassy. “‘We want to be your friend,’ the official had said, but his tone was intimidating,” said Rozakhon. “The last 30 minutes of that call made me feel like being burned in hell fire,” he said.

He pretended to go along with the police and set up a further interview, but determined to expose the activities and duplicity of the CCP, he arranged for Japanese media to record the video call and broadcast it to the country. He was well aware of the dangers to his family of going public, but he felt he was left with no alternative. “I have no intention to become a hero. The only way of saving my brother is to let the whole word know the truth,” he said. “They are taking my brother hostage and making me do things against my will.”

“The world is realizing the evil nature of China,” he said, quoting the case of Mehray Erkin who returned from Japan at the request of her family and died in detention. “I trust the only way to safeguard the safety of our families in East Turkestan is through letting the world know the real situation.”


As China woos the Taliban, Uyghurs in Afghanistan fear for their lives

As China woos the Taliban, Uyghurs in Afghanistan fear for their lives

As China woos the Taliban, Uyghurs in Afghanistan fear for their lives

Updated 6:32 AM ET, Sun September 5, 2021

(CNN)Tuhan’s family crossed the border from China’s western Xinjiang region to Afghanistan 45 years ago to escape persecution.

Now, as the Taliban exerts control over the country, she fears she and other ethnic Uyghurs could be sent back to China by members of the militant group keen to curry favor with Beijing, which has been accused of carrying out a genocide on the Muslim minority.
Tuhan, who is using a pseudonym to protect her identity from the Taliban, is caught between a homeland where Uyghurs are facing increasing repression, and an adopted country where they are considered outsiders.
What worries them most is that they could be deported to China.
Over the past few years, the Chinese government has escalated its security and religious crackdown in Xinjiang. Up to 2 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are believed to have passed through a sprawling network of detention centers across the region, according to the US State Department.
Former detainees allege they were subjected to intense political indoctrination, forced labor, torture, and even sexual abuse. China vehemently denies allegations of human rights abuses, insisting the camps are voluntary “vocational training centers” designed to stamp out religious extremism and terrorism.
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Tuhan said she fears what will happen to her and her family if they’re forced to return.
“All these past years, life was difficult … But what is happening now is the worst,” she said, referring to the Taliban takeover. “It is just a matter of time before (the Taliban) find out that we are Uyghurs. Our lives are in danger.”

“China refugee”

Tuhan was just 7 years old when she and her parents fled Yarkand, an oasis on the ancient Silk Road near the Chinese border with Afghanistan.
At the time, Kabul was known as the “Paris of the East,” and for ethnic Uyghurs, it was a sanctuary from China’s Cultural Revolution, a decade of political and social turmoil from 1966 to 1976, during which Islam — like all other religions — was harshly cracked down upon.
Tuhan and her family have lived in Afghanistan for decades.
Tuhan is one of up to 3,000 Uyghurs in Afghanistan, according to Sean Roberts, a professor at George Washington University and author of “The War on the Uyghurs,” making them a tiny minority in the country of more than 37 million.
Many of them fled China after the Communist Party took control of Xinjiang in 1949. Some — like Tuhan — migrated in the mid-1970s, during the chaos of the last years of the Cultural Revolution, crossing mountain passes in the south of Xinjiang to seek refuge, Roberts said.
Many of the Uyghurs now hold Afghan citizenship, but their identification cards still identify them as Chinese refugees — including second generation immigrants, according to an ID photo shared with CNN and accounts of two Uyghurs.
Abdul Aziz Naseri, whose parents fled Xinjiang in 1976, said his ID still identifies him as a “China refugee,” even though he was born in Kabul.
Naseri, who now lives in Turkey, said he has collected the names of more than 100 Uyghur families who want to flee Afghanistan.
“They’re afraid from China, because the Taliban was dealing with China behind the door. And they are afraid to (be) sent back to China,” he said.

A “good friend”

There’s reason for Uyghurs in Afghanistan to be worried, say experts.
In July, a Taliban delegation paid a high-profile visit to Tianjin, where they met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Wang called the Taliban “an important military and political force in Afghanistan” and declared that they would play “an important role in the country’s peace, reconciliation and reconstruction process.”
In return, the Taliban called China a “good friend” and pledged to “never allow any forces to use the Afghan territory to engage in acts detrimental to China,” according to a statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry on the meeting.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's political chief, in Tianjin, northern China on July 28.
And last week, a Taliban spokesperson called for closer relations with Beijing in an interview with Chinese state broadcaster CGTN.
“China is a very important and strong country in our neighborhood, and we have had very positive and good relations with China in the past,” Zabihullah Mujahid said. “We want to make these relations even stronger and want to improve the mutual trust level.”
Roberts said Uyghurs’ fears the Taliban could deport them to China to gain more favor with Beijing were legitimate.
“(The Taliban) have a lot of reasons to try to ingratiate Beijing in terms of gaining international recognition, in terms of getting financial assistance at the time when most of the international community is not giving them financial assistance,” he said.
Tuhan’s concern over potentially being forced to return to China is deepened by Beijing’s increasingly aggressive efforts in recent years to bring overseas Uyghurs back to Xinjiang, including from Muslim countries.
CNN has collected more than a dozen accounts detailing the alleged detention and deportation of Uyghurs at China’s request in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
In a report published in June, the Uyghur Human Rights Project said there were least 395 cases of Uyghurs being deported, extradited, or rendered back to China from countries across the world since 1997.
In a statement to CNN, China’s Foreign Ministry called the Uyghur Human Rights Project an “outright anti-China separatist organization.”
“The so-called data and reports released by them have no impartiality and credibility, and are not worth refuting at all,” it said.
Hear from families of Uyghurs deported to China from Middle East
Hear from families of Uyghurs deported to China from Middle East 08:54

Cracking down on militants

The Chinese government has a long history of engaging with the Taliban, dating back to the late 1990s, when the militant group last controlled Afghanistan.
Beijing has repeatedly urged the Taliban to crack down on Uyghur militants in Afghanistan, primarily the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which it has blamed for almost every terror attack or violent incident in Xinjiang and other parts of the country.
During his July meeting with Taliban officials in Tianjin, Wang, the Chinese foreign minister, said ETIM “poses a direct threat to China’s state security and territory integrity.”
video released by state broadcaster CGTN in 2019 compared the ETIM to al Qaeda and ISIS, saying it “has attempted to recruit people on a massive scale, spreading a radical ideology that continues to cause chaos in many countries around the world.”
But experts say there is little independent evidence to confirm China’s claims of ETIM’s size, capabilities and influence — and there are doubts that it still exists today.
ETIM started as a small group of Uyghurs who came to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan in 1998 with the intent to establish an insurgency against Chinese rule, according to Roberts.
The Taliban initially allowed the group to settle in Afghanistan, but in an attempt to seek Chinese support amid international isolation, the Taliban assured Beijing that it would not allow any group to use its territory to conduct attacks against China.
In the 1990s and 2000s, Xinjiang saw a rise in violent attacks, which Roberts said were often spontaneous outbursts of grievances toward the Chinese government’s repressive policies. But after the 9/11 attacks, Beijing tried to reframe all those incidents as being related to Islamic terrorism directed by external groups such as ETIM, he said.
Few people had heard of ETIM until it was designated by the US government as a terrorist organization in 2002, during a period of increased anti-terrorism cooperation with China in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. That decision, however, has been questioned by experts and officials, who see it as a quid pro quo by Washington to gain Beijing’s support for the invasion of Iraq.
Last year, amid worsening US-China relations, the Trump administration delisted ETIM as a terrorist group, drawing the ire of Beijing. The US State Department said the removal was because “for more than a decade, there has been no credible evidence that ETIM continues to exist.”
ETIM’s founder Hasan Mahsum was killed in 2003 by troops in Pakistan, where he and his followers fled following the US bombing of Afghanistan. The group appears to have died with him, said Roberts.
But by 2008, a successor group to ETIM, called the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), had emerged and threatened to attack the Beijing Olympics. The group is known to be affiliated with al Qaeda and later became a key player in the Syrian civil war.
“They’ve been very prolific in terms of producing videos threatening Beijing, but there’s no evidence of them being able to carry out any attacks inside China,” Roberts said.
But the Chinese government has continued to use the existence of the TIP — which Beijing still refers to by the name ETIM — to highlight the threat of terrorism and justify its ongoing crackdown in Xinjiang, said experts and Uyghur activists.
CNN finds stranded Uyghur children in China
CNN finds stranded Uyghur children in China 15:06
“Why send a friend?”
Now in her early 50s, Tuhan lives in northern Afghanistan, making a living by tailoring people’s clothes, while her children do odd jobs, like painting neighbors’ houses, for whatever money they can get.
But even regular people like her could find themselves swept up in Beijing’s campaign against terror groups.
Roberts said it is unclear that TIP has a significant presence in Afghanistan, although a small number of its members are believed to be living in the country. If the Taliban were to deport anyone to China, it would most likely be ordinary Uyghurs rather than the TIP members they have had long-term relations with, he said.
“If they want to show Beijing they were being receptive to its demands (for repatriation), why send a friend they know when they could just send any random Uyghurs in Afghanistan and suggest they are a threat to Beijing?” Roberts said.
Despite having lived for decades in Afghanistan, the Uyghurs are considered outsiders, and unlike thousands of people airlifted to safety by the US and its allies, they have no country to help negotiate their exit.
“They don’t really have anybody to advocate on their behalf, to help them get out of the country,” Roberts said.
Tuhan said she and her family don’t even have passports, so they have limited options to leave Afghanistan, even if another country was willing to take them.
“They don’t give passport for free, and we can’t afford it. But now they have stopped issuing the passports anyway,” she said.
“It has been 45 years since we fled here. We have grown old without seeing a good day,” she said. “Hopefully our kids could have a better life. That’s all we want. We just want to be saved from this oppression.”

Who The Uyghurs Are And Why China Is Targeting Them

Who The Uyghurs Are And Why China Is Targeting Them

Who The Uyghurs Are And Why China Is Targeting Them

NPR’s history podcast Throughline bring us the story of why the Uyghur people have become the target of what many are calling a genocide in China.


The Uyghurs are a Muslim minority in China, living in Xinjiang province at a crossroads of culture and empire. Today it’s estimated that more than 1 million Uyghur people have been detained in camps, camps where they have been subjected to torture, forced labor, religious restrictions, even forced sterilization. Rund Abdelfatah and Ramtin Arablouei, the hosts of NPR’s history podcast Throughline, bring us the story of why the Uyghur people have become the target of what many are calling a genocide. We start with 9/11.


ABDUWELI AYUP: One Chinese girl, about 8 years old – she said, are you Osama bin Laden?

RUND ABDELFATAH: This is Abduweli Ayup, a Uyghur activist and poet.

AYUP: I just looked at her. Like, her eyes are very innocent. And I ask that, why do you say that? And she said, you are different with us. You look different. You look like bin Laden. I explained to her, even though she’s young. I explained that, no, I’m not bin Laden. Bin Laden is far away. He’s in Afghanistan. And he’s Arab, and he’s extremist. And I’m a university professor. For me, before Chinese public, they misunderstood Uyghur. It’s because of ignorance. They don’t know. They are innocent. But after the September 11, it changed their mindset. And in their mindset, Uyghur represented terrorist.

ABDELFATAH: Nine-eleven – the day we here in the United States know all too well. But what’s easy to forget is that the event didn’t just impact the U.S. or Afghanistan or the Middle East. In China, 9/11 triggered a major shift in the Chinese Communist Party’s view of the Uyghur people.

SEAN ROBERTS: Almost immediately after September 11, the Chinese government produced a lot of documents suggesting that it faced a serious terrorist threat from Uyghurs.

RAMTIN ARABLOUEI: This is Sean Roberts. He’s a professor at George Washington University and author of the book “The War On The Uyghurs.”

ROBERTS: These documents were somewhat fanciful and unbelievable. They tried to link about 40 diaspora groups from Europe, U.S. and Turkey to a network of terrorists funded by al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden. For about a year, the U.S. and other countries mostly ignore these claims. In fact, the U.S. even pushes back on them, saying, you know, the Uyghur issue is not a counterterrorism issue. It’s an issue about minority rights and human rights. But suddenly, in the summer of 2002, the U.S. recognizes one group from this litany of diaspora organizations in the Chinese government documents as being a terrorist organization linked with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida.

ARABLOUEI: The Uyghurs were not only othered. They found themselves on the receiving end of China’s war on terror.

ROBERTS: You do see after that kind of a license given to the state to more overtly kind of use this idea of counterterrorism as justifying their policies in the region.

ARABLOUEI: The CCP started a campaign in Xinjiang against what they called the three evils.

AYUP: Terrorism, extremism and separatism.

ARABLOUEI: Terrorism, extremism and separatism – that last one, separatism, it also included a subtle but important twist.

AYUP: Ideological separatism.

ARABLOUEI: Ideological separatism – that allowed the government to cast any acts of Uyghur cultural expression as separatism. This meant there would be…

AYUP: Ideological surveillance – for example, restrict books about Uyghur history and Uyghur culture and restrict the songs and expression about – promote Uyghur culture and Uyghur language.

ARABLOUEI: This continued throughout the 2000s until…

AYUP: What happened? July 5 happened.

ROBERTS: There’s these ethnic riots that break out in the capital of this region in Urumqi in the summer of 2009.

ARABLOUEI: Riots between Uyghurs and Han Chinese, China’s ethnic and cultural majority, sparked by an incident at a toy factory.

AYUP: Uyghur workers and the Chinese workers – there’s a clash happen. Uyghur died.

ROBERTS: And they’re killed by a mob of Han workers who are influenced by an unsubstantiated rumor on the internet that Uyghurs had raped a Han woman in the factory.

AYUP: And then Uyghur students in Xinjiang University, they posted that we are going to demonstrate.

ROBERTS: They hold a protest in Urumqi asking for justice be given to these Uyghurs who had been killed.


ROBERTS: What happens next is the security forces come in and suppress those protests. And gradually, it spirals out of control into ethnic violence on both sides. So you have Uyghur-on-Han violence and Han-on-Uyghur violence that continues for about three days in July of 2009.

ARABLOUEI: Government reports say at least 192 people died and more than a thousand were injured. And as a result of this incident, the CCP began a more brutal crackdown on the Uyghurs.

ROBERTS: And the government is looking for people who are religious nationalists, identifying them as the problem.

ARABLOUEI: These policies help continue the cycle of violence – repression from the government, violence from some Uyghurs. There was a series of terrorist attacks in the mid-2010s. Then in 2017, reports started coming out that there was something new happening in Xinjiang, something darker than what had come before. There were allegations that camps were established by the CCP where thousands of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities were being detained.

ABDELFATAH: Today it is widely reported that over a million Uyghur and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang have been, quote-unquote, “re-educated” at internment camps. The United States recently sanctioned Chinese government officials over the treatment of the Uyghur people.

ROBERTS: I refer to it as cultural genocide because they essentially are trying to sever this group’s attachment to the territory so the state can develop this area and breaking the solidarity of the people and erasing their culture so that, in effect, they’re destroying the people as we know them.

KELLY: That was Sean Roberts speaking with Throughline hosts Rund Abdelfatah and Ramtin Arablouei. You can listen to the whole episode wherever you listen to podcasts.

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Five Fingers Crush The Land

Five Fingers Crush The Land

Five Fingers Crush The Land

Over one million Uyghur people have been detained in camps in China, according to estimates, subjected to torture, forced labor, religious restrictions, and even forced sterilization. The vast majority of this minority ethnic group is Muslim, living for centuries at a crossroads of culture and empire along what was once the Silk Road. This week, we explore who the Uyghur people are, their land, their customs, their music and why they’ve become the target of what many are calling a genocide.

FBI says Chinese authorities are hacking US-based Uyghurs

FBI says Chinese authorities are hacking US-based Uyghurs

FBI says Chinese authorities are hacking US-based Uyghurs

·2 min read

The FBI has warned that the Chinese government is using both in-person and digital techniques to intimidate, silence and harass U.S.-based Uyghur Muslims.

The Chinese government has long been accused of human rights abuses over its treatment of the Uyghur population and other mostly Muslim ethnic groups in China’s Xinjiang region. More than a million Uyghurs have been detained in internment camps, according to a United Nations human rights committee, and many other Uyghurs have been targeted and hacked by state-backed cyberattacks. China has repeatedly denied the claims.

In recent months, the Chinese government has become increasingly aggressive in its efforts to shut down foreign critics, including those based in the United States and other Western democracies. These efforts have now caught the attention of the FBI.

In an unclassified bulletin, the FBI warned that officials are using transnational repression — a term that refers to foreign government transgression of national borders through physical and digital means to intimidate or silence members of diaspora and exile communities — in an attempt to compel compliance from U.S.-based Uyghurs and other Chinese refugees and dissidents, including Tibetans, Falun Gong members and Taiwan and Hong Kong activists.

“Threatened consequences for non-compliance routinely include detainment of a U.S.-based person’s family or friends in China, seizure of China-based assets, sustained digital and in-person harassment, Chinese government attempts to force repatriation, computer hacking and digital attacks, and false representation online,” the FBI bulletin warns.

The bulletin was reported by video surveillance news site IPVM.

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The FBI highlighted four instances of U.S.-based individuals facing harassment. In one case from June, the Chinese government imprisoned dozens of family members of six U.S.-based Uyghur journalists in retaliation for their continued reporting on China and its repression of Uyghurs for the U.S. government-funded news service Radio Free Asia. The bulletin said that between 2019 and March 2021, Chinese officials used WeChat to call and text a U.S.-based Uyghur to discourage her from publicly discussing Uyghur mistreatment. Members of this person’s family were later detained in Xinjiang detention camps.

“The Chinese government continues to conduct this activity, even as the U.S. government has sanctioned Chinese officials and increased public and diplomatic messaging to counter China’s human rights and democratic abuses in Xinjiang over the past year,” the FBI states. “This transnational repression activity violates US laws and individual rights.”

The FBI has urged U.S. law enforcement personnel, as well as members of the public, to report any suspected incidents of Chinese government harassment.

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End the dominance of the Uyghur ethnic group’: an analysis of Beijing’s population optimization strategy in southern Xinjiang by Adrian Zenz

‘End the dominance of the Uyghur ethnic group’: an analysis of Beijing’s population optimization strategy in southern Xinjiang by Adrian Zenz

‘End the dominance of the Uyghur ethnic group’: an analysis of Beijing’s population optimization strategy in southern Xinjiang




Chinese academics and politicians argue that Xinjiang’s ‘terrorism’ problem can only be solved by ‘optimizing’ its ethnic population structure. High ethnic minority population concentrations are considered a national security threat. ‘Optimizing’ such concentrations requires ‘embedding’ substantial Han populations, whose ‘positive culture’ can mitigate the Uyghur ‘human problem’. Scenarios that do not overburden the region’s ecological carrying capacity entail drastic reductions in ethnic minority natural population growth, potentially decreasing their populations. Population ‘optimization’ discourses and related policies provide a basis to assess Beijing’s ‘intent’ to destroy an ethnic minority population in part through birth prevention per the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention. The ‘destruction in part’ can be assessed as the difference between projected natural population growth without substantial government interference and reduced growth scenarios in line with population ‘optimization’ requirements. Based on population projections by Chinese researchers, this difference could range between 2.6 and 4.5 million lives by 2040.

Introduction and methodology

In July 2009, decades-long tensions between the Uyghur minority population in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and the nation’s Han majority population erupted into violent clashes (Roberts 2020). Following a series of high-profile violent attacks, Xinjiang embarked on a massive police and surveillance build-up (Zenz and Leibold 2017). In 2017, the government initiated a campaign of mass internment (Zenz 20182019). In 2021, the US government determined that Beijing was committing genocide in the region, predominantly based on evidence of birth prevention measures targeting ethnic minority women (Pompeo 2021; Zenz 2020).

The 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide stipulates that the act of ‘[i]mposing measures intended to prevent births within the group’ constitutes an act of genocide if it is ‘committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such’ (United Nations 1948).

Whether Xinjiang’s birth prevention campaign reflects such an intent is disputed. Some experts argue that while ‘[d]estruction in the form of physical or biological extermination will always fulfil this [intent] criterion’, the ‘intention to destroy the Uyghur population of XUAR as a group – that is, as a cohesive social and cultural entity’ can be established (Macdonald et al. 2021). Others suggest that the Convention requires evidence of ‘physical destruction, not cultural or spiritual, destruction’ (Lim 2021, 101).

This research pursues neither a legal determination nor a sociological discussion of the concept of genocide. Taking the Genocide Convention as its vantage point, it aims to provide systematic evidence of the state’s likely intent to substantially reduce ethnic minority natural population growth. The ‘destruction in part’ is then assessed as the difference between (1) projected natural population growth without substantial government interference (based on past growth figures) and (2) reduced growth scenarios due to birth prevention, in line with the state’s intent to achieve crucial counterterrorism goals by ‘optimizing’ (you hua 优化) the ethnic population structure (Li 2017a, 72). ‘Counterterrorism’ refers to Beijing’s portrayal of Uyghur acts of violent resistance as ‘terror’, a rendering that disregards complex interethnic relation issues, including long-standing sentiments of discrimination. The analysis focuses on southern Xinjiang, the Uyghur heartland region and main site of violent clashes (Roberts 2020).

Chinese family planning policies were introduced in the 1980s to reduce population growth, but they have also been associated with eugenic purposes of ‘upgrading population quality’ (su zhi 素质) (Hong-Fincher 2018, 180). Kipnis (2007, 393) has pointed out the intimate link between discourses of improving population ‘quality’ (su zhi 素质) and limiting population quantity through family planning. Discourses of ‘population quality’ have been especially pertinent regarding ethnic minority women, who are assumed to possess a ‘lower quality’ (di su zhi 低素质): Xinjiang’s officials have argued that ‘worryingly high birth rates’ among Uyghur women have a negative effect on ‘population quality in the region, posing risks to social stability’ (Hong-Fincher 2018, 180).

In the context of Xinjiang’s ‘people’s war on terror’ since 2014, official discourses shifted. Rather than just being a population with a ‘low quality’ (Byler 2020), Uyghurs began to be framed as something akin to a biological threat (Roberts 2020). Xinjiang’s officials have argued that the Uyghur population suffers from an ‘illness’ of the mind that must be ‘cured’ through re-education, and that rooting out religious ‘extremism’ is akin to ‘eradicating … tumors’ (Zenz 2018, 20–21). Ethnic minorities are divided into ‘safe, average, and unsafe’ populations (Tobin 2020, 237; Zenz 2020a, section 3.4).

This research taps into a largely unexplored body of work by Xinjiang-based academics and officials who argue that the region’s terrorism problem requires optimizing Xinjiang’s ethnic population structure – particularly in the south. Overly populous and concentrated ethnic minorities are seen as a breeding ground for religious extremism.

The remainder of the paper is structured as follows. The next section discusses the most recent data on natural population growth in southern Xinjiang. The third section analyses official and academic discourses on ethnic population optimization, which basically calls for increased Han population shares. The fourth section evaluates the state policy of interethnic ‘embedding’ (qian ru 嵌入) (e.g., Li 2019, 110), which represents a concrete measure for mitigating the perceived Uyghur population threat by diluting ‘problem’ populations and mitigating their ‘negative energy’ by embedding Han populations; it also examines official concerns about overpopulation in southern Xinjiang given its fragile ecology, which limits the number of Han migrants and thus necessitates further ethnic minority birth reductions. The final section estimates the ethnic minority population loss that could result from this set of policies. These estimates are relevant to the Genocide Convention’s reference to ‘destruction in part’.

The PRC’s goal of ‘optimizing the population’ appears as a metanarrative through this literature, and informs our understanding of the wider, longer term intentionality of the state regarding its ethnic minority populations. Population optimization discourses when focused on Han often deal with ageing and shrinking workforce sizes; when focused on Xinjiang’s ethnic minorities, they are predominantly concerned with counterterrorism and national security (besides also dealing with gender ratios). In this view, the existence of Uyghur population centres with distinct religion and culture is considered a threat.

A brief overview of Xinjiang’s birth control regime and recent developments

In early 2016, the Chinese government abolished its decade-long one child policy, permitting all families to have two children (PRC Government 2016). Since then, the state has actively encouraged couples to have more children – what researchers call ‘political steering’ to optimize population trends (Alpermann and Zhan 2018).

In China’s north-western XUAR, high natural population growth rates have long been a subject of concern for the authorities (Zenz 2020b). Mandatory family planning was implemented for Xinjiang’s Han starting in 1975 (Sautman 1997, 6). In 1983, the region sought to limit urban ethnic minority families to two children, rural minority families to three children and those in remote areas to four. The enforcement of these measures sparked a demonstration in 1985, and predominantly Muslim ethnic groups were subsequently permitted to have up to four children (Sautman 1997, 7).

Amid criticisms of preferential policies towards ethnic minorities by proponents of the PRC’s Second Generation Ethnic Policy, efforts to roll back preferential birth quotas gradually gathered pace (Leibold 2014). In 2014, after Xi Jinping’s visit to Xinjiang, the region’s party secretary Zhang Chunxian argued that all ethnic groups should have equal birth quotas (Cliff 2016, 204). In 2015, a senior Xinjiang official argued that the region needed to combat ‘worryingly high birthrates’ (Hong-Fincher 2018, 180). In 2017, when large numbers of ethnic minorities were interned in re-education camps, the region issued an updated family planning policy that permitted Han to have the same number of children as minorities: two children for urban and three for rural families (Zenz 2020b, 10).

Since then, Beijing’s family planning policies in Xinjiang rapidly became draconian. Starting in 2018, birth control violations were liable to be punished with extrajudicial internment, with a leaked internal document (the Karakax List) showing that a violation of birth control measures was the most common reason for such internment (Zenz 2020a2020b, 10–11). In 2018, the region performed 243 sterilization procedures per 100,000 population, compared with 33 per 100,000 in the rest of the country (Zenz 2020b, fig. 9). By 2019, at least 80% of women of childbearing age in rural southern Xinjiang were subject to ‘birth control measures with long-term effectiveness’, including the placement of intrauterine devices or sterilization (Zenz 2020b, 12).

Between 2015 and 2018, combined natural population growth rates in the four prefectures of southern Xinjiang (Hotan, Kashgar, Aksu, Kizilsu), where 91.6% of the population in 2018 was ethnic minorities, declined by 72.9% (population-weighted average; China Statistics Press 201620182019, tabs 3-5, 3-6). In 2019, rates continued to decline (Table 1). Prefectures with data for both 2018 and 2019 (Aksu and Kizilsu), and individual counties for prefectures without such data, were weighted by their respective populations. For the prefecture of Bayingol, frequently considered part of southern Xinjiang, Table 1 lists the three counties with an ethnic minority population share of > 50%. In the resulting population-weighted sample, the average natural population growth rate fell from 5.19 per mille (per thousand) in 2018 to 1.66 in 2019.

Table 1. Natural population growth rates in per mille (per thousand).


A second sample consisted of 35 counties with ethnic minority population shares > 50%, and 28 counties with Han majority populations, all with published birth rate figures for 2019.1 In this sample, the population-weighted average birth rate in ethnic minority counties fell by 50.1% in 2019, while the birth rate in the Han counties declined by only 19.7%. This is consistent with plans for mass sterilization for 2019 published by counties in southern Xinjiang (Zenz 2020b, 16–19).

The 2020 Xinjiang Statistical Yearbook ceased to publish all breakdowns of total populations and population growth by region or ethnicity (China Statistics Press 2020a). Similarly, Hotan and Kashgar prefectures published neither birth nor natural population growth rates for 2019, breaking with a decades-long practice. However, data from the counties under their jurisdiction indicate further declines. In Kashgar, Bachu county’s 2019 birth rate stood at 4.15 per mille; given an expected death rate of between 5 and 7 per mille, its 2019 growth would likely have ranged between −1.00 and −2.50 per mille.2 For 2021, Aksu’s Xinhe county planned for a birth rate of ≤ 6 per mille, which at the county’s current death rate of 6.62 would result in an estimated negative population growth between −0.50 and −1.00 per mille.

In Kizilsu, the prefecture planned a 6.14 per mille reduction in its natural population growth rate for 2020, which would result in a negative 3.14 per mille. In an August 2020 report, Kizilsu noted that in 2019 nobody was born outside of the government’s plan, and that 88% of all women of childbearing age had adopted ‘long-term effective birth prevention’ measures (Kizilsu Prefecture Government 2020).

Southern Xinjiang’s growth rates are trending near or below zero. Below, I argue that such declines are consonant with the state’s goal of optimizing the ethnic population structure.

‘End the dominance of the Uyghur ethnic group’: the urgency to optimize southern Xinjiang’s ethnic population structure

An otherwise unremarkable report about an August 2017 health and family planning work promotion meeting held by Kizilsu’s Health and Family Planning Commission references an unpublished family planning document (Kizilsu Health and Family Planning Commission 2018).3 Issued in 2017 by Xinjiang’s New Population Planning Office (Zi zhiqu xin tong chou ren kou ban 自治区新统筹人口办), its title is ‘Meeting Minutes on Earnestly and Thoroughly Implementing the Spirit of General Secretary Xi Jinping’s Important Instructions, Researching and Advancing the Work of Optimizing the Ethnic Population Structure in Southern Xinjiang’.

According to a 2017 paper (Liu 2017, 8) titled ‘Research on Optimizing Southern Xinjiang’s Population Resources’, the central government in Beijing ‘attaches great importance to the problem of Xinjiang’s population structure and population security’. Expressions such as ‘optimizing the ethnic population structure’ (you hua min zu ren kou jie gou 优化民族人口结构) or just ‘optimizing the population structure’ (in reference to ethnic minority regions and populations) are common in the academic literature on Xinjiang’s counterterrorism work (Li 2017a, 72). They are frequently linked to birth control measures.

The sentiment behind these terms was bluntly expressed by Liao Zhaoyu, dean of the Institute of Frontier History and Geography at Tarim University, at a 2015 academic event. When discussing ‘methods to solve Xinjiang’s problems’, Liao said that in southern Xinjiang the state must ‘change the population structure and layout [and] end the dominance of the Uyghur ethnic group’ (International Legal Research Net 2015). In a 2016 academic publication, Liao argued that the ‘underlying reason’ for Xinjiang’s unrest and terrorism is the high concentration of Uyghur populations in southern Xinjiang. Due to a recent exodus of Han, ‘the imbalance of the ethnic minority and Han population composition in southern Xinjiang has reached an unbelievably serious degree’ (Liao 2016, 47).

Liao’s sentiments are echoed by Xu Jianying, a senior research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and high-profile Xinjiang academic whose work and opinions have featured prominently in state media articles. In 2014, Xu argued in an interview with the Global Times that to counter the ‘East Turkistan’ terror threat, the state must ‘change southern Xinjiang’s population structure’ (Xu 2014).

The link between counterterrorism and ethnic population ratios is expressed even more directly by Xu Zhongcheng, vice-dean of Shandong Police College, and Fan Wangdong, vice-director of the same institution. In a 2014 academic publication on counterterrorism in Xinjiang, the authors devote a substantial section to ‘implementing population adjustments’ (Xu and Fan 2014). After comparing the larger and rapidly growing ethnic minority population with the much lower Han population shares, they write:

From the standpoint of long-term counterterrorism strategy, one must adopt intervening measures to effectively adjust the population in a specific area. For example, in areas where ethnic [minorities] reside … improve the quality of ethnic minority populations. Intensify the recruitment of talent, adopt preferential policies to retain the Han population and talented Han, and increase the proportion of the Han population. (46)

Xinjiang’s most high-profile and authoritative voice on this sensitive subject is probably Liu Yilei, deputy secretary-general of the party committee of Xinjiang’s Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), and dean of Xinjiang University’s Western China Economic Development and Reform Research Institute. At a July 2020 symposium with 300 experts and scholars from across China, Liu noted that despite all progress, ‘the root of Xinjiang’s social stability problems has not yet been resolved’:4

the problem in southern Xinjiang is mainly the unbalanced population structure. Population proportion and population security are important foundations for long-term peace and stability. The proportion of the Han population in southern Xinjiang is too low, less than 15%. The problem of demographic imbalance is southern Xinjiang’s core issue (Liu 2020)

In 2018, Liu had argued that ‘Xinjiang’s population structure [and] ethnic structure … are unreasonable’, and that Xinjiang must ‘afresh analyze [its] population structure [and] ethnic structure … from a viewpoint of national security’ (Chinese Economists 50 Forum 2018; Liu 2018). Such statements make it seem that low Han populations in southern Xinjiang are somehow unnatural. This contradicts the historical reality that Xinjiang’s total Han population has historically been very low, and was artificially increased through state-sponsored in-migration starting in the 1950s (Zenz 2021, 4).


Liu’s concern relates to the concept of ‘population security’ (ren kou an quan 人口安全) that is increasingly common in the literature on Xinjiang’s counterterrorism and stability maintenance work.5 In a 2019 publication in the Jiangxi Police Institute Journal, Liang Feifei, a researcher from Xinjiang’s Aksu, argues that declining Han population shares in Xinjiang’s border counties ‘have brought severe challenges to [Xinjiang’s] population security’ (Liang 2019). A 2018 publication by Wang Qiaoling from the XPCC Party School notes that since the Han constitute ‘only 15 percent’ of southern Xinjiang’s population, ‘optimizing its population resources’ is an ‘important foundation for ensuring Xinjiang’s population security’ (Wang 2018, 79). This implies that Han populations are an asset to national security, while ethnic minority populations are a threat and must be diluted.

One of the most sophisticated accounts of southern Xinjiang’s population ‘problem’ is found in a 2017 research paper by Li Xiaoxia, director of the Institute of Sociology at the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences. In January 2021, the Xinjiang Health Commission published her report on Xinjiang’s population development, and her work has been widely featured in Chinese state media (Li 2021).

In her paper, Li argues that:

the population gap between ethnic minorities and the Han continues to widen, which has made the concentration of a single ethnic group in certain regions more obvious. The lack of interaction and exchanges between different ethnic groups and cultures has caused the three factors of ethnicity, religion and land area to become superimposed, thereby strengthening the viewpoint that one ethnic group owns a [particular] land area, weakening national identity and identification with the Chinese Nation-Race,6 [adversely] impacting peace and long-term stability.

Consequently, controlling the growth rate of the ethnic minority population and adjusting the regional ethnic population structure are considered to be important ways to achieve long-term peace and stability in Xinjiang. (Li 2017b, 68)


Regarding southern Xinjiang’s ‘population problem’, Li further states that:

[T]here is a huge difference in the numbers of Uyghur and Han populations, which can create even greater political risks. Mainly due to the rapid growth and large number of the Uyghur population, southern Xinjiang’s monoethnic and monoreligious character became more pronounced. The superimposition of … land area, ethnicity, religion, and even poverty will strengthen ethnic self-identification and regional identification, diluting identification with the nation and the central government.

[Southern Xinjiang has] a mono[ethnic] concentrated population [and] a dense religious atmosphere, the masses are susceptible to the encroachment of extremist religious thinking [and] reject secular political rule … . (76–77)

Similar to Liu Yilei, Li argues that ‘the problem of the ethnic population structure in southern Xinjiang’ is ‘one of the roots of the Xinjiang problem’ (77). She recommends birth control to ‘solve the problem of the rapid growth of the minority population’.


Soon after Li’s publication, Xinjiang set up new initiatives to implement systematic birth prevention campaigns in ethnic minority regions. An increasingly common outcome indicator of these initiatives (from 2017 and especially 2018) was the mandated target to ‘optimize the population structure’, or more commonly to ‘balance the population structure’ (jun heng ren kou jie gou 均衡人口结构) (e.g., Baicheng County Health Committee 2020; Gumudi Town Government 2019; Hotan City Family Planning Commission 2019; Kuqa County Government 2019; Xinhe County Government 2020). Family planning documents from Urumqi’s Midong District for 2019 mandate the achievement of an ‘appropriate fertility level’ and of ‘optimizing the population structure’ as the two main goals of family planning work in order to achieve the region’s ‘general goal of social stability and long-term stability’ (Gumudi Town Government 2019; Nilka County Government 2017). To this end, county family planning offices are required to:

Formulate the county’s mid- and long-term population development plan and annual plan; be responsible for the macro-control of the county’s newborn population and the review of applications for birthing another child due to special circumstances; manage the county’s information system for women of childbearing age … . (Kuqa County Government 2019, 26.)

By the end of 2018, the region was fully equipped to control and forecast population growth at an extremely detailed level. Xinjiang had effectively created the preconditions for optimizing its ethnic population structure.


Beijing’s strategies to address southern Xinjiang’s ‘population problem’

Framing the ethnic minority ‘population problem’

In summary, Xinjiang’s ethnic minority population – as measured by size, density and growth – is imagined by the state as a national security threat. Southern Xinjiang’s ethnic composition is described as monoethnic (min zu ren kou dan yi hua 族人口单一化), whereas that of the north is commonly referred to as ‘reasonable’ (he li 合理) (e.g., Liu, Guo, and Li 2014, 39; Li 2017c, 72).

A review of the literature shows that related concerns centre around the following themes:

  • Excessive ethnic minority population growth creates a growing rural surplus workforce that suffers from poverty and underemployment. Large numbers of unemployed (or underemployed) young Uyghurs constitute a ‘severely excessive’ rural surplus labour population, created by lax family planning policies, that pose a ‘latent threat to the current regime’ (e.g., Zhao and Song 2017, 30).

  • High ethnic minority population density combined with low mobility reduces opportunities for ethnic interaction and breeds a ‘hardened’ society with an ‘excessively strong atmosphere of religious belief that cannot be diluted’, creating a breeding ground for religious extremism and terrorism (e.g. Lu and Guo 2017, 194).

  • High ethnic minority population concentrations create a dangerous sense of identification with their homeland, weakening identification with the Chinese Nation-Race (Zhong hua min zu 中华民族) and the central government (e.g., Li 2017b, 68).

  • Generally, high ethnic minority population ratios (i.e., low Han population ratios) are a national security risk for sensitive border regions such as southern Xinjiang (e.g., Liang 2019; Wang 2018).


Resolving these issues involves large-scale transfers of ethnic minority surplus labourers out of southern Xinjiang to regions with large Han populations. The Nankai Report, a Chinese research report on labour transfers from Xinjiang to other parts of China, noted that they serve to ‘reduce Uyghur population density in Xinjiang’ (Zenz 2021, 14). Other studies argue that labour transfers can ‘crack open the solidified society in southern Xinjiang’ and ‘push [people] out of their closed state [of mind]’ (Lu and Guo 2017, 194).

However, labour transfers alone cannot significantly change ethnic population structures in southern Xinjiang. For this, the state has to promote large-scale Han in-migration.

Counterterrorism through population embedding

Counterterrorism-focused population optimization strategies do not merely seek to increase the raw number of Han in southern Xinjiang. They aim to intersperse Han and ethnic minority populations in targeted ways to mitigate the ‘human problem’ (ren de wen ti 人的问题) posed by the latter. The least sophisticated method is to increase XPCC settler populations in the region. However, as Li (2017c, 73) has noted, XPCC settlements often fail to promote the forms of meaningful ethnic interspersion required for counterterrorism purposes. The latter is better achieved through what the state and academia have conceptualized as ‘embedding’ (qian ru 嵌入).

In May 2014, during the 2nd Xinjiang Work Meeting, Xi Jinping demanded that Xinjiang ‘strengthen ethnic interaction, exchanges and blending, [and] promote the establishment of a social structure and environment in which all ethnic groups are mutually embedded’ (Li 2017c, 72). The Central Government Ethnic Work Conference elevated Xi’s call for ethnic embedding to a ‘national strategy’. As early as June 2014, Kashgar prefecture reported the first implementation efforts of the ethnic embedding strategy, which included the establishment of mixed residences, mixed Han–Uyghur schooling, and transfers of Uyghur workers and school students to Han majority regions in eastern China (Kashgar Prefecture Administrative Office 2014). Since then, numerous ‘Unity New Villages’ (tuan jie xin cun 团结新村) and urban ‘Ethnic Unity Embedded Neighborhoods’ (tuan jie qian ru shi she qu 团结嵌入式社区) have been established, especially in southern Xinjiang (China Wenming Net 2019; Mou 2016). In a 2018 academic publication, Liu Yilei (introduced in the previous section) called for the establishment of a ‘multi-ethnic embedded social governance structure’ (Liu 2018, 18). According to Li (2017c, 76), embedding is most commonly implemented at the community level.

Smith-Finley (2013, 17) writes that Uyghur symbolic resistance to Han dominance is reflected in a set of ‘symbolic, spatial and social boundaries’, but that the most obvious of these are ‘ethnically based patterns of settlement and residence’. Ironically, starting in 2016 and 2017, the government further reinforced spatial ethnic segregation by forcing Uyghurs to return to their original places of residence (Tynen 2020, 12–13). Several of the Chinese authors cited in this publication have noted that due to increased violent acts of resistance by Uyghurs, Han residents in southern Xinjiang isolated themselves in securitized compounds, exacerbating ethno-spatial segregation (e.g., Zhang 2016). However, embedded model projects and villages have continued to be built and expanded.

A 2017 research paper published by Gao Xuejing and Li Ming, researchers from the Xinjiang Police Academy and State Forestry Administration Police Officer Training Center, argues that ‘population embedding’ (ren kou qian ru 人口嵌入) is the key strategy to eradicate terrorism by ‘rapidly optimizing the population structure’ (Gao and Li 2017, 26):

[T]o completely eradicate terrorist crimes in Xinjiang it is necessary to completely eradicate the soil, the growth conditions and the environment in which terrorist mobs produce crimes. [To do so] … , it is necessary to rationalize the population structure, optimize the quality of the population, accelerate economic development, integrate ethnic cultures, and strengthen the legal foundation, etc. (33)

Specifically, Gao and Li suggest that the establishment of embedded communities requires a careful balancing of ‘desirable’ versus less desirable population segments:

Therefore, optimizing the proportions of the population and improving and enhancing the quality of the population – which is to solve the human problem – is the foundation of solving Xinjiang’s counterterrorism (and other) problems. Embedding the population is one of the simplest and most direct ways to solve the human problem. … This will achieve the goal of diluting the proportion of the poor population, the proportion of the unemployed population, the proportion of the low-educated population, the proportion of [certain] ethnic populations, … the proportion of the population with a criminal history, etc. (27)

Embedding therefore involves a targeted dilution of undesirable population segments, such as low-income, lesser educated and more traditionally minded Uyghurs who are seen as more susceptible to religious extremism and other ‘crimes’:

The Uyghur population is concentrated, with strong traditional cultural characteristics and weak modern cultural influence. The population has low [levels of] education [and of] Chinese language, has difficulty obtaining high levels of employment, and [suffers from] low income levels, resulting in low social status, insufficient social development, and many social problems. (Li 2017b, 77)

Subsequently, Li (2019, 110) argues that the establishment of embedded communities requires ‘calculat[ing] precise embedding targets’. Han-minority population ratios should range between 50:50 and 40:60. The goal of targeted embedding is the creation of a ‘cultural counterterrorism’ (wen hua fan kong 文化反恐) – a multi-ethnic environment where ‘religious extremism’ is unlikely to take root:

For example, according to the village’s cultural counterterrorism needs, the scope of the population with positive energy in the village should be expanded to 80% or 90% in a planned, step-by-step, and methodical manner, and the scope of the population with negative energy in the village should be reduced to 7%, or less than 3%. (110)

Here, persons with ‘positive energy’ or a ‘positive culture’ (zheng wen hua 正文化) are those who are more highly educated, more secular and more resistant to the creeping influence of ‘religious extremist thought’, while those with ‘negative energy’ (fu neng liang 负能量) are susceptible to ‘extremist’ thought (110). Planners must achieve ‘cultural counterterrorism’ outcomes based on concrete quantitative ratios and targets (113).


However, the implementation of Xi Jinping’s call for a ‘mutually embedded’ social structure in Xinjiang’s monoethnic strongholds is daunting. Li (2017c) concedes that ‘a considerable part’ of new Han residents must be brought in from Eastern China.

Li argues that Xinjiang’s population embedding strategy runs into acute resource limitations such as the high costs of constructing embedded communities, a lack of arable land, and a lack of water resources. Another study likewise suggests that embedding is hampered by ‘water shortages, sandstorms, droughts, desertification, and salinization’, and recommends curbing ethnic minority population growth (Zhang 2016).

The XPCC’s population expansion strategy for southern Xinjiang

So far, Xinjiang has primarily relied on the XPCC to promote Han migration to Xinjiang. In 2017, the central government mandated the XPCC to increase its settler population in southern Xinjiang by 300,000 by 2022, a strategy that largely relies on attracting Han from other parts of China through promises of free land, housing, education and government jobs (Bai 2020). Attracting Han to become long-term residents in southern Xinjiang has long been a daunting challenge. Between 2000 and 2015, the region’s Han population (including the XPCC) increased by a mere 123,900, compared with a 2.5 million increase of the ethnic minority population (Liu 2017, 9). Between 2011 and 2019, only 33,676 of the 653,584 increase of the entire XPCC population (not just in southern Xinjiang) stemmed from natural population growth, with the other 94.8% coming from in-migration from other provinces (China Statistics Press 2020b, tabs 3-3, 3-4). Between 2018 and 2019, the XPCC’s population in southern Xinjiang increased by 69,900, whereas the same population only grew by 31,069 in 2018 (China Statistics Press 2020b, tab. 1-12). The state is actively pursuing its 2022 population target.

For the government this is a costly strategy. The construction of basic infrastructure required for additional XPCC populations costs nearly RMB 200 million for each additional 10,000 settlers and RMB 5.9 billion for the envisioned 300,000 settlers (Bai 2020, 29).

Most importantly, southern Xinjiang lacks the environmental and other resources to sustain large-scale Han in-migration.

The problem of limited carrying capacity

For years, academics and officials have been researching and debating the problem of ‘carrying capacity’ (cheng zai li 承载力). Between 2000 and 2009, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) evaluated the population carrying capacity of Xinjiang’s different regions in relation to environmental and economic resources (Qian 2010).

In June 2016, a Hotan government report noted that 85% of the region’s population lived from agriculture, placing considerable pressure on the arable land. The report stated that, per capita, the available ecological resources were severely limited and that ‘the contradiction between population, economy and ecological carrying capacity is very prominent’ (Liu 2016).

A 2016 study of Hotan’s carrying capacity was funded by a national research project on establishing an ‘Early Warning System for Population Security in Typical Minority Areas in Southern Xinjiang under an Adjusted Fertility Policy’. Compiled by Ma Xiaoyu and other Xinjiang University academics (Ma, Ma and He 2016), it found that Hotan entered a state of ‘red alert’ since 2008 when the population surpassed the region’s resource-based carrying capacity. For 2014, the authors estimated Hotan’s ‘excess population’ at nearly 0.7 million persons and recommended stringent birth control measures.

Also in 2016, the Xinjiang government issued a regionwide notice regarding government unit cooperation with the Family Planning Commission. This included stipulations for the very mechanism researched and outlined in the 2016 Hotan study: an ‘Early Warning System for Population Security’ (XUAR Government 2016). Between 2017 and 2019, Xinjiang’s local family planning units were charged with ‘carrying out population [growth] monitoring and early warning [work]’ (e.g., Baicheng County Government 2019; Urumqi City Government 2018).

Similar calculations were conducted by other scholars, including academics from the XPCC’s Shihezi University. Their 2017 study estimated different types of carrying capacities for the XUAR, based on land, other ecological resources and the economy (Liu, Zhi and Liu 2017). The authors estimated Xinjiang’s ‘suitable population’ (shi du ren kou 适度人口) for 2015 at 21.3 million, 2.3 million below the actual population. The study expressed particular concern about the continually decreasing ecological carrying capacity (sheng tai cheng zai li 生态承载力), calculated based on land productivity and per capita ecological footprint, which decreased from 15.7 million in 2005 to 12.5 million in 2015. Increased per capita human consumption due to rising living standards led to a severe overutilization of resources. Growing economic carrying capacity is thereby offset by an excessive stress on natural resources.

Another study calculated the carrying capacity for rural populations (Li and Liu 2018). The authors estimated that rural Xinjiang’s per capita ecological footprint nearly doubled between 2000 and 2015 due to increased resource use in the wake of socioeconomic and industrial development. They calculated that Xinjiang’s rural population first exceeded its ecological carrying capacity in 2013, and that by 2015, this ‘excess’ population had reached 1.9 million persons.

Another study from 2018 makes it clear where the key problem lies: the ecological carrying capacity is especially weak in southern Xinjiang, where limited arable land and water resources are coupled with an excessively high population density in the few inhabitable oasis regions (Zhang and Yong 2018). The study recommends ‘resolutely curbing population growth’ and implementing an ‘ecological migration’ of southern Xinjiang’s surplus population to other regions.

These concerns are shared by the government. In April 2017, Wang Peian, deputy director of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, toured southern Xinjiang (PRC Government 2017). The report notes that he stressed the limited carrying capacity of southern Xinjiang, and made family planning an urgent task. The terminology and reasoning closely mirror that of the preceding academic studies.

Targeted measures such as labour transfers from primary to secondary or tertiary industries, resource optimization, greenhouse technologies and projects that convert desert into farmland can increase Xinjiang’s ecological and economic carrying capacity. However, they all come with limitations.

A 2009 report found that 50 year-long efforts of turning desert into farmland through irrigation had created severe water problems, and that the region needed to pay farmers to halt irrigation and shift people into urban centres (Watts 2009). Similarly, a 2020 paper by Xinjiang-based researchers from the CAS argues that Hotan prefecture’s population density of 301 persons/km2 results in ‘very high’ pressure on local carrying capacity (Huo et al. 2020). The region’s water utilization rate is ‘much higher than the reasonable level’. If Hotan’s population kept growing as it did between 2010 and 2017, the region would have to sustain an unrealistically high economic growth rate of ‘at least 9.55 percent [annual GDP growth] for the next three decades’.

Similarly, a 2020 study in Aksu prefecture found that that the region’s water resource carrying capacity in 2015 was ‘severely overloaded’, mainly due to agriculture (including cotton fields) and the textile industry (Zhao et al. 2021). Therefore, southern Xinjiang’s limited carrying capacity problem can neither be readily alleviated by increasing arable land (through irrigation) nor through large-scale labour transfers out of agriculture.

While the state ignored such resource overutilization for years, the evidence indicates that this issue is gradually being taken more seriously.

Consequently, the state cannot simply add large numbers of Han to the region’s existing ethnic minority population. Minorities must also be controlled or reduced through a combination of cross-regional labour transfers and sustained birth prevention.

Estimating the ethnic minority population reduction resulting from state-mandated birth prevention

Definition of intent

Xinjiang’s academics and officials have long warned about issues such as high ethnic minority population growth or religious extremism. For years, the state did not tackle either issue as strongly as they had called for. Then, from 2017, the government instituted a string of extremely draconian measures, ranging from mass internment for political re-education to systematic birth prevention. Academics and officials that have pointed out the urgent need to optimize the ethnic population structure have advocated for birth prevention and mass Han-in-migration as the two primary methods. The government’s plan to move 300,000 Han to southern Xinjiang represents a clear step towards this second recommendation. Also, the state is already suppressing southern Xinjiang’s natural population growth rates to levels that are broadly in line with the long-term optimization goals set out by scholar-cadres like Liu Yilei.

Based on the evidence discussed above, the government’s intent regarding southern Xinjiang’s ethnic population is therefore understood as being to optimize the population structure by increasing the ratio of the Han population in relation to the ethnic minority populations through in-migration of Han, out-transfers of ethnic minorities and reducing ethnic minority birth rates. This is intended to boost various forms of interethnic mixing and embedding, while simultaneously ensuring that the resulting total population does not drastically exceed the overall combined economic and ecological carrying capacity.

The ‘destruction in part’ through birth prevention that will likely result from this intent can be defined as the difference between:

  • the projected natural population growth rate and resulting total population if such measures were not being imposed by the state, taking into account that family planning preferences change over time in line with socio-economic development; and

  • the projected natural population growth rate and resulting total population with state-imposed birth prevention measures in place, in accordance with the government’s intent as defined above.


Below, it is estimated that this difference could range between 2.6 and 4.5 million lives.

Liu Yilei lamented that southern Xinjiang’s Han population share (including Bayingol) was < 15%. In 2018, this share amounted to 13.2% (China Statistics Press 2019, tab. 3-7). Arguably, the bigger problem is southern Xinjiang’s four Uyghur majority population prefectures, excluding Bayingol (Bayingol’s ethnic minority population was only 46.7% in 2018). Their Han population share in 2018 was only 8.4%. (All further references to ‘southern Xinjiang’ refer to these four prefectures.)

What would constitute an adequate Han population share for solving southern Xinjiang’s ‘population problem’? Officials and academics emphasize that northern Xinjiang’s Han population share of 56.0% in 2018 is ‘reasonable’ (China Statistics Press 2019, tab. 3-7). If 50% of southern Xinjiang’s population were embedded at a 50:50 ratio, its Han population share must at least nearly triple to 25%.

Projecting southern Xinjiang’s natural population growth

To estimate southern Xinjiang’s future natural population growth rate without heavy-handed government interference, we turn to Chinese population projections.

In a 2020 study published in an international peer-reviewed journal, a group of Xinjiang-based researchers from the Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, CAS, projected that Hotan’s population would increase from its 2017 level of 2.52 million to between 3.92 and 4.27 million by 2040 (Huo et al. 2020). The team employed the population projection application PADIS-INT and based their projection on Hotan’s total fertility rate (TFR) between 2010 and 2017, which they calculated to be 3.3, and therefore substantially higher than the TFR of 1.8 specified for Hotan in Xinjiang’s 2010 census data. A TFR of 3.3 is comparable with Pakistan, a Muslim nation without family planning. The team created several projection scenarios, assuming that Xinjiang would abandon family planning along with the rest of the nation. The high projection scenario assumed that birth rates would increase when government birth restrictions were removed. The low projection scenario did not assume such an increase, and instead postulated that by 2040 the TFR would gradually fall to the 1.8 level of the 2010 census. The CAS is closely associated with and funded by the central government in Beijing, and its research strongly influences and informs government policy (Zhang 2019).

Another projection was conducted by graduate research supervised by Xinjiang University’s Ma Xiaoyu (Pang 2018). This study employed 2010 census TFR data. The scenario that assumed no changes in Xinjiang’s pre-2017 family planning policies estimated that southern Xinjiang’s population (including Bayingol) would grow from 11.58 million in 2017 to approximately 15.3 million by 2040 (by 32.1%). In contrast to the CAS study, it did not account for actual population changes after 2010, including substantial numbers of unreported births uncovered by the state after that year (cf. Zenz 2020b, 5, 10).

The present study adopts the more sophisticated and internationally peer-reviewed CAS study’s low projection for Hotan, which forecasts a 55.4% population increase between 2017 and 2040 (versus 69.1% increase for the high-growth scenario). The low projection is chosen since Hotan’s annual natural population growth (2010–17) was higher than in the other three prefectures (on average by 3.5 per mille annually during that period). This projection also comes closer to the birth allowances stipulated in Xinjiang’s 2017 family planning policy, although Beijing’s recent decision to permit up to three children expands birth restrictions for Xinjiang’s urban population (BBC 2021).7 To further guard against possible overestimation stemming from extrapolating Hotan’s data, the low projection’s estimate was reduced by 30%, resulting in a projected population increase for southern Xinjiang between 2017 and 2040 of 38.8%, to 14.35 million. This increase is only slightly above the 2018 Xinjiang University study’s 32.1%. It estimates southern Xinjiang’s ethnic minority population at 13.14 million by 2040 – the baseline figure for estimating population loss due to birth prevention.

The year 2040 was chosen as it seems a reasonable time frame for the pursuit of a goal that is both ambitious yet also described as ‘urgent’.

Estimating ethnic minority population loss from birth prevention

The author performed iterative calculations in an Excel spreadsheet to estimate southern Xinjiang’s population dynamics and ethnic composition by 2040 for different natural population growth rates.

Besides official baseline population figures8 for 2018 from the Xinjiang Statistical Yearbook (China Statistics Press 2019, tab. 3-7), other variables were:

  • annual Han in-migration;

  • Han natural population growth in southern Xinjiang;

  • ethnic minority out-migration (including labour transfers) to other regions; and

  • ethnic minority natural population growth.


Between 2011 and 2018, the Han population in southern Xinjiang (including the XPCC) fell by nearly 26,000 persons to 865,203 persons. Plans to increase this population by 300,000 by 2022 include Bayingol, a region with a significant number of XPCC settlements. If 80% of this figure (240,000) would go to southern Xinjiang (excluding Bayingol), then that would result in an annual in-migration of 48,000 Han. Despite the major costs and difficulties of attracting and retaining permanent Han residents, an ambitious figure of 45,000 is assumed to reach a conservative ‘destruction in part’ estimate.

Between 2010 and 2018, Han natural population growth rates in XPCC regions averaged only 1.37 per mille. Here, a fixed growth rate of 1.5 per mille is assumed, again a conservative figure that likely overestimates such growth until 2040. However, this variable has little influence on the outcomes.

Ethnic population out-migrations are complex to estimate. Between 2017 and 2019, an estimated 79,000 Uyghurs and others were transferred from (mostly southern) Xinjiang to other parts of China (Zenz 2021, n. 51). It is unclear whether these transfers, as well as transfers between southern and northern Xinjiang, imply a permanent relocation. In the first 10 months of 2018, 364,000, or 13.3%, of all labour transfers had destinations outside people’s home prefectures, but these are not necessarily permanent and include seasonal labour (Zenz 2021, 17). A rare exception is a report that in the first 11 months of 2017, Hotan transferred 22,368 labourers to other parts of Xinjiang on a ‘long-term stable’ basis (Zhang 2017). Here, it is assumed that annually 50,000 workers are transferred to other parts of Xinjiang (35,000) and China (15,000) in the form of permanent relocation. It is also assumed that by 2020, 200,000 transferred labourers had permanently relocated to other parts of Xinjiang (150,000) and China (50,000). These assumptions only influence the resulting calculations in relatively small ways. The calculations also assume that natural population growth among permanently transferred populations is identical to southern Xinjiang.

Table 2 shows five scenarios with different natural population growth rates since southern Xinjiang’s natural population growth rates for 2018/19 and planned rates for 2020/21 broadly range between 5.00 and −2.50 per mille (cf. Table 1).9 It is unlikely that births would be reduced to zero (resulting in −6.37 per mille natural population growth)10 because that would quickly become noticeable and lead to a gradual collapse of the education system.

Table 2. Southern Xinjiang population projections.


For the state, lower growth rates have several important advantages:

  • Only the lower end scenarios achieve Han population shares of around 25% by 2040.

  • Less Han in-migration is required to achieve a 25% target.

  • For natural population growth rates between −5.00 and 0 per mille, southern Xinjiang’s total population in 2040 is lower than the 10.39 million in 2018. This reduces the pressure on the land and simplifies policing and surveillance.


The estimated population loss from suppressed birth rates in southern Xinjiang alone ranges between 2.6 and 4.5 million.

Growth rates between −2.5 and +2.5 per mille seem most likely. They enable better concealment from international scrutiny, maintaining a functional education system, achieving desired Han population shares within a generation while limiting the total population within reasonable limits. The resulting ethnic minority population loss would range between 3.1 and 4.1 million of 13.14 million (24–31%). For the same growth range, population projections from the study (Pang 2018) that used TFRs from the 2010 census without accounting for subsequent population changes or unreported births results in losses of 2.0–3.5 million, out of a total projected ethnic minority population of 12.5 million (20–28%).

Overall, −2.5 per mille growth could be most ideal from the state’s perspective because it results in a lower total population than 2018 (9.05 versus 9.49 million), while achieving a 24.2% Han population share by 2040. Importantly, actual or planned growth rates in much of southern Xinjiang are already declining to levels that are compatible with such optimization goals.


This paper has established the existence of an intent to reduce ethnic minority population growth in order to increase the proportionate Han population in southern Xinjiang. This intent is explicitly espoused by Chinese academics and officials, and to a significant degree reflected in related policies. Involuntary birth prevention measures could result in a loss of several million lives. A smaller ethnic minority population will also be easier to police, control and assimilate.

Arguably, the strategy to optimize the population gives us a clear understanding of the government’s long-term intent regarding southern Xinjiang’s ethnic minority populations, especially in light of recent natural population growth declines following a large-scale campaign to prevent births.

The most concerning aspect of this strategy is that ethnic minority citizens are demonized and framed as a ‘problem’ that threatens an otherwise ‘healthy’ society (cf. Roberts 2020, 16–17). Some Chinese scholars even called it a ‘human problem’ (ren de wen ti 人的问题) (e.g., Gao and Li 2017, 27). This language is akin to purported statements by Xinjiang officials that problem populations are like ‘weeds hidden among the crops’ where the state will ‘need to spray chemicals to kill them all’ (Zenz 2018, 21). Such a framing of an entire ethnic group is highly concerning.

Supplemental material

Supplemental Material

Download MS Excel (63 KB)


The author thanks the four anonymous peer reviewers as well as international law expert Erin Rosenberg and Matthew Robertson from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation for their very helpful feedback. The author would also like to thank Cheryl Yu, China Programs and Research Manager at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, for assistance with translation.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.


1 Prefecture and county socio-economic development reports (guo min jing ji he she hui fa zhan tong ji gong bao 国民经济和社会发展统计公报). Some counties in the sample are represented by data for the prefecture that governs them.

2 Kashgar’s 2018 death rate was 5.56 per mille, while Yingjisha, Yopurga and Shufu counties reported 2019 death rates of 5.13, 6.60 and 6.66, respectively (sources: county socio-economic development reports).

3 While the source is not a government website, the details of the report can easily be authenticated, including the existence of the other mentioned public document: zizhiqu ‘guan yu jia qiang he gai jin Nanjiang si de zhou ji hua sheng yu gong zuo de yi jian’ (xin dang ting zi [2017] 38 hao) [Autonomous Region “Opinions on Strengthening and Improving Family Planning Work in the Four Prefectures of Southern Xinjiang”]; or the identity of the hosting vice-governor (Wuqia County Government 2018; Kizilsu Prefecture Government n.d.).

4 The speech is summarized on Xinjiang University’s website (Xinjiang University School of Economics and Management 2020).

5 The term is also employed for China in general, but then typically with a broader range of meanings.

6 Chinese: Zhong hua min zu (中华民族).

7 Extrapolating projections for Hotan to the rest of southern Xinjiang is not as accurate as modelling based on prefectural data, but sufficient for the purpose of achieving a general baseline estimate. Due to incomplete data, the CAS study also had to rely on interpolation for Hotan. The CAS study accounted for small migration flows reported in the 2010 census, with only minor impact on projections. This is ignored, given that the state would deliberately engineer much greater population flows.

8 The initial set of 2020 Xinjiang census data published in June 2021 could not be used for any aspect of the calculations, given that it contained neither ethnic population breakdowns by region nor natural population growth rates.

9 The calculations assume that southern Xinjiang’s natural population growth in 2019 and 2020 was 2.00 and 1.00 per mille, respectively, which is broadly based on the limited available evidence presented above.

10 Southern Xinjiang’s average death rate for in 2018 weighted by population was 6.37 per mille (China Statistics Press 2019, tabs 3-6, 3-7).



Independence for Uighurs or death By Shohret Hoshur

Independence for Uighurs or death

Thu, Aug 19, 2021 page8
  • Independence for Uighurs or death

    • By Shohret Hoshur

    In the article “Calls for Independence May Not Help the Uyghur Cause” published in Foreign Policy on July 2, Yehan, writing under a pseudonym, argued that calls for independence might not help the Uighur cause.

    As a senior journalist and person who belongs to the affected community, I argue that not calling for independence from China means accepting genocide.

    Uighurs and Han have no common ground for living together. When they are forced to do so, as we are witnessing today, one side kills the other.

    Independence is needed because Uighurs are not reaching for freedom or development, but for survival.

    Let us put aside the history of East Turkistan, including the question of who is the true owner and who the invader, and the vast cultural differences between Han and Uighur communities, as well as the psychological uniqueness of the two groups. Just look at accounts of events and clashes in the region in past decades.

    China has since 1950 launched more than 100 campaigns against Uighur separatists, with names such as “Land Reform Movement,” “Anti-Rightist Campaign,” “Cultural Revolution” or “Strike Hard Campaign Against Violent Terrorism.”

    A 2017 white paper said: “Since 2014, Xinjiang has destroyed 1,588 violent and terrorist gangs, arrested 12,995 terrorists and punished 30,645 people for 4,858 illegal religious activities.”

    The Global Terrorism Database recorded more than 270 terror acts in China from 1989 to 2019, mostly in Uighur areas.

    Another white paper said: “Incomplete statistics show that, from 1990 to the end of 2016, separatist, terrorist and extremist forces launched thousands of terrorist attacks in Xinjiang.”

    Uighur activists say that some of the incidents were about fighting for freedom, while others were about self defense.

    However, most of China’s state terrorism is aimed at innocent Uighurs. This is especially true of the ongoing campaign, which began in 2017 and is aimed at “eliminating religious extremists.”

    In Xinjiang’s 380 concentration camps, more than 3 million Uighurs are mentally and physically tortured.

    Whatever you call things — whether terror or liberation, concentration camp or vocational training center — the irrefutable reality is that there is unalterable hatred and an untreatable wound between the Uighurs of East Turkistan and the Han of China.

    This was also revealed in one of China’s own documents.

    In the 2017 white paper, Qiu Yuanyuan (邱媛媛), a researcher at the party school of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, described the situation: “In 2014, 2015 and 2016, our strike-hard campaigns in Xinjiang were very broad and rigorous. It was impossible for their relatives not to be heartbroken and angry with us; therefore, to maintain stability, we established the comprehensive training camps, even though they had committed no actual crimes.”

    The document proved that campaigns launched before the camps were established caused a loss of mutual trust between Han and Uighur communities.

    If there was unresolved hatred before 2017, imagine how it is today, after millions of families have been separated forcibly, millions of children have been orphaned and innumerable people have died in the camps.

    After so much tragedy, so much pain, so much killing, so much jailing, how can a country be united?

    Some people believe that calling for independence might push the Chinese public to side with the Chinese government against the Uighurs.

    However, Chinese already march in lockstep with their government.

    Why do the Chinese neighbors of Uighurs held in camps not ask: “Where are these people? Where did they go?”

    Why do CCP cadres not ask: “What kind of kinship is this? Why do we sleep in Uighurs’ houses?”

    When millions of orphans are squatting in classrooms, why do their teachers not protest and speak out, saying that it is torture, not education?

    How can a Chinese judge who ordered a 15-year sentence for praying still sleep comfortably?

    It is either naive or hypocritical to think that the Uighur genocide is being executed by the CCP alone. Separating it from the strong support of the public is a deceit of oneself and others.

    There were British supporters of India’s struggle for independence; blacks in the US were not separated from whites after the civil rights movement; and Russian human rights advocates supported Chechen separatists.

    Yet, in the nearly 100-year East Turkestan independence struggle, Chinese have almost never been at the front lines with Uighurs.

    Meanwhile in the free world, more than 30 Chinese organizations in the Netherlands have written a protest letter to the Dutch government over its condemnation of the Uighur genocide, and Canadian Senator Yuen Pau Woo (胡元豹) voiced opposition against a Canadian Senate motion calling the situation in Xinjiang “genocide,” leading to a majority of senators declining it.

    Yuen exonerated the CCP with the theory of output and input legitimacy, saying that China’s actions are acceptable due to its praiseworthy economic success.

    Meanwhile, Yehan’s key argument is that the “CCP is exploiting the dominance of the independence movement in the narrative. The Chinese public has been trained for decades to treat ‘separatists,’ whether in Xinjiang or Taiwan, effectively as traitors, and to see the integrity of the country’s modern borders as key to national identity.”

    Should the Chinese be educated? China’s living standard is above the global average, and many Chinese have been educated in the US or Europe, and yet, there has been little desire among them to democratically elect a government.

    Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) abolished his term limit, and there was no opposition.

    Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波), who gave up his life in a free world for China’s democratization, died in prison, and there was no protest.

    When COVID-19 started spreading in Wuhan, Beijing tried to hide it. Many Chinese have died, yet the public has not held the government accountable.

    Instead, Beijing punished eight doctors who publicly warned about the virus, and this has not even sparked debate.

    Chinese, who are not eager for freedom for themselves, do not wish freedom for others.

    Under Beijing’s rule, no matter whether democratic or autocratic, there is only one path for the Uighurs, and that path is death.

    Despite countless disadvantages of Uighur independence, there are some advantages.

    Uighurs are not alone on the battlefield of genocide. What China is doing is against the will of God. Being an Uighur is not a choice; genocide is against the basic rule of humanity.

    Eventually, the world will realize that it needs to stop China from killing others. God and humanity are with the Uighurs.

    Even under the most conservative marriage law, couples are allowed to divorce if there is a loss of trust, and they are ordered to immediately separate if there is evidence that one of them is doing harm to the other.

    For the Uighurs, the issue at hand is not whether to separate from China, but when and how to do it. The difficulty of the problem should not cause Uighurs to cover it up or escape from it.

    Not calling for independence might destroy the Uighur cause and help China eliminate Uighurs from the face of the Earth.

    Shohret Hoshur is a Uighur-American journalist

Detainee says China has secret jail in Dubai, holds Uyghurs

Detainee says China has secret jail in Dubai, holds Uyghurs

Detainee says China has secret jail in Dubai, holds Uyghurs

2 hours ago
Wu Huan speaks during an interview in a safe house in the Ukraine on Wednesday, June 30, 2021. Wu claims that she was held for eight days at a Chinese-run “black site” in Dubai along with at least two Uyghurs, in what may be the first evidence that China is operating a secret detention facility beyond its borders. She was on the run from the threat of being sent back to her home country because of her support of her fiance, Wang Jingyu, a perceived Chinese dissident. (AP Photo)
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Wu Huan speaks during an interview in a safe house in the Ukraine on Wednesday, June 30, 2021. Wu claims that she was held for eight days at a Chinese-run “black site” in Dubai along with at least two Uyghurs, in what may be the first evidence that China is operating a secret detention facility beyond its borders. She was on the run from the threat of being sent back to her home country because of her support of her fiance, Wang Jingyu, a perceived Chinese dissident. (AP Photo)

A young Chinese woman says she was held for eight days at a Chinese-run secret detention facility in Dubai along with at least two Uyghurs, in what may be the first evidence that China is operating a so-called “black site” beyond its borders.

The woman, 26-year-old Wu Huan, was on the run to avoid extradition back to China because her fiancé was considered a Chinese dissident. Wu told The Associated Press she was abducted from a hotel in Dubai and detained by Chinese officials at a villa converted into a jail, where she saw or heard two other prisoners, both Uyghurs.

She was questioned and threatened in Chinese and forced to sign legal documents incriminating her fiancé for harassing her, she said. She was finally released on June 8 and is now seeking asylum in the Netherlands.

While “black sites” are common in China, Wu’s account is the only testimony known to experts that Beijing has set one up in another country. Such a site would reflect how China is increasingly using its international clout to detain or bring back citizens it wants from overseas, whether they are dissidents, corruption suspects or ethnic minorities like the Uyghurs.

The AP was unable to confirm or disprove Wu’s account independently, and she could not pinpoint the exact location of the black site. However, reporters have seen and heard corroborating evidence including stamps in her passport, a phone recording of a Chinese official asking her questions and text messages that she sent from jail to a pastor helping the couple.

China’s Foreign Ministry denied her story. “What I can tell you is that the situation the person talked about is not true,” ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said Monday.

Dubai Police stated Monday that any claims of a Chinese woman detained by local authorities on behalf of a foreign country are false, and that Wu freely exited the country with her friend three months ago.

“Dubai does not detain any foreign nationals without following internationally accepted procedures and local law enforcement processes, nor does it allow foreign governments to run any detention centers within its borders,” said a statement from the Dubai government media office. “Dubai also follows all recognized global norms and procedures set by international organizations like Interpol in the detainment, interrogation and transfer of fugitives sought by foreign governments.”

Black sites are clandestine jails where prisoners generally are not charged with a crime and have no legal recourse, with no bail or court order. Many in China are used to stop petitioners with grievances against local governments, and they often take the form of rooms in hotels or guesthouses.

Yu-Jie Chen, an assistant professor at Taiwan’s Academia Sinica, said she had not heard of a Chinese secret jail in Dubai, and such a facility in another country would be unusual. However, she also noted that it would be in keeping with China’s attempts to do all it can to bring select citizens back, both through official means such as signing extradition treaties and unofficial means such as revoking visas or putting pressure on family back home.

“(China) really wasn’t interested in reaching out until recent years,” said Chen, who has tracked China’s international legal actions. “This trend is increasingly robust.”

Chen said Uyghurs in particular were being extradited or returned to China, which has been detaining the mostly Muslim minority on suspicion of terrorism even for relatively harmless acts like praying. The Uyghur Human Rights Project tracked 89 Uyghurs detained or deported from nine countries from 1997 to 2007 through public reports. That number steadily increased to reach 1,327 from 20 countries from 2014 until now, the group found.

Wu and her fiancé, 19-year-old Wang Jingyu, are not Uyghur but rather Han Chinese, the majority ethnicity in China. Wang is wanted by China because he posted messages questioning Chinese media coverage of the Hong Kong protests in 2019 and China’s actions in a border clash with India.

Along with Uyghurs, China has been cracking down on perceived dissidents and human rights activists, and has launched a massive effort to get back suspect officials as part of a national anti-corruption campaign. Under President Xi Jinping, China’s most authoritarian leader in decades, Beijing brought back 1,421 people in 2020 alone for alleged corruption and financial crime under Operation Skynet. However, the AP could not find comprehensive numbers for how many Chinese citizens overall have been detained or deported from overseas in recent years.

Dubai also has a history as a place where Uyghurs are interrogated and deported back to China. And activists say Dubai itself has been linked to secret interrogations involving other countries. Radha Stirling, a legal advocate who founded the advocacy group Detained in Dubai, said she has worked with about a dozen people who have reported being held in villas in the UAE, including citizens of Canada, India and Jordan but not China.

“There is no doubt that the UAE has detained people on behalf of foreign governments with whom they are allied,” Stirling said. “I don’t think they would at all shrug their shoulders to a request from such a powerful ally.”

However, Patrick Theros, a former U.S. ambassador to Qatar who is now strategic advisor to the Gulf International Forum, called the allegations “totally out of character” for the Emiratis.

“They don’t allow allies freedom of movement,” he said. “The idea that the Chinese would have a clandestine center, it makes no sense.”

The U.S. State Department had no comment on Wu’s specific case or on whether there is a Chinese-run black site in Dubai.

“We will continue to coordinate with allies and partners to stand against transnational repression everywhere,” it said in a statement to the AP.



Wu, a Chinese millennial with cropped hair dyed blonde, never cared about politics before. But after her fiancé was arrested in Dubai on April 5 on unclear charges, she started giving interviews to media and getting in touch with overseas-based Chinese dissidents for help.

On May 27, Wu said, she was questioned by Chinese officials at her hotel, the Element al-Jaddaf, and then taken by Dubai police to the Bur Dubai police station. Staff for the hotel declined in a phone interview to confirm her stay or her departure, saying it was against company policy to disclose information about guests.

She was held for three days at the police station, she said, with her phone and personal belongings confiscated. On the third day, she said, a Chinese man who introduced himself as Li Xuhang came to visit her. He told her he was working for the Chinese consulate in Dubai, and asked her whether she had taken money from foreign groups to act against China.

“I said no, I love China so much. My passport is Chinese. I’m a Chinese person. I speak Chinese,” she said. “I said, how could I do that?”

Li Xuhang is listed as consul general on the website of the Chinese consulate in Dubai. The consulate did not return multiple calls asking for comment and to speak with Li directly.

Wu said Li took her out of the police station along with another Chinese man who handcuffed her, and they put her in a black Toyota. There were multiple Chinese people in the car, but Wu was too scared to get a clear look at their faces.

Her heart thumping, they drove past an area where many Chinese lived and owned businesses in Dubai called International City, which Wu recognized from an earlier trip to Dubai.

After driving for half an hour, they stopped on a deserted street with rows of identical compounds. She was brought inside a white-colored villa with three stories, where a series of rooms had been converted into individual cells, she said.

The house was quiet and cold in contrast with the desert heat. Wu was taken to her own cell, a room which had been renovated to have a heavy metal door.

There was a bed in her room, a chair and a white fluorescent light that was on all day and night. The metal door remained closed except when they fed her.

“Firstly, there’s no sense of time,” Wu said. “And second, there’s no window, and I couldn’t see if it was day or night.”

Wu said a guard took her to a room several times where they questioned her in Chinese and threatened that she would never be allowed to leave. The guards wore face masks all the time.

She saw another prisoner, a Uyghur woman, while waiting to use the bathroom once, she said. A second time, she heard a Uyghur woman shouting in Chinese, “I don’t want to go back to China, I want to go back to Turkey.” Wu identified the women as Uyghurs based on what she said was their distinctive appearance and accent.

Wu said she was fed twice a day, with the second meal a stack of plain flatbread. She had to ask the guards for permission to drink water or go to the bathroom. She was supposed to be allowed to go the bathroom a maximum of five times a day, Wu said, but that depended on the mood of the guards.

The guards also gave her a phone and a SIM card and instructed her to call her fiancé and pastor Bob Fu, the head of ChinaAid, a Christian non-profit, who was helping the couple.

Wang confirmed to the AP that Wu called and asked him for his location. Fu said he received at least four or five calls from her during this time, a few on an unknown Dubai phone number, including one where she was crying and almost incoherent. She again blamed Wang and said Fu should not help him.

The AP also reviewed text messages Wu sent to Fu at the time, which are disjointed and erratic.

“I could tell she was hiding from telling me her whereabouts,” said Fu. “At that point we concluded that something has happened to her that prevented her from even talking.”

Wu said towards the end of her stay, she refused meals, screamed and cried in an effort to be released. The last thing her captors demanded of her, she said, was to sign documents in Arabic and English testifying that Wang was harassing her.

“I was really scared and was forced to sign the documents,” she told the AP. “I didn’t want to sign them.”



Reports have emerged in recent years of Emiratis and foreigners being taken to villas, sometimes indefinitely.

Perhaps the best-known case involves Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the daughter of the ruler of Dubai. Sheikha Latifa tried to flee in 2018 by boat, but was intercepted by the Indian coast guard in the Arabian Sea and handed back to the UAE.

In videos published by the BBC in February, she claims she was held against her will in a villa in Dubai.

“I’m a hostage,” she says in one of the videos. “This villa has been converted into jail.” A statement since issued on behalf of Sheikha Latifa said she is now free to travel.

China and the UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula, have deep economic and political ties and also work together on counterintelligence. China ratified an extradition treaty with the UAE in 2002 and a judicial cooperation treaty in 2008. The UAE was an experimental site for China’s COVID vaccines and cooperated with China on making tests.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and de facto ruler of the UAE, has said he was willing to work with China to “jointly strike against terrorist extremist forces”, including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a militant group Beijing has accused of fostering Uyghur separatism. In late 2017 and early 2018, local authorities arrested and deported at least five Uyghurs to China, according to four friends and relatives who spoke by phone with the AP.

In one case, a long-time UAE resident, Ahmad Talip, was called in for questioning at a local police station and detained, according to his wife, Amannisa Abdullah, who is now in Turkey. In another case, eight plainclothes officers broke into a hotel room and arrested a 17-year-old boy who had just fled a police raid in Egypt.

The detentions were carried out by Arabs who appeared to be UAE police, not Chinese agents, the Uyghurs said. However, one of the detainees, Huseyin Imintohti, was sought by three Chinese agents at a Uyghur restaurant in Dubai before his deportation, according to his wife, Nigare Yusup.

Another Uyghur detainee, Yasinjan Memtimin, was interrogated twice by people in the UAE who appeared to be Chinese police, said his wife, who declined to be named out of fear of retribution. She said she had heard from a Uyghur who fled overseas of a detention facility in the UAE where Uyghurs were detained and interrogated, but she could not offer more details.

The UAE appears to be a hub for Chinese intelligence on Uyghurs in the Middle East, former Uyghur residents told The AP. A Uyghur linguist, Abduweli Ayup, said he had spoken with three Uyghurs coerced into working as spies in Turkey who passed through Dubai to pick up SIM cards and cash and meet Chinese agents.

Jasur Abibula, a former Xinjiang government worker, also told the AP that Chinese state security lured him from the Netherlands to the UAE in 2019 after his ex-wife, Asiye Abdulaheb, obtained confidential documents on internment camps in Xinjiang. He was greeted by a dozen or so people working for the Chinese government in Dubai, he said, including at least two who introduced themselves as working for China’s Ministry of State Security.

One, a Uyghur man in his fifties who gave his name as Dolet, said he was stationed in Dubai. The other, a Han Chinese man who spoke fluent Uyghur, said he was on a mission to uncover the source of the leaks, according to Abibula.

The agents presented Abibula with a USB and asked him to insert it in his ex-wife’s computer. They offered him money, put him up in a Hilton resort and bought toys for his kids. They also threatened him, showing him a video of his mother back in China. On a drive through dunes of sand, one said it reminded him of the deserts back in Xinjiang.

“If we kill and bury you here, nobody will able to find your body,” he recalled them telling him. Abibula is now back in the Netherlands, where the AP spoke to him by phone, and he sent photos of some of the agents, his hotel and his plane ticket to support his claims.

Besides the UAE, many other countries have cooperated with China in sending Uyghurs back. In 2015, Thailand repatriated over 100 Uyghurs to China. In 2017, Egyptian police detained hundreds of Uyghur students and residents and sent them back as well.

Rodney Dixon, a London-based rights lawyer representing Uyghur groups, said his team has filed a case against Tajikistan in the International Criminal Court, accusing local authorities of aiding China in deporting Uyghurs.

China isn’t the first country to hunt people deemed terror suspects outside its borders. After 9/11, the U.S. government also operated and controlled a network of CIA clandestine detention facilities overseas in countries including Thailand, Lithuania and Romania. The CIA’s detention and interrogation program ended in 2009.



After Wu was released, she was taken back to the same hotel she had stayed at and given her personal belongings. She immediately reached out to Fu, apologized for her past calls and asked for help, in text messages seen by the AP.

“I’m afraid to call you,” she told Fu in one message. “I’m afraid I will be overheard.”

On June 11, she flew out of Dubai to Ukraine, where she was reunited with Wang.

After threats from Chinese police that Wang could face extradition from Ukraine, the couple fled again to the Netherlands. Wu said she misses her homeland.

“I’ve discovered that the people deceiving us are Chinese, that it’s our countrymen hurting our own countrymen,” she said. “That is the situation.”

Staff writers Nomaan Merchant and Matthew Lee contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.

‘They Have My Sister’: As Uyghurs Speak Out, China Targets Their Families

'They Have My Sister': As Uyghurs Speak Out, China Targets Their Families

‘They Have My Sister’: As Uyghurs Speak Out, China Targets Their Families

·6 min read
Rushan Abbas, a Uyghur American activist, at a rally encouraging sanctions against Chinese officials in Washington, May 3, 2019. (Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times)
Rushan Abbas, a Uyghur American activist, at a rally encouraging sanctions against Chinese officials in Washington, May 3, 2019. (Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times)

She was a gifted agricultural scientist educated at prestigious universities in Shanghai and Tokyo. She said she wanted to help farmers in poor areas, like her hometown in Xinjiang, in western China. But because of her uncle’s activism for China’s oppressed Muslim Uyghurs, her family and friends said, the Chinese state made her a security target.

At first they took away her father. Then they pressed her to return home from Japan. Last year, at age 30, Mihriay Erkin, the scientist, died in Xinjiang, under mysterious circumstances.

The government confirmed Erkin’s death but attributed it to an illness. Her uncle, Abduweli Ayup, the activist, believes she died in state custody.

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Ayup says his niece was only the latest in his family to come under pressure from the authorities. His two siblings had already been detained and imprisoned. All three were targeted in retaliation for his efforts to expose the plight of the Uyghurs, he said.

“People are not only suffering there, they are not only being indoctrinated there, not only being tortured, they are actually dying,” said Ayup, who now lives in Norway. “And the Chinese government is using this death, using these threats to make us silent, to make us lose our hope.”

As Beijing has intensified its repression in Xinjiang in recent years, more Uyghurs living overseas have felt compelled to speak out about mass internment camps and other abuses against their families back home. Their testimonies have added to a growing body of evidence of China’s crackdown, which some have called a genocide, prompting foreign governments to impose sanctions.

Now the Chinese authorities are pushing back against overseas Uyghurs by targeting their relatives.

The Communist Party has long treated the relatives of dissidents as guilty by association and used them to pressure and punish outspoken family members. With the courts under the control of the authorities, there is little recourse to challenge such prosecutions. Liu Xia, the wife of Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo, spent nearly eight years under house arrest after he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. Her younger brother, Liu Hui, served two years in prison for a fraud conviction she called retaliation.

But with the Uyghurs, authorities seem to be applying this tactic with unusual, and increasing severity, placing some Uyghur activists’ relatives in prison for decades, or longer.

Dolkun Isa, the German-based president of the World Uyghur Congress, a Uyghur rights group, said he believes his older brother is in detention. He learned in late May that his younger brother, Hushtar, had been sentenced to life in prison. “It was connected to my activism, surely,” Isa said.

Radio Free Asia, a U.S.-funded broadcaster, says that more than 50 relatives of journalists on staff have been detained in Xinjiang, with some held in detention camps and others sentenced to prison. The journalists all work for the broadcaster’s Uyghur language service, which has in the past several years stood out for its reporting on the crackdown, exposing the existence of camps and publishing the first accounts of deaths and forced sterilizations.

The sister of Rushan Abbas, a Uyghur American activist, was sentenced in December to 20 years in prison for terrorism. The sister, Gulshan Abbas, and her aunt had been detained in 2018, days after Rushan Abbas spoke at an event in Washington denouncing the crackdown and widespread detention in Xinjiang.

“As retaliation against me because I made that public speech, as a tool to silence me, they abducted my sister,” Abbas said. “They have my sister as a hostage right now.”

At Beijing’s request, some countries have also sent more than 300 Uyghurs back to China since 2010, according to a study by the Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs, and the Uyghur Human Rights Project, nonprofits based in Washington, D.C. One Uyghur now fighting extradition is Idris Hasan, whom activists say has been detained in Morocco.

In the case of Mihriay Erkin, the scientist, her uncle first drew the attention of the authorities in Xinjiang for trying to expand the use of the Uyghur language. The government regarded even the most moderate expression of ethnic identity as a threat and Ayup was arrested in 2013 and spent 15 months in prison. After he was released, he fled abroad, but his experience emboldened him to continue campaigning.

Back home, Ayup’s brother, Erkin Ayup, a local Communist Party official, knew that his own situation was precarious. In 2016, he told his daughter that a crackdown was unfolding, and he feared he could be caught up in it, according to Asami Nuru, a friend of Mihriay Erkin’s in Tokyo.

The father and daughter devised a simple system to let Erkin know he was safe: He would send her a smiley face sticker on WeChat every morning.

“One day, he didn’t send the sticker,” Nuru said. “She called her mother and she learned her father was in a camp. She was very upset, and from then on she would cry every day.”

Ayup believes the authorities took his brother into custody in mid-2017.

In the years that followed, Erkin’s anxiety over her father’s situation bore down on her, and she even lost weight, Nuru said. She began to receive adamant messages from her mother, likely at the behest of the authorities, telling her to stop her uncle’s activism or return home.

Her family and friends say her decision to return to China in June 2019 was sudden. She left her suitcases in the house where she lived.

Erkin called Nuru from the airport and told her that she wanted to try to find her father, even though she knew he was still in detention. Nuru said she tried to persuade her against the idea.

“She told me, ‘I want to try to find my father, even if it means I might die,’” Nuru said.

Ayup said he believes that authorities arrested Erkin in February 2020 to punish him after he helped international news outlets report on a leaked government document outlining how Uyghurs were tracked and chosen for detention.

The circumstances of Erkin’s death remain unclear.

Her death was first reported by Radio Free Asia, which cited a national security officer from Erkin’s hometown as saying she had died while in a detention center in the southern city of Kashgar. Ayup said he believed it was the same place where he himself had been beaten and sexually abused six years earlier.

Erkin’s family was given her body, Ayup said, but were told by security officials to not have guests at her funeral and to tell others she died at home.

In a statement to The New York Times, the Xinjiang government said that Erkin had returned from overseas in June 2019 to receive medical treatment. On Dec. 19, she died at a hospital in Kashgar of organ failure caused by severe anemia, according to the statement.

From the time she went to the hospital until her death, she had always been looked after by her uncle and younger brother, the government wrote.

Before she returned to China, Erkin seemed to be aware that her return could end tragically.

“We all leave alone, the only things that can accompany us are the Love of Allah and our smile,” she wrote in text messages to Ayup when he tried to dissuade her from going home.

“I am very scared,” she admitted. “I hope I would be killed with a single bullet.”

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