The Dutch government has formally accepted complaints from nearly five dozen ethnic Uyghur Dutch nationals living in the Netherlands detailing what they say are direct threats and intimidation by representatives of the Chinese police and Beijing, according to members of the group.
Three representatives of the 58 Uyghurs met with staff from the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security in The Hague for nearly an hour on Monday, during which the latter accepted the complaints that were initially made beginning in May last year, East Turkestan Union in the Netherlands secretary Ablet Bekri, who attended the meeting, told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
The complaints detail calls from Chinese state security threatening Uyghurs—thought to number around 1,500 in the Netherlands—with the detention of family members back home in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) unless they end their activism abroad, he said.
Authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a network of internment camps in the region since April 2017, and the Uyghur diaspora has rallied to call attention to the abuses.
According to Bekri, the Justice Ministry staff assured the Uyghur representatives that threats made by China to any Dutch citizen are in “violation of Dutch law” and pledged to investigate the claims. He said they had since forwarded the complaints on to Dutch diplomats with the recommendation that they hold formal talks with Chinese counterparts over the allegations.
“They said that the Dutch government absolutely cannot accept it and that it’s a serious violation of Dutch law that cannot take place on Dutch soil, so they are going to take it very seriously,” he said.
“They already submitted a report to the Foreign Ministry and will also use diplomatic means from here on out to urge the Chinese government not to threaten Dutch Uyghurs.”
The meeting between Uyghur activists and the Justice Ministry came days before talks between Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on Wednesday in The Hague. Blok said ahead of his meeting with Wang that he would also discuss concerns about the treatment of Uyghurs in the XUAR, according to a report by the Associated Press.
Dutch lawmaker Martijn van Helvert said at a press conference with two Uyghur activists on Wednesday that the Dutch government “must be clear that there can be no resumption of ‘business as usual’ with Beijing while the persecution of Uyghur Muslims, Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in China continues,” the report said.
Dutch Justice Ministry and Foreign Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment on the discussion of Monday’s meeting, while RFA was unable to contact Chinese Foreign Ministry officials about Dutch Uyghur claims of intimidation.
Threatening phone calls
Obulqasim Hajim, president of the East Turkestan Union in the Netherlands, was also among the three who met with Justice Ministry officials on Monday.
He told RFA that he had submitted his own complaint about Chinese intimidation, recounting that in 2015, Chinese authorities had tried to contact him by phone through his family members.
“[The authorities] were putting pressure on my family to get me to speak with them, and so my family called me,” he said.
“In the end, I told my family that I wasn’t going to talk with [the authorities], even if they tried to force me. I told them [the authorities] should call me themselves. They called me, and because I responded very angrily and rudely to them, they detained my dad.”
Hajim said his father, who was 60 years old at the time, later died in detention.
“Over the next year or two, through various means, I heard that three of my younger brothers were all in jail,” he said.
According to Hajim, it took more than a year to compile and submit all 58 complaints, in part because group members did not fully understand the extent of the situation in the XUAR and why Chinese authorities were threatening them. Additionally, he said, some members also faced a language barrier and other issues.
However, with a substantial number of reports now archived in official records, he recommended that “anyone who receives threats should file a complaint.”
“If they simply identify themselves as Uyghur, [the Dutch authorities] will process it immediately,” he said. “They’ll accept the complaint if [the Uyghurs] just describe what has happened.”
Asiye Uyghur, a Uyghur advocate and Dutch citizen who said she has also faced threats from Chinese authorities, told RFA that she and others had regularly organized trips to police stations to report on instances of intimidation in the lead up to Monday’s meeting.
She suggested that the complaints as well as the Justice Ministry report on the allegations could set “an important precedent” for members of the global Uyghur diaspora, many of whom say they too have been subjected to threats by Chinese government representatives looking to silence activists campaigning for the ethnic group abroad.
“This is the first step in Europe toward Uyghurs protecting their own rights, no matter their citizenship … and it needs to become more widespread,” she said.
“We’re living abroad, in foreign countries, and many of us are not Chinese citizens anymore. We have foreign citizenship. Whatever country we’re living in, all of us have rights as citizens bestowed by the laws of those countries.”
Uyghur said she and others have a duty to “expose” efforts by China to repress the Uyghur community outside of its borders.
“For the Chinese government extending its ‘black arm’ abroad, threatening, intimidating, and interfering in the lives of Uyghurs living in the free world, is a frightening and unacceptable offense,” she said.
“This must be exposed to the world. By exposing it, we are exposing China’s shameful behavior and trampling of human rights.”
Reported by Mihray Abdilim for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Elise Anderson. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.