In early 2018, CNN reported thousands of Uyghur Muslims were being detained in political education camps in Xinjiang, an autonomous region located in northwestern China. The region is home to a number of minority ethnic groups, including the Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnic group that primarily live in East and Central Asia. The Uyghurs converted to Islam thousands of years ago, with the majority now being Sunni Muslim.
Since 2013, Amnesty International has reported growing tensions between the Uyghurs and Chinese authorities. That year represented the beginning of a clamp down on expressions of Uyghur cultural identity. By 2017, China had carefully curated its approach to ethnically cleanse the country of its Uyghur population under the guise of national security and “religious extremism.”
In particular, the government has been forcing Uyghurs into “re-education camps” in an attempt to transform their cultural and religious identity through psychological indoctrination and the stripping of their human rights and dignity. China has also subjected Uyghurs, as well other Muslim minorities in the region, to violence, including torture.
Held against their will in the re-education camps, captive Uyghurs are aggressively interrogated, made to give thanks to China’s President Xi Jinping, separated from their families, and forced to drink alcohol and eat pork, in violation of Islamic practice. Residents of Xinjiang have also been made to install spyware on their phones and GPS devices in their vehicles, so that authorities can monitor them on a regular basis. In an effort to wipe Uyghur identity from the country, the Chinese government has closed mosques, banned Islamic texts (including the Quran), and outlawed Muslim-sounding names.
On October 24, the BBC released an alarming report utilizing open-source satellite data from multinational aerospace company GMV to measure the expansion of Chinese security facilities in Xinjiang province between 2011 – 2018. During this period, these facilities grew larger and more numerous with added security features, such as watchtowers and security fencing. The troubling conclusion is that China’s interment camps have been aggressively multiplying in order to house more “prisoners.”
Despite years of discrimination, forced detention, violence, suppression, and racist propaganda against the minority group, the UN only recently issued a statement calling for China to release the approximately one million Uyghurs detained in its camps. Despite this and, in the face of its clear human rights violations, China remains on the UN’s Human Rights Council, with its three-year appointment slated to end in 2019.
As the abhorrent treatment of Uyghurs has continued, the world has mostly remained silent. Muslim-majority countries, the United States, and the European Union, as well as the UN, have done little to speak out against the violations or hold China accountable for its actions. Given their lucrative business contracts and economic investments, countries and organizations, including businesses, are refusing to speak out in order to protect their economic relations with China.
Sadly, China is unlikely to end its racist, deadly policies against a people whose only crime is being of a different ethnicity and religion. Countries, governmental and non-governmental organizations, and corporations all have a responsibility to take a stand against the crimes being committed against the Uyghurs.