COMMENT: China’s actions in Xinjiang cannot be ignored anymore

After the Holocaust, we said never again. But less than a century later one of the biggest cases of human rights abuse the world has ever seen is happening in the North-Western province of Xinjiang, in China.

According to Amnesty International, there are over a million Uyghur Muslims held in internment camps in Xinjiang, where people are taken by force.

A campaign to eradicate an entire race’s culture, history and faith, is in motion. There have been many reports since 2016, including eye witness statements, of all kinds of human rights violations.

The Chinese government claims these ‘vocational education and training centres’ are to teach the Uyghurs Chinese culture and language and to prevent any potential acts of extremism.

Hundreds of Uyghur men and women have also disappeared without any trace. 

Who are the Uyghurs?

Uyghurs make up about 12 million of China’s 1.4 billion population and are mostly Muslim. 

The Uyghurs have a rich heritage, and their language and culture are closer to Central Asian than Chinese. Even geographically, Xinjiang shares borders with many countries like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan, and is nearer to them than Beijing. 

Separatist movements have been present for decades with some violence which was limited to a small number of Uyghur perpetrators. Any separatist movements or ideology or even discussion is classed in the same bracket as extremism and terrorism by the authorities.

Activists say in the last few years, the Chinese government has encouraged large groups of Han Chinese to move to the Xinjiang region in an effort to dilute the Uyghur population.

Geographically, Xinjiang is closer to central Asia than Beijing.  Photo:

Living in Fear

It is said the truth is often stranger than fiction. Some of the rules the Chinese authorities have enforced in Xinjiang are so inconceivable that it is hard to believe that this is 2020.

China’s interpretation of ‘extreme’ can be anything from a Muslim avoiding alcohol (not allowed in Islam), to growing a long beard, naming a child Muhammad, wearing a hijab (headscarf) or even fasting in Ramadan. Students and government officials in Xinjiang have reported being banned from fasting in Ramadan.

In April 2017, China’s President Xi Jinping stated that “religions in China must be Chinese in orientation” and “adapt themselves to socialist society”.

Although this contradicts China’s Constitution, nothing much has happened to stop Jinping and his government from creating an Orwellian state.

Article 36 of The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) states: “Citizens of the PRC enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion.”

Big Brother is watching all the time. Facial recognition technology, collection of DNA samples, surveillance cameras using artificial intelligence on mobile phones are the norm for Xinjiang.

Those whose family members are taken are seldom told where they are kept and any with family abroad are not allowed to contact them.  

Man wears a mask to protect members of his family who he says have been put into forced labour camps in China, rally in Washington Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP/Shutterstock

Forced sterilisation 

Stunting the population growth of the Uyghurs is one of the aims of the Chinese government according to Adrian Zenz, an anthropologist and scholar specialising in China’s re-education camps.

Women have reported that in the internment camps they have been injected with drugs to eradicate their menstrual cycles and bring on early menopause. Those not detained have been offered money in exchange for sterilisation.

In his June 2020 report, Zenz said: “Natural population growth in Xinjiang has declined dramatically; growth rates fell by 84 per cent in the two largest Uyghur prefectures between 2015 and 2018, and declined further in several minority regions in 2019.”

This is no coincidence.

Mass detention

China has gone to extreme lengths to keep the world’s media from sniffing around in Xinjiang. Due to increased pressure, some media outlets have been allowed in for staged tours where detainees are made to look happy.

Reality could not be further from the truth. A special BBC Report interviewed Uyghurs who have had first-hand experience of a camp. Bullying, forced exercise and brainwashing are a common theme.

Many eye-witness accounts have concurred to seeing beatings, rape and torture.

Thousands of Uyghur men are also missing since the arbitrary mass detentions started in 2016, leaving families in the dark about their whereabouts. Once removed from his family home and sent to a camp a Han Chinese man is inserted into an Uyghur home, another grotesque policy to weaken Uyghur culture.

The consequence of so many adults being taken to an internment camp has inevitably led to many children becoming parentless. Many reports have shown there are over half a million Uyghur children in orphanages. 

Destruction of mosques

The Uyghur Human Rights Project produced a report written by a former Uyghur architectural designer Bahram Sintash, detailing evidence of the demolition of hundreds of mosques in Xinjiang.

The report said: “The destruction of mosques is at the heart of the Chinese government’s campaign of cultural genocide in the Uyghur homeland. It appears their ultimate goal is to eliminate the Islamic faith from the region.”

Many larger mosques have been left as tourist attractions and are often empty as Uyghurs are not allowed to pray in public.

Satellite imagery comparison of analysis Shixo (Wusu) Mosque. Left: 2017 Right: 2018 Photo:

Speaking Out

There is an immense amount of evidence that media from around the world has gathered. But Arsenal player Mesut Ozil was accused of falling prey to ‘fake news’ by the Chinese Foreign Ministry in December 2019, when he tweeted condemnation of China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims. Arsenal football club distanced itself from Ozil’s tweet claiming they are ‘apolitical.’

Mesut Ozil tweeting to spread awareness about China's treatment of the Uyghurs. Photo: Twitter
Mesut Ozil tweeting to spread awareness about China’s treatment of the Uyghurs Photo: Twitter

Ozil’s social media accounts were blocked in China and his profile removed from the Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 video game. Some Chinese Arsenal fans burnt their team shirts in protest. It is no wonder people are too scared to say anything.

Some social media influencers have made videos disguised as beauty tutorials, on Chinese owned social media platform Tiktok, to spread awareness.

The International Response

Whilst human right organisations and media outlets are making some noise, there has not been the outrage towards the concentration camps that should be expected.

China’s denial and attempts to draw attention away from the Uyghurs seems to be working.

Earlier this month the UK and Germany led the UN General Assembly to condemn China’s policies in Xinjiang, with 29 countries joining them. Troublingly, nearly 70 countries made statements in support of China.

Ironically, China was elected to the UN Human Rights Council with 139 UN member states voting for it. 

The economic power China yields seems to have a hold on countries around the world that stops them from acknowledging this tragedy, especially across Asia.

The Future

What will happen when detainees are released? Oppressed men and women separated from their families, will never be the kind of submissive, patriotic citizen the Chinese government is hoping for.

The events of 9/11 changed the world in ways that no one could have imagined. One word – terrorism – has tarnished 1.8 billion Muslims and continues to do so almost 20 years on. Calling the Uyghurs potential terrorists has given President Jinping the legitimacy in the eyes of many to commit a hidden genocide in the guise of re-education.

Forcing people to sing the national anthem daily whilst holding them against their will, will create a generation of Uyghurs who will despise their country and that can only breed hatred and extremism.

Not only is the Chinese government acting cruelly and immorally, but also the international community too if they do not act quickly to condemn this torture campaign. The creation of a dystopian state will backfire on this great power.

For more information about supporting the Uyghurs, visit these websites:

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