Chinese Government Seized and Sold Assets of Xinjiang Detainees

A report published by the advocacy group Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) on Friday reveals that Chinese authorities have seized and sold off millions of dollars worth of assets held by Uyghurs imprisoned in Xinjiang. The newly revealed auctions add to the secrecy and lack of due process for the more than a million Uyghurs who have been detained in internment camps. They also point to the CCP’s targeting of Uyghur business leaders, who once served as a link between the government and local Uyghur populations, but who now stand in the way of the CCP’s campaign of ethnic assimilation. Eva Xiao and Jonathan Cheng from the Wall Street Journal, which corroborated UHRP’s findings, described how asset seizures by Chinese authorities coincided with the government crackdown on ethnic minorities

Since 2019, Xinjiang courts have put at least 150 assets—ranging from home appliances to real estate and company shares—belonging to at least 21 people and valued at a total $84.8 million up for auction on e-commerce sites.

[…] The Uyghur group [UHRP] said it recorded seizures that were clearly linked to court cases involving charges related to terrorism and extremism. It also included cases of people identified by Chinese state media as extremists, or whose families reported they had been accused of such activities.

[…] A Wall Street Journal analysis of corporate records of companies in Hotan city—home to several prominent Uyghur real-estate developers—indicates that orders by municipal authorities to freeze Uyghur entrepreneurs’ assets increased sharply in 2018, about a year after Xinjiang authorities began interning local Muslim minorities en masse.

In 2017, one Uyghur business owner had company shares frozen following orders from a local court. The next year, the number jumped to 22, accounting for more than half of all individuals and firms who had shares frozen due to criminal or civil cases in Hotan city since 2013. [Source]

The policing of normal activities has criminalized innocuous behaviors and expressions of faith, and yet little public information is available regarding the alleged criminals or their crimes in the court documents attached to the auctions. In one relatively transparent case studied by the report, a court document listed three individuals over 75 years old as having helped “terrorist activities.” The UHRP report demonstrated the scope and secrecy of the government’s campaign against the Uyghurs

This report presents twelve cases of imprisoned Uyghurs whose property has been auctioned on the judicial auction platform of Taobao. Five of these cases involve Uyghur businesspeople whose arrests have been reported in publicly available sources. The other seven cases are of Uyghurs whose arrests on politicized charges have not been previously reported. Given the scale of the arrests and mass detention taking place in East Turkistan, this dataset likely represents only a fraction of the property dispossession occurring in the government crackdown on Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples in the region, which began in earnest in 2016.

[…] These judicial auctions represent further evidence of the scope of the crackdown on Uyghur society, as well as the speed and lack of due process with which the campaign is taking place. The Chinese government has not disclosed any details of the cases appearing in this report, and in most cases has not revealed the arrest of the individuals involved. These cases demonstrate the secrecy with which the government is trying and imprisoning people in the Uyghur Region. [Source]

Uyghur business leaders were once a bridge between the local government and Uyghur community. Many helped reduce ethnic tensions by providing jobs to Uyghurs, especially those who struggled to find work in state- or Han-owned firms. In a separate article in the Wall Street Journal, Eva Xiao documented the important role of Uyghur business leaders in community life:

Like other wealthy Uyghurs in Atush, Mr. Eli donated money to less affluent members of the community and pooled his money with others to fund the construction of a mosque, [his wife] added.

In addition to direct donations, which were sometimes a form of Islamic almsgiving, the city’s well-off raised money through lamb auctions and sporting events to cover wedding or school fees for those who couldn’t afford them. Many became patrons of Uyghur cultural projects, including calligraphy competitions and art exhibitions.

[…] “Without Uyghur businessmen, Uyghur society is paralyzed,” said Abduweli Ayup, a Uyghur activist based in Norway, who founded Uyghur Hjelp. Cut off from their charity, he said, poor families, bankrupt business owners and other Uyghurs in need are now totally dependent on the Chinese Communist Party for support. [Source]

The report examined cases of asset seizures that were auctioned off on Taobao, owned by Chinese tech giant Alibaba. While UHRP notes that these cases involving Taobao are likely only a fraction of the total number of cases in which Uyghur assets were seized, the participation of one of China’s largest tech companies may raise more concerns for international investors and oversight bodies. Previously, Alibaba’s cloud computing business presented facial recognition software that its clients could use to detect Uyghurs. Chinese companies have already been heavily criticized for their role in the forced labor and mass incarceration of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, which put them on blacklists by the U.S. government

In addition to Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs in Xinjiang are also subject to arbitrary property seizures by the Chinese government. Thousands of ethnic Kazakhs, including some that are citizens of Kazakhstan, have been detained in Xinjiang. Guldana Salimjan wrote in Lausan about how the forceful dispossession of ethnic Kazakh land, originally propelled by ecotourism, accelerated in order to sustain the internment camps:

In 2017, the Chinese government deemed Kazakhstan one of the “26 sensitive countries”—Muslim-majority countries perceived to be “harboring religious extremism”. Many Chinese Kazakhs in Xinjiang who used to freely travel to Kazakhstan can no longer do so, because their passports have been confiscated by the local police. Many Kazakhstan nationals are detained in camps as well, and their families in Kazakhstan dare not to travel to China and visit them. Chinese authorities view Chinese Kazakhs who have visited Kazakhstan as a threat, as they may publicize the situation in Xinjiang to the international community and undermine China-Kazakhstan relations. The state’s expanded repressive capacity provided authorities more leverage to coerce Kazakhs and Uyghurs to forfeit their land and assets with the threat of sending them to “study in the camps.”

According to the testimonies collected by the Xinjiang Victim Database, Chinese Kazakhs who have travelled to Kazakhstan, have family in Kazakhstan, or have Kazakhstsan citizenship or a green card, have been intimidated by Xinjiang’s local governments into giving up their land. These cases show that the processes that prevented Nurbaqyt from protesting the theft of his land have been accelerated by the internment camp system. Now it was no longer isolated incidents of large-scale theft; instead, any Kazakh citizen deemed untrustworthy appeared to be subject to land seizures and detention in the emergent internment camp system. The camp system has allowed this process to proliferate at a grassroots level. [Source]

On Sunday, China’s State Council Information Office released another white paper on Xinjiang, titled “Xinjiang Population Dynamics and Data.” The paper touted Xinjiang’s population increase over the last sixty years, criticizing Western reports of genocide and overlooking the population decline over the past few years due to aggressive assimilation policies. Western scholars were not impressed: 

There is precedent of governments seizing assets from persecuted minorities using the justification of criminality. Perhaps the most infamous is the Nazi’s seizure of about $20 billion worth of Jewish assets during the Holocaust. Another prominent example is the U.S. government’s seizure of two to five billion dollars worth of property during the internment of Japanese Americans. Even today, the U.S. government is legally allowed to seize individual assets that it alleges are involved in a crime, a practice which civil rights groups argue must be reformed to prevent government abuse.


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