Image: Pixabay / AK
By Anne Kader
Dr Enver Tohti, an Uyghur and a former oncological surgeon, extracted organs from an executed prisoner at the request of his superiors while still in Uyghuristan/ East Turkistan. After his exit from China, Dr Tohti has openly testified about Chinese organ harvesting and the adverse health effects of nuclear testing in the Uyghurs’ homeland.
There were ten years between the Channel 4 documentary and when you came out and exposed the Chinese crime of organ harvesting: Which of the two received a stronger reaction from China?
Did any Chinese government officials contact you, or did they ignore the programs and sweep them under the carpet?
Dr. Tohti: You know, there is a phenomenon that if the Chinese government is openly criticizing an overseas dissident, the person would immediately become a celebrity. Beijing knew what we had been up to but did not want to publicize it further.
Interviewer: Dr. Tohti, you have since experienced some weird incidences that you think China is behind them? If yes, can you please elaborate? Has China perhaps placed you on a terror alert list?
Dr. Tohti: I do not have any direct proof. If I did, that would mean I could have accessed their secret documents, which is close to impossible. However, I can tell you about a few incidences that revealed the Chinese government knew about me and is still surveilling me.
In 2002, three years after the Channel 4 documentary had aired, I travelled to Mali, in Western Africa, with a British charity that had asked me to join them. I ran a natural health clinic in London, but I was technically bankrupt. The charity suggested that I partner with them on a project so that I might be able to receive an income. I agreed to travel with them to Mali.
During the initial weeks in Mali, I shared my impressions of this beautiful country on social media. Soon, I came across an article on Chinese media: ‘Uyghur separatists have now spread to Africa to prepare attacks against Chinese Embassies.’ I did not make any connection, and I just thought it was weird. ‘Are there Uyghurs in Africa, too?’ I asked myself. I found it fascinating and decided I wanted to find them, but I could not.
Time passed till I realized the Chinese article had referred to me. Somehow, they had picked up my location on the African continent.
Interviewer: Has Chinese harassment changed in any way over the years?
Dr Tohti: After my asylum procedure in the UK, I received my British passport in 2005. I then decided to visit Turkey with my newly issued travel document. I had lived in Turkey for an extended period and had left a lot of my study books there and wanted to bring them back to the UK.
I purchased my ticket, knowing that with a UK passport, I would not need a pre-issued visa to enter Turkey. As I arrived at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul and proceeded through the border control, I needed to pay ten pounds for a visa. Unexpectedly, at the next gate, the staff stopped me and detained me for five hours. After the interrogation, they decided to deport me back to London.
Interviewer: Did they give you the reason for your deportation?
Dr. Tohti: No, they did not. It took me rather long to find it out. I was annoyed. I wrote to the Turkish Embassy in London, but they never replied. I then wrote to the British Embassy in Ankara, and I received a reply. They had forwarded the complaint to the Turkish Interior Ministry.
The Interior Ministry sent me a letter declaring that I should not have any restrictions when entering Turkey but advised that I should apply for a visa ahead of my travel. I still have the original letter.
With the letter, I entered the Turkish Embassy to apply for a new visa. I filled in the application form and was told to wait for their response. Six months later I received a phone call. It informed me that the Turkish Interior Ministry had unfortunately rejected my application.
Interviewer: Did you receive a reason for the rejection?
Dr Tohti: No, I didn’t.
Interviewer: Was that one of the first indications that somebody was trying to curb your foreign travel?
Dr Tohti: Yes, it was. That is not the end of the story. I still had not given up on the idea of visiting Turkey. I had heard of a NED-sponsored seminar scheduled in Turkey. The topic was Uyghurs. I decided to call the head of the Uyghur PEN organization and suggested they would add me as a board member to enable me to travel to Turkey. They agreed to help me, and I became the deputy director of Uyghur PEN. In my new capacity, it was expected of me to attend the Istanbul conference.
With the six-month waiting period behind me and the new information, I again approached the Turkish Embassy in London. They told me that they would call me. However, the call only came two months after the conference had finished. The lady at the other end cordially informed me that the Turkish interior ministry had again rejected my application and that I could apply again after six months.
From that day on, I decided to block Turkey out of my mind, and forget about being part of the Turkic family.
Interviewer: Does that mean that you have not been able to visit Turkey since then?
Dr Tohti: Exactly. Now, let me explain another episode six or seven years ago. I met a Turkish man at a conference in Tokyo who said he was an MP in the Turkish Parliament. I told him about the visa refusals, and he became embarrassed. He gave me his business card and said that the Turkish Ambassador to the UK is his friend and encouraged me to contact him.
I did that. I received a lot of empathy from that Ambassador. He acknowledged the common roots of our people and admitted that Turkey should take better care of Uyghurs. I gave the Ambassador copies of my earlier visa application letters.
A few weeks later, a Turkish Intelligence agent stationed in the Turkish Embassy in London contacted me and wanted to meet me over coffee. He told me to stop applying for a Turkish visa because the reply would always return negative. He admitted that China had asked them not to allow me in Turkey. He pleaded with me not to embarrass the Turkish Embassy any further.
Interviewer: Has China tried to block your entry into any other countries?
Dr Tohti: After being denied entry to Turkey, I now also avoid Central Asian countries. If Turkey, a considerably strong country, banned my entry, I am sure China uses even more influence over its Central Asian neighbours. To guard my safety, I only visit major democratic countries these days.
Interviewer: In other words, are you avoiding countries with an extradition treaty with China?
Dr Tohti: Yes.
Interviewer: Could you please tell me about some of the more ridiculous forms of Chinese interference?
Dr Tohti: A couple of years ago, a friend had ordered a Chinese-made fruit knife from an online store. I decided to make a similar purchase, and it arrived in the mail in no time. Some days after the arrival of the parcel, three Metropolitan Police officers turned up at my door.
Interviewer: You must have been shocked?
Dr Tohti: I was not at home then, so it was left to my shocked wife to convince them that I was close to sixty years of age and was not a terrorist.
Something else happened, too. The bank decided to freeze the account of an Uyghur Christian Organisation that I had founded. They gave no reason and flatly refused to reopen it despite several appeals.
Interviewer: Can you, please, tell me about the most recent incident, when TFL (Transport For London) failed to renew your taxi license?
Dr Tohti: Someone from the TFL office contacted me and asked if I was the same person who had appeared in a January 2022 newspaper article about organ harvesting. I confessed. A year after its publication, someone had reported me to TFL, as he had been offended by the news article. On December 30th, I received a notice that I would no longer comply with their safety standards as a taxi driver, and they refused to renew my license.
Interviewer: It appears the harassment comes from so many directions.
Do you, for instance, ever receive direct phone calls from Chinese officials such as Embassy employees or government agents?
Dr Tohti: No, I do not. What comes to me, the Chinese government does not resort to such ‘low-level’ harassment. They would rather kill me or make my remaining life forever miserable.
Something else has been going on for some time. We have never managed to install a functioning wireless internet in our house. I have tried the services of several UK companies, but all have failed. The technicians would come to us, and install the cables, modems, and routers, alas no internet. The engineers were baffled.
None of the companies could solve the problem. I did manage to find a company that could provide me with a connection, that worked for two years. Then suddenly around Christmas, the net stopped working again. In the next four months, the company sent six engineers to have a look, but none could fix the problem. The company workers became agitated with me and started accusing me of the problem. They had never received similar complaints from other customers. Another company came to our house. They installed the Internet but almost immediately cancelled the contract before I had even started using it. Again, I received no explanation.
Interviewer: Is it possible that the company had Chinese board members?
Dr Tohti: This was a British company.
Interviewer: Do you think China influences these Internet providers, or have they somehow managed to damage your infrastructure?
Dr Tohti: No, that is not the case. I once read an article that tells how more than two million state-trained Chinese personnel work abroad in major Western companies: banks and other financial institutions, universities, and businesses. The companies that curbed my Internet access have a Chinese hand operating from within.
Interviewer: Has the Chinese company, through all their tricks, managed to disturb your quality of life?
Dr Tohti: Yes, they have impacted the quality of my life. I have not been able to work in any well-paid professional job and had to do low-paid manual work. Beijing’s desire to get rid of me has caused me to be as vigilant as possible. I believe the UK is a safe place for me. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the international response have helped me to evaluate which countries are safe for me to visit.