Chinese consulate officials in Pakistan are distributing money to Uyghurs based there in exchange for information about activists campaigning against Chinese rule in the ethnic Muslim minority’s homeland in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region, according to local sources.
On July 19, Chinese consulates in Rawalpindi and Gilgit, in the north of Pakistan, held events to mark the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and offered money to local Uyghurs who have provided them with “assistance,” Omer Khan, founder of the Pakistan-based Omer Uyghur Trust, told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
Officials at the consulate in Rawalpindi held the event at the home of Nasir Khan, the leader of the Overseas Chinese Association of Pakistan (OCAP)—a pro-Chinese organization of Uyghurs living in the country, Omer Khan said.
During the celebration, the officials provided U.S. $23,000 to OCAP, as well as U.S. $12,000 for a primary school, known as the Big Montessori School, the group established with help from the consulate in recent years, and an additional U.S. $10,000 to “closely cooperating members” of the organization, he said.
It was unclear who hosted the Chinese consulate event in Gilgit, or how much money officials presented to local Uyghurs.
Omer Khan said the consulate’s distribution of cash to sympathetic Uyghurs has been an annual occurrence in recent years meant to counter the influence of his organization, which aligns its interests with Uyghurs in Xinjiang who resent Chinese rule and harsh controls on their religion, culture and language.
“They give money every year to the [Uyghur] people who work for them,” he told RFA.
“Beijing is trying to undermine my activities by supporting a pro-China Uyghur organization [in Pakistan] and gives money to people who provide information about other Uyghur activists to the Chinese Embassy such as [senior OCAP official] Pasha Khan and other members of the group.”
More than 3,000 Uyghur families are believed to live in Pakistan, predominantly in the cities of Rawalpindi, Karachi, Gilgit, and the capital, Islamabad.
Rawalpindi is home to an estimated 1,000 Uyghurs, or about 300 Uyghur families—most of which moved to the city in 1960 from Hoten or Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang region, which abuts Pakistan on the 520-kilometer (300-mile) border the two countries share.
Uyghur exiles fear surveillance once they leave China, especially if they have left family behind, and they say their fears have worsened since deadly ethnic riots in July 2009—which prompted a major security crackdown. Xinjiang has been plagued in recent years by bombings, attacks, and riots that Chinese authorities blame on Uyghur separatists.
Omer Khan said that Chinese consulate officials have provided money to OCAP and sympathetic Uyghurs in the past, but this year was the first time they had “openly” rewarded them for providing information on community activists, angering many local Uyghurs who oppose Chinese rule in Xinjiang.
Pasha Khan refused to discuss OCAP’s relationship with the Chinese consulate or what the money would be used for with RFA, saying he was too busy to talk when contacted by phone.
‘We came from China’
Abdulhekim Hajim, a Uyghur who lives in Rawalpindi, said it was unclear why the Chinese consulate had “shown so much fondness” towards the Uyghur community in recent years.
“They distribute money to regular Uyghurs every now and then—they distribute it and we Uyghurs pick it up and spend it,” he said.
“I think the reason they do it is because they know our community came from China originally and they feel that they should help us because of that. They haven’t asked us to do anything for them. We don’t know why the Chinese consulate has become so close to us all of a sudden.”
China and Pakistan enjoy good relations, he said, and “we Pakistani citizens like it this way.”
Hajim said that before the consulate began organizing annual events at the home of Nasir Khan, he used to attend similar events hosted by Khan’s brother, Pakistan-born Uyghur businessmen Raza Khan, who was appointed president of the OCAP and led the organization up until his death two years ago.
Abdukeyyim Shemshidin, a Uyghur activist in Rawalpindi, told RFA that the Chinese consulate had only begun courting local Uyghurs after the Omer Uyghur Trust established a primary school known as the Omer Uyghur Language School, in the city in 2009.
“We had never seen people such as Pasha Khan in the community before—they only came here after our activities were recognized [by the Chinese consulate],” he said.
He said the consulate gave money to OCAP to set up its own primary school for Uyghurs, which taught lessons in Mandarin Chinese and promoted Beijing’s rule in Xinjiang, and pressured local Uyghur families to send their children there, instead of to the school built by the Omer Uyghur Trust.
OCAP also offered to pay for the education of Uyghur children at its school and through high school, causing the Omer Uyghur Language School to lose enrollment and forcing it to close down in 2010.
“China helped them close down our school and undermine our other activities,” Shemshidin said.
“They were worried our activists here would gain greater influence and instill ideas of independence in the minds of other Uyghurs, so [the OCAP members] were encouraged to come here.”
Use of funds
Shemshidin also expressed concern over the U.S. $45,000 donated by the consulate to OCAP last week because there is no way to monitor how the funds will be used.
“The Chinese are giving money to the school [OCAP] opened, and there is no doubt that China is also using money to buy supporters and sow disunity within the Uyghur community here,” he said.
According to Shemshidin, it was unclear how the consulate had been rewarding “those who are working for them covertly.”
“We believed that China gave them a number of benefits before, such as allowing them to import Chinese goods here without any tariffs, funding their businesses and so on,” he said.
“Now they are being rewarded openly, but it won’t stop us from speaking out about China’s repressive policies towards Uyghurs.”
Reported by Mihray Abdilim and Kutluk Haji Kadiri for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.