BEIJING (AP) — Members of the Uighur Muslim ethnic group held demonstrations in cities around the world on Thursday to protest a sweeping Chinese surveillance and security campaign that has sent thousands of their people into detention and political indoctrination centers.
Overseas Uighur activists said they planned demonstrations in 14 countries including the U.S., Australia and Turkey. Video on social media showed hundreds of Uighur women in Istanbul’s Istiklal Street and in front of Sydney Town Hall chanting and waving blue flags, the separatist symbol for a proposed independent state called East Turkistan. Organizers said they would march at the U.N. headquarters in New York.
China has rolled out one of the world’s most aggressive policing programs in the Uighurs’ homeland of Xinjiang, a vast region in northwest China. Chinese officials say the crackdown is necessary to stamp out a decades-long separatist movement and, more recently, Islamic extremism seeping into the region. Hundreds have died in violent clashes in recent years that the government blames on separatist militants.
Uighur activists and international rights groups say the far-reaching security campaign, which has accelerated markedly since 2016, exacerbates tensions and unfairly targets the entire Uighur population of more than 10 million. Many overseas Uighurs say that their relatives in China have been sent to an extrajudicial network of political indoctrination centers for months at a time without formal charges or for reasons unrelated to separatist activity — such as communicating with relatives abroad.
Allegations of widespread abuse in the centers, including unexplained deaths, have been rife but are almost impossible to confirm, given the extreme level of surveillance and government obstruction of independent reporting trips by foreign media. Associated Press reporters were detained for 11 hours by police in Xinjiang in November while investigating the reported death of a 26-year-old in an indoctrination center.