Axios has obtained a Chinese government request sent to the Turkish government for a Uighur man who fled Xinjiang amid worsening repression.
Why it matters: Uighurs living outside China have long suspected Beijing is using its growing diplomatic and economic clout to pressure foreign governments into interrogating and deporting them.
- These documents from 2016 and 2017 — together with Turkey's treatment of the man after that — provide rare proof this is happening.
"I spend most of my nights in fear. I usually don’t sleep until after 1am because I am afraid they will come for me and my family." — Enver Turdi, in an interview with Axios
Details: Enver Turdi, the man named in the extradition request, has lived in Turkey since early 2014 when he fled Xinjiang, a region in northwest China that is home to around 10 million Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking ethnic minority.
- In 2012 and 2013, Enver passed along information about Chinese government abuses to Radio Free Asia and to Uighur organizations abroad, he told Axios in an interview. He left China on a tourist visa after one of his associates was detained.
- In 2015, the Chinese Embassy in Turkey refused to issue him a new passport, without which he could not renew his Turkish temporary residence permit, Enver told Axios. In 2017, he was placed in a deportation facility for 12 months after being unable to produce valid residence documents.
- Turkish security officials then interrogated him and claimed that he had been running a pro-Islamic State website, which he denied, and showed him a copy of his 2004 graduation photo, which Enver says they could only have obtained from China. His case was sent to a criminal court, not an immigration court.
Enver's case is still pending in the Turkish courts.
The documents: The dossier is 92 pages long and includes the Chinese government extradition request, dated May 2016, supporting police reports, Turkish translations provided by the Chinese government, and Turkish government documents from 2017 indicating the request was accepted by the Turkish Ministry of Justice and that court proceedings were initiated.
- Enver's lawyer obtained the dossier in early 2020, the first time that Enver says he knew for sure that the Chinese government was behind his troubles in Turkey.
- To authenticate the documents, Axios consulted experts on Chinese and Turkish law, human rights groups who work on cases in Turkey and China, and researchers who focus on Xinjiang.
What they're saying: The Chinese government accused Enver of creating a pro-Islamic State website and participating in a terrorist organization. Enver denies these accusations.
- Beijing asked Turkish authorities to discover Enver's whereabouts, seize or freeze his assets, arrest him, and "repatriate him to China."
- The documents themselves aren't formally marked as classified, but the Chinese government instructed Turkish officials to keep the case a secret, writing, "The details of this case are classified, we ask the Turkish side to keep it confidential in accordance with local laws."
Context: After thousands of Uighurs left China amid worsening repression over the past decade, the Chinese government launched a quiet global campaign to force Uighurs to return.
- After the rise of the Islamic State, which a small number of Uighurs joined, the Chinese government has increasingly framed Uighur religious and cultural activity as dangerous extremism. One official list of signs of "religious extremism" included "distorting Xinjiang history," "young men wearing long beards" and "closing restaurants during Ramadan."
“The lengths that China will go to control Uighurs is stunning,” said Elise Anderson, a program officer at the Uighur Human Rights Project, a U.S.-based advocacy organization, told Axios.