“Your Family Will Suffer”: How China is Hacking, Surveilling, and Intimidating Uyghurs in Liberal Democracies

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Access the dataset of 5,530 instances of Uyghurs being targeted with surveillance, intimidation and harassment since 2002 in 19 different countries.

Executive Summary

Since 2002, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has engaged in an unparalleled campaign of transnational repression as part of its efforts to coerce and control Uyghurs living abroad. As a result, members of the Uyghur diaspora have experienced the long reach of China’s authoritarian state in the form of relentless harassment, intimidation, and coercion. This campaign of fear expanded dramatically in 2017 as China embarked on a policy course of mass repression and internment in the Uyghur Region.

This report expands on previous work on the China’s Transnational Repression of Uyghurs dataset, collected in partnership with the Uyghur Human Rights Project and the Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs, adding 5,530 instances of stage 1 transnational repression spanning 19  years and 22 countries to the dataset. Cases of intimidation and harassment often go unreported, suggesting that the number of cases and number of Uyghurs facing this harassment may be much higher. The broad reach of China’s Stage 1 transnational repression of Uyghurs, in tandem with instances of Stage 2 and Stage 3 repression, shows how the Chinese government has pursued, coerced, and intimidated Uyghurs living abroad, resulting in anxiety, fear, and depression.

We surveyed 72 Uyghurs living in diaspora communities in liberal democracies across North America, the Asia Pacific, and Europe, 95.8 % of whom reported feeling threatened and 73.5% of whom noted that they had experienced digital risks, threats, or other forms of online harassment. Members of Uyghur communities worldwide are interested in protecting themselves, with 89.7% of respondents expressing interest in increasing their security knowledge. However, many respondents did not feel that this protection would necessarily come from their home  governments—44.1% felt that their host governments take the intimidation they face seriously, with only 20.5% feeling that the host governments would fix these issues.

Our report analyzes the survey data with a primary focus on how Uyghurs living in the democratic world continue to have their rights—guaranteed to them by democratic governments—violated by the Chinese government, and how state-aligned actors curtail the freedoms of Uyghurs, and potentially many others, through data collection, surveillance, intimidation, and harassment. China’s authoritarianism extends well beyond its borders. The party-state co-opts other countries and their corporations into its campaign of violence and intimidation against Uyghurs; no state or other actor has yet taken responsibility for their protection. Further, our findings suggest that non-Uyghurs are increasingly targeted by this campaign that threatens their freedoms and individual rights. We have also expanded the existing dataset on China’s Transnational Repression of Uyghurs by conducting a comprehensive review of open-source news reporting on the intimidation and harassment of Uyghurs living abroad. We further supplement this publicly available data with ten original interviews we conducted wit Uyghurs around the world. Together, the information we have gathered and analyzed represents one of the most comprehensive examinations of Uyghur digital insecurity to date.

The response to this global reach must also be global. The Oxus Society and UHRP urge swift action on 13 recommendations to civi society and the private sector, national governments, and inter-governmental bodies, including:

  • Governments should strengthen safe havens for Uyghur refugee resettlement programs by increasing refugee admissions quotas, streamlining bureaucratic obstacles, streamlining procedures, and providing assistance in mitigating the impacts of digital harassment, including digital hygiene education programs;
  •  Governments should increase accountability by raising the cost to Chinese state agents of engaging in this transnational repression;
  • All actors should incorporate digital rights in action to protect discussions of human rights privacy and the protection of individuals’ identities.
  • The private sector should monitor digital threats on online platforms in all relevant languages, including Uyghur, Chinese, Turkish, and others, develop tools to identify state-actor harassment, and make secure communication platforms available in appropriate languages.