An exiled minority rights group slammed a Chinese state television report on Saturday that suggested ethnic Uighurs who had been forcibly repatriated after fleeing the country had returned to a “heaven on earth”.
The report came as China makes efforts to keep its ethnic Uighurs from leaving the country. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of members of the largely Muslim ethnic minority have left China in recent years, clandestinely crossing into southeast Asia before making their way to Turkey.
Friday’s China Central Television report showed two Uighur farmers in the far-west region of Xinjiang returning to a peaceful life in China. One, a fruit farmer shown tending his orchard, says he only fled the country because he was “confused” and “muddleheaded”.
“Religious extremism affected me,” said the farmer, whose name was given as Mexmut. “The government approves our legal religious activities very much.”
Local police found he had been coerced into leaving and cheated, the report said.
Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress, called the report a propaganda tool.
“(The government is) using television to incite the Chinese people to antagonize the Uighurs because their own policies have led to the reality of people fleeing,” he said by email.
Xinjiang’s government could not be immediately reached by phone for comment.
Rights groups say such migrants are mostly fleeing ethnic violence in Xinjiang and Chinese controls on their religion and culture. Hundreds have died in unrest in Xinjiang in the last three years, blamed by Beijing on Islamist militants.
Beijing says many of those fleeing are extremists hoping to join up with other militants in Iraq and Syria. It denies any repression in Xinjiang.
China has claimed that some of the 109 Uighurs deported from Thailand back to China last week posed a security threat.