Authorities in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region have been publicly showing a film about two Uyghurs forcibly repatriated from Thailand as a deterrent to others in the area not to flee the country and seek asylum elsewhere, a local Communist Party cadre and police officers said.
The two men, one in his 40s who has a family and the other in his 30s, were among a group of 109 asylum-seeking Uyghur refugees who were forcibly returned to China from Thailand in early July under pressure from Beijing.
China’s official media has not published any news about the group of Uyghurs, so their fates remain unknown.
The Department of Public Security in the regional capital Urumqi sent the men back to Besh’eriq (in Chinese, Baishiairike) township, Awat (Awati) county, in Aksu (Akesu) prefecture, at the beginning of August, the sources said.
“The two men were brought back to our county by the police who let them publicly acknowledge their regret and confess their guilt about their illegal journey,” said Alim Rahman, a member of the stability work team of the county’s Yengi’eriq township.
After they returned, the pair underwent a two-month political education and confession process arranged by the political and legal committee of county’s Communist Party Committee, he told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
Awat county’s radio and television department made a 25-minute film about their “illegal journey” and “illegal border-crossing” stories, he said.
“They talked about how they were influenced by religious extremists, holy war propaganda and illegal preachers, and how they ruined their own futures,” Rahman said.
Members of the stability work team, who ensure that villages remain politically stable, and village cadres have been showing the film every Friday in the area since the end of August, he said.
Towards the end of the film, the two men admit their guilt for their “illegal deeds,” express regret for their mistakes, and call on their fellow Uyghurs to value their happy lives under the guidance of the Chinese Communist Party, he said.
Rahman declined to give the men’s names because the county’s party boss said their personal information could be shared only among the members of the local party committee and government’s inner circle.
Cadres have gathered residents from all villages at meeting halls to see the film and hear the confessions and regrets of the two Uyghurs, said Uyghur officers at the county’s Dolan (Daolang) and Tamtoghraq (Tamutuogelake) township police stations.
“We show this film to the villagers every Friday, and the work team members tell residents that this is the best place for them, and they can find no better life in the world than they can here, not abroad,” Rahman said.
“China is a great country now, and many people in the other countries admire our country’s economic development,” he said. “If anybody tries to flee to foreign countries like these two escapees did, their destiny will be more miserable than those of the previous detainees.”
“Through this measure, most of the villagers now realize the negative consequences of religious extremism and the unimaginable difficulties of illegal border crossings,” he said.
Men on trial
The two Uyghurs have been tried in Awat county court, but the court has not yet announced its decision, Rahman said, adding that they pair would likely receive long prison sentences.
“[Those who commit] these kinds of crimes, such as religious extremism and ethnic separatism or illegally cross borders to join the holy war, are always punished severely,” he said.
The men were among those who had been held in cramped and unhygienic conditions at Thai government-run refugee detention centers since March 2014.
After long negotiations with Beijing, the Thai government expelled some of the Uyghurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority that suffers harsh systematic repression under Chinese rule, while a group of 173 women and children were permitted to go to Turkey for resettlement.
The move was heavily criticized by the United States, United Nations, and human rights groups and caused protests in Turkey, the anticipated final destination for most of the refugees.
They said the Uyghurs would face torture and severe punishment after they had returned to China, which had demanded their repatriation. China has not provided evidence to support its assertion that the would-be asylum seekers repatriated from Thailand were inspired by religious extremism.
During the last few years, hundreds of Uyghurs have left China to escape persecution and repression by authorities and loss of land to settlers from the eastern part of the country.
Chinese authorities have blamed an upsurge of violence in Xinjiang since 2012 on terrorists and Islamist insurgents seeking to establish an independent state, and have cracked down on Uyghur religion and culture.
Reported by Eset Sulaiman for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Eset Sulaiman. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.