Seated man holding a photo of a woman and child (© Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)
Sadam Abdusalam, who lives in Australia, holds up a photo of his Uighur wife and the couple's baby son. The Chinese government has not let them leave the country. (© Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)

China’s crackdown on the Uighur ethnic minority extends beyond its borders, even reaching into Australia.

For Uighurs living in Australia who speak out against China’s repression, “their families have paid the penalty,” U.S. Ambassador to Australia Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr. told the Australian Advertiser in August. “They’ve obviously been monitored.”

Australia was among 30 countries that joined the U.S. at a U.N. General Assembly event in September highlighting what U.S. Deputy Secratary of State John Sullivan has called China’s “horrific campaign of repression” against Uighurs and members of other Muslim minorities in the western region of Xinjiang.

Culvahouse has met with Uighurs to better understand their concerns and pressure. “Freedom of association, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly means that foreign powers don’t follow you around,” Culvahouse said after the meeting.

Oppression in China

Uighurs are part of the Turkic ethnic group that lives mostly in Xinjiang, China’s westernmost province. Uighurs are culturally, linguistically and religiously distinct from China’s ethnic Han majority.

Since April 2017, Chinese authorities have carried out a campaign of oppression to erase the Uighur ethno-religious identity by detaining more than 1 million Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in camps. There are credible reports of deaths, forced labor and torture in some Xinjiang internment camps.

For those who have avoided the internment camps, Xinjiang has effectively become an open-air prison, as authorities use a combination of high- and low-tech surveillance — including security cameras with facial recognition technology — and intimidation tactics.

Recently, the U.S. Department of State put visa restrictions on those responsible for the gross human rights abuses in Xinjiang and restricted American companies from exporting certain products to Chinese tech companies that could enable such abuses, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said.