Young Uyghurs want to sue an Australian think tank for “defaming” them with a report about forced labour in Xinjiang province, Chinese state media claims.
Communist Party mouthpiece the Global Times published a lengthy article on Sunday featuring interviews with two Uyghur men, who allegedly told the outlet that the March 2020 report had damaged their reputation and hurt their employment opportunities by portraying them as “lazy people who need to be ‘forced’ to work”.
“We want them to stop slandering my hometown and to apologise for having defamed us,” Nuradli Wublikas, 26, was quoted as telling the Global Times.
The article claims Nuradli was one of a group of young Uyghur people living in Changsha, in central China’s Hunan province, who co-authored a letter calling for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute to be sued.
“ASPI stands by the quality of our original research and we remain committed to conducting empirical, independent, data-driven research,” a spokeswoman said in a statement to news.com.au.
“In this case, much of the evidence used in our research to show the extent of the Chinese government’s system of coerced and forced labour was the Chinese Communist Party’s own documents.”
She added that “threatening researchers and civil society groups has become a common tactic that the CCP uses in an effort to divert attention away from the fact that Uyghur forced labour is now a part of the global supply chain”.
“Our research is just one part of the global proliferation of credible evidence – including media reporting, independent research, testimonies and open-source data – that continues to reveal human rights abuses and violations in Xinjiang,” she said.
In its report last year, titled Uyghurs for Sale, the think tank said it had identified “27 factories in nine Chinese provinces that are using Uyghur labour transferred from Xinjiang since 2017”.
“Between 2017 and 2019, we estimate that at least 80,000 Uyghurs were transferred out of Xinjiang and assigned to factories through labour transfer programs under a central government policy known as ‘Xinjiang Aid’,” the report said.
“In all, ASPI’s research has identified 82 foreign and Chinese companies potentially directly or indirectly benefiting from the use of Uyghur workers outside Xinjiang through abusive labour transfer programs as recently as 2019.”
According to the Global Times article, Nuradli claims he and other Uyghurs have been hurt by the report, which was “cited by many Western media outlets”.
The US Commerce Department last year announced sanctions on a number of Chinese companies over allegations of forced labour.
In March, the US, the European Union, Canada and the UK announced co-ordinated sanctions against current and former Chinese officials over human rights abuses against the Uyghur minority, prompting Beijing to respond with retaliatory sanctions.
“I noticed my hometown Xinjiang has long been slandered,” Nuradli was quoted telling the Global Times. “After hearing the news on ASPI’s report, I found it and read through it with the help of a translator.”
The young man was reportedly angry after reading the report, which he said was “full of lies”.
“I was born and grew up in Xinjiang and know so many Uygurs living and working in other cities across the country, and no one is ‘forced’ to work outside,” he is claimed to have said.
“It really made me angry that we Uygurs are portrayed by the Australian think tank report as lazy people who need to be ‘forced’ to work.”
He continued, “Those who wrote the report know little about Xinjiang’s real situation. There is a lot of surplus labour in villages and people are willing to work outside. A friend of mine worked in other cities outside Xinjiang for a year and earned enough money to build a new house. And after another year of working, he had the money to marry his girlfriend.”
Nuraldi also reportedly told the outlet that a student who went to his university “told me that he was sacked from a foreign trade corporation, as the US purchasing agent asked this company and other partners to look into the ‘forced labour’ of Uygurs”.
“Although these companies hired Uygur employees in accordance with laws and regulations, they decided to sack them to avoid possible risks or sanctions from the US,” he was quoted as saying.
“We Uygurs’ rights for development and employment have been undermined.”
China is widely believed to be holding more than one million people from the largely Muslim ethnic minority in a vast network of re-education camps in the northwestern province – claims Beijing has strenuously denied.
Earlier this month, Amnesty International published a 160-page report accusing China of crimes against humanity, with the human rights organisation’s secretary-general Agnes Callamard saying authorities in Xinjiang had created “a dystopian hellscape on a staggering scale”.
The report, based on interviews with 55 former detainees, accused the regime of submitting Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities to mass detention, surveillance and torture.
“It should shock the conscience of humanity that massive numbers of people have been subjected to brainwashing, torture and other degrading treatment in internment camps, while millions more live in fear amid a vast surveillance apparatus,” Callamard told the BBC.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Friday hit out at reports that a number of countries including the US, Canada and UK planned to make a joint statement on Xinjiang at the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Switzerland on June 21.
“If these countries think they can deceive the international community, jeopardise the prosperity, stability and sustainable development of Xinjiang and hamstring China’s development by fabricating lies on Xinjiang, that will be like trying to hold back the tide with broom,” he said.
“Failure will be their fate.”