After years of persecution by Chinese police, Uighur businessman Mehmet fled his home in northern Xinjiang for neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, only to be harassed by Kyrgyz police and threatened with deportation.
On his sixth arrest in July last year, a Kyrgyz security officer brought Mehmet to the basement of a security facility and showed him about 70 Uighur men detained there.
“It was an intimidation tactic,” said Mehmet, who did not want his real name to be published. “The officer told me that I was one of the people on a list provided by a visiting delegation from China. He gave him the exact number of people on the list to be arrested and sent back: 123.” Mehmet was released after paying a $5,000 bribe.
In an attempt to control Uighur diaspora communities, Beijing is extending its security apparatus from the western region of Xinjiang to its Central Asian neighbours, which in turn must balance their economic and political priorities with China. Seven countries involved in Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative — the $900bn plan to build infrastructure in 78 nations — border Xinjiang.
Since the annexation of Xinjiang in 1950, Beijing has had a troubled relationship with the Uighurs, a Muslim Turkic ethnic group that has made several shortlived bids for independence in the past century.
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