Uighurs claim they face "intimidation and harassment" by Chinese state in France

Activists from Amnesty International hold placards as they march during a demonstration in support of the Uighurs, on the sidelines of the Chinese president's two-day state visit to France, Toulouse, France, 6 May 2024
The European Uighur Institute (IODE) has cited specific allegations of Chinese harassment, including disruption of a theatre performance it staged on 5 May as Xi was in Paris (image: Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP)

A Uighur organisation said members of the ethnic group in France face "intimidation and harassment" amounting to "repression" by the Chinese state in a legal complaint filed on Wednesday.

The European Uighur Institute (IODE) said that acts of intimidation stepped up during the visit to France earlier this month of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Beijing is behind "acts of intimidation, harassment and repeated threats towards members of the Uighur diaspora in France, as well as towards people backing the Uighurs' cause," it said in a statement.

Such acts are "multiplying and growing more systematic at a worrying speed," it added.

The IODE said that "international repression intensified at the time of President Xi Jinping's official visit to France" in early May.

Xi's trip to celebrate 60 years of diplomatic relations with Paris saw him welcomed by President Emmanuel Macron at the Élysée Palace and treated to a traditional meal in the Pyrenees mountains.

Macron and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen sought to talk Xi down from his close partnership with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, knitted tighter since Moscow's 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

The IODE cited specific allegations of Chinese harassment, including disruption of a theatre performance it staged on 5 May as Xi was in Paris.

"Organisers were intimidated by different groups suspected of being orchestrated by Chinese security services," it said.

It added that on 8 May, Gulbahar Jalilova, a "refugee in Paris since October 2020" was targeted for intimidation or even kidnapping "by Chinese agents" outside her apartment building.

The IODE included photographs of the incident involving Jalilova, a former inmate of a Chinese detention camp.

There are "enormous impacts of these practices on the physical and mental health of members of the Uighur community in France," it said.

Newspaper Le Monde reported this week that France's DGSI internal security service and the Paris police had identified "Chinese state agents belonging to the security services in... a failed 'intimidation action' on May 8 against a political refugee of Uighur background".

China's Paris embassy on Wednesday blasted the report as "fake news", "riddled with errors" and "obvious falsifications" in a post on its website.

The largely Sunni Muslim Uighurs make up the largest ethnic group in Xinjiang province in north-west China.

Bloody attacks blamed on Islamists and separatists have long plagued the region.

Since 2017, more than one million Uighurs and members of other mostly Muslim ethnic groups have been held in "re-education camps" inflicting widespread human rights violations, according to investigations and Western aid groups.

China describes some of the camps as "vocational training centres".  (AFP)