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Forgotten and Forgone: the Uyghurs of China

Mohamed (name changed), a seventy-five-year-old man living in China’s Xinjiang province, sobs profusely while saying, “They have taken my son. It has been more than ten years since I have been unable to see him. The authorities have imprisoned him. I can only hope that he is alive.” Mohamed belongs to the Uyghur community, a community that has faced a severe and brutal crackdown by China’s State authorities in the last decade.

The Uyghurs are a Turkic-speaking Muslim ethnic group who live in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang. They have a population of eleven million people.  According to various reports published by the United Nations Human Rights Watch, approximately two million Muslims have been arbitrarily detained and imprisoned in Chinese detention camps since 2017. Many of them are ethnic Uzbeks and Kazakhs. However, most of them have been said to belong to the Uyghur community.

The Uyghurs living outside the detention camps have been put under strict surveillance, forced labor, and sterilization by the Chinese Authorities. 

The background of China's State actions against the Uyghurs is a belief that the community threatens China’s demography, economy, politics, and culture. A 2022 BBC report on China’s Uyghur detention camps throws considerable light on mass incarcerations. Additionally, these camps are equipped with armed officers who follow a “shoot to kill” policy for those trying to escape. However, the Chinese authorities have long denied running any such centers. Instead, they claimed that the centers are meant for “vocational schools for willing students.”

Many experts have claimed that these detention camps are, in fact, re-education centers. Their construction began in 2014. However, since 2017 they have doubled. By 2019, as per the Reports published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, China intensified the construction of high-security detention camps and prisons throughout Xinjiang. Additionally, the existing low-security detention camps were expanded and remodeled.

 A United Nations Human Rights Office Report from 2022 mentions a list including twenty-six interviews. Most of them revealed a pattern of degrading and inhuman treatment meted out to the members of the detention camps. Further, most Uyghurs were seldom officially charged with any actual crimes. Unfortunately, it appears that they are being punished for being Muslims.  Moreover, they have been denied access to any legal avenues for challenging imprisonment. The right to appeal has been snatched away in the cruelest way possible. Experts have raised the alarm and called this a clear violation of human rights.

According to the various undercover secret investigations by various media agencies, the Chinese authorities have applied force, threat, violence, and even sexual abuse to make the Uyghurs pledge loyalty to the Communist Chinese Party (CCP). They have also been made to learn Mandarin.

However, Chinese officials have blatantly denied any charges of genocide against the Uyghur population in Xinjiang. In 2018, they admitted that the camps were set up to prevent the birth and eventual spread of extremist ideas and beliefs. Additionally, they claimed that the camps were harmless and only had the educational purpose of teaching: Communism and Chinese laws to the people.  Beijing has repeatedly tried to stop the United Nations from conducting investigations in Xinjiang. Any foreign nation trying to condemn Beijing for its illegal and inhumane State policy towards the Uyghurs has been labeled “anti-China.”

Why is China indulging in what can be called a “State-sponsored genocide and execution” of the Uyghurs? At the root of its hatred for this ethnic group is xenophobia. The Chinese officials fear that the Uyghurs hold extremist and separatist ideas. They see them as a threat to the territorial integrity and political sovereignty of China.

Some Uyghurs living in Xinjiang refer to the region as East Turkestan. They have been quite vocal about their demand for independence from China in the past too. Since Xinjiang occupies one-sixth of China’s landmass, this has instilled panic and fear in the CCP. The East Turkestan Islamic Movement is a separatist organization founded by militant Uyghurs. According to the Chinese Authorities, the group has been actively involved in executing terrorist attacks in the country.

The CCP has taken several protectionist measures in Xinjiang, sometimes leading to the outright dismissal of the Uyghurs’ rights and liberty. For instance, in 2009, the party incentivized the migration of the Han Chinese population into Xinjiang. This led to several protests by the Uyghurs. The Chinese government aimed to change the demographic composition of the province. Additionally, the United Nations has observed that the economic benefits of Xinjiang's large coal and natural gas reserves are enjoyed mainly by the Han Chinese people. As a consequence, the Uyghurs also face economic discrimination and isolation.

Moreover, what is even more disheartening is that the Uyghur people are being sent to various factories that house global brands throughout China. They are being subjected to forced labor and extremely harsh working conditions. According to experts from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, forced labor is also an essential component of the development of Xinjiang’s textile and apparel industries.

 In 2019, the New York Times he released a report mentioning a series of secret speeches by Xi Jin Ping during his visit to Xinjiang in 2014. His speeches indicated the Party’s policy of dictatorship and ruthless and arbitrary crackdown in the province. In 2017, Xi passed a so-called “anti-extremism law.” For all practical purposes, this law attacked anyone who practiced Islamic traditions. Therefore, any man growing a beard or a woman wearing a veil could be imprisoned for extremism.

Life is no better for the Uyghurs living outside the detention camps.  They have been prohibited from following the most basic religious traditions. Mosques in and around Xinjiang have been demolished on Government orders stating that they had defective construction. Strict birth control measures have been imposed, and women have been subjected to intrauterine insertions and involuntary sterilizations. Birth rates have plummeted more than eighty-five percent between 2014 and 2022. People have been banned from fasting during Ramadan. Additionally, parents are prohibited from giving Islamic names to their children.

However, the most debilitating restrictions have been extreme surveillance and crackdown.

 The international response has been welcomed. However, it has not led China to rethink its position on the Uyghurs. Foreign powers such as the U.S.A., along with other Western countries, have condemned China for illegally detaining the Uyghurs. The United Nations has said that the Uyghur detention camps are nothing less than Concentration camps. After the United Nations 2022 Report, several countries have considered imposing sanctions on China. Countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.A. have condemned Chinese actions against Uyghurs as genocide. Additionally, the U.S. has banned the import of all items from Xinjiang. Moreover, the European Parliament adopted a non-binding resolution in 2022 to ban imports from countries practicing forced labor. However, countries such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have not spoken against China. Additionally, they have maintained, even extended, their economic cooperation with China. They have raised the eyebrows of other nations who have questioned it for condoning Chinese actions.

Despite many efforts by the International Media and foreign powers, the Uyghurs have been subjected to some of the most horrific tortures and exploitations. Heart-wrenching stories of physical violence, sexual abuse, economic exploitation, and forced indoctrination surround the city of Xinjiang. Nearly a decade after the arbitrary detentions of the Uyghurs, parents have been separated from their children. People have been compelled to leave their homeland for fear of illegal imprisonment and detentions.

Who do these people turn to for help and justice?  They are looked at with suspicion by their State. They are blatantly denied one of the most basic human rights: the right to seek justice. Their culture, traditions, and religion have been destroyed. China is desperate to keep Xinjiang under its ruthless control. The reasons are obvious: its One Road One Belt initiative, Xinjiang’s vast economic resource base, and its colossal landmass. However, it must reconsider whether it can truly thrive on the financial riches and strategic importance of a region by exterminating its people and culture. 





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Tags: #China #Genocide #Islam #Human Rights #Detention #Uyghur


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