UHRP Response to Newsweek

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October 15, 2021

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) is deeply troubled by an article appearing in Newsweek in September, Islamic Terrorists or Chinese Dissidents? U.S. Grapples with Uyghur Dilemma. The article, which purportedly aims to examine a new “dilemma” faced by the Biden administration over Uyghurs in Afghanistan, is misleading and uncritically presents evidence provided by the Chinese government as fact.

The title of the article is particularly egregious. To assert that Uyghurs in Afghanistan are either “Islamic terrorists” or “Chinese dissidents” belies the fact that hundreds of Uyghur families live there peacefully—the vast majority of whom reside in and around Kabul.

The author also gives far too much credence to Chinese government claims about Uyghurs in Afghanistan, and fails to note that China almost certainly provided information that forms the basis of the UN Security Council report that repeats the same claims. The author cites the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) as an example of an active threat to China, despite careful analysis by experts showing that the Chinese government substantially overemphasized its capacity in the years after 9/11 and that the group no longer exists. There is no evidence to suggest that ETIM or any other group have ever launched attacks inside China, despite government claims.

More recently, others left to flee increasing government repression—a small number of whom found themselves mixed up with Taliban fighters in the northern regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Every one of the 22 Uyghurs who were handed over to the US military in 2002, mostly by bounty-hunters, was eventually released from Guantánamo Bay without facing charges of any kind.

UHRP was horrified to see the claim that a Uyghur was responsible for a deadly mosque bombing in the Afghan city of Kunduz on October 8. We categorically condemn this and every act of violence, which is never justified. While evidence exists linking individual Uyghurs to violence, the threat has been consistently inflated by the Chinese government to justify severe repression against the entire group.

Most of the Uyghurs who live in Afghanistan today are family members of those who travelled there in the 1960s and 70s to escape the Cultural Revolution and other repression in China, and settled in Kabul and other cities. Following the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban last month, the situation of Uyghurs there has become much more precarious. UHRP has reported on Uyghurs who fear deportation under the new regime.

The journalistic community must resist the urge to fall back on easy tropes about Uyghurs in the diaspora and must rigorously evaluate claims by the Chinese government about the situation in the Uyghur Region and abroad.