In western China, a large minority are silenced as they are brutally subjugated by the state. Extreme surveillance, an account of torture, and the detention of up to millions Uighur is all part of what seems to be China’s attempt at eradicating the Uighur identity from its borders.
Descendants of Turkic people, the Uighur are part European and part central Asian. They inhabit Xinjiang or East Turkestan as it was historically known. Their food is cosmopolitan and delicious with influences from China, Greece, Persia and Arabia. They have a vibrant folk dance called Sanam and the language that can be written in Arabic, Latin and Cyrillic alphabets. It’s a beautiful culture that China exploits to boost tourism while also suppressing the people who make it.
The Uighur follow Sunni Islam and want Independence from China. China has been trying to change this for decades.
Back in 1949, Mao Zedong’s Communist Party took control of China after a deadly five-year civil war and immediately invaded a disputed Xinjiang from preventing Russia from taking it over. Religion was considered incompatible with communism and so a crackdown quickly began on all expressions of faith. Uighurs were punished for praying in public and found their mosques demolished or converted for other uses.
With the help of the government’s money, China’s dominant Han ethnicity began to migrate to the region in the 1950s. They built a settlement and set up the most successful business in Xinjiang. The Han now make up 39% of the population. A number that is steadily increasing. Poorer Han across China routinely move west to work for the Bingtuan, the paramilitary group that takes over land and resources, taken from Uighurs by the government.
The Bingtuan administrative divisions enforce the central government anti-Uighur policies whilst they profit from their annexed land and resources. They exported $6.7bn worth of goods in 2017 including nearly a fifth of the world’s ketchup and tonnes of cotton to luxury clothing brands. Uighurs are excluded from many employment opportunities and only in some area make only $12 a month.
For the Uighur, this inequality and discrimination have led to sporadic bouts and violence towards the Han. More recently in 2009 over 200 people were killed in riots in the Capital Urumqi and in 2017 three knife-wielding attackers killed eight people in Guma, southern Xinjiang. The government now burn identifying QR codes into all knives purchased by Uighurs. Handful groups of Uighur have also been recruited by violent groups like ISIL and al-Qaeda giving China a chance to justify their actions against them as fighting terrorism. But the authorities are treating any expression of Uighur identity as part of what they call as “the three evils- Separatism, Terrorism and Religious extremism.”
Uighur women have been banned from wearing the hijab and young men are not allowed to grow long beards, they are forced to eat pork, fasting is prohibited, as are certain Muslims names for newborn and parents are forbidden from providing their children with Islamic and Uighur education. Youth under 18 are not allowed in mosques during sermons and the Quran itself must be approved by the state, meaning the text is altered to fit the Communist Party’s ideology. The Hajj pilgrimage is also not permitted as there’s restricted freedom of movement. Many passports were seized in 2016 when Chen Quanguo was given authority over Xinjiang.
In Xinjiang, thousands of Uighurs have been transferred from camps to prisons. One of the Uyghur American Activist, Aydin Anwar stated that when someone dies, their bodies are not taken to the families, but rather, their bodies are cremated and that’s another way to hide the evidence of bodies coming out of the camps. Therefore, it doesn’t give us a clear idea that how many people are dying.
The children of these detainees have been sent to state-run orphanages and boarding schools where they are taught to hate their religion, identity and are forced to speak Chinese, are subject to abuse and torture.
Xinjiang today is essentially a well-funded police state in which the Chinese government uses advanced technology propaganda and fear of imprisonment to control the actions and thoughts of the Uighur.
In 2017, China spent 8.5 billion dollars to monitor every aspect of Uighur life. Xinjiang is littered with thousands of cameras many with facial recognition technology and vehicles are registered to track any suspicious movement between areas. Wi-fi sniffers and mandatory mobile app regularly scan Uighur devices for content deemed politically incorrect.
Uighurs are forced to provide blood samples, biometric data and personal information on their religious lifestyles and relationships. The state then decides whether they are safe and the information is tied to an I.D card that must be presented at checkpoints, fuel stations, supermarket and other areas.
The Uighur who was found to be ‘not safe’ is sent to prison or ‘re-education’ camps. Human right groups stated that there are over a million Uighurs in these concentration camps. China calls them ‘vocational training centres’. People who put here are accused of extreme behaviours or ideology such as marrying in a religious ceremony, refusing to watch state television or even slight change in routine such as purchasing more food than usual.
They force people to raise Chinese flag outside their homes, to post posters of Xi Jinping and other leaders in their home and also when they go I to people’s home they check to see if there are any Islamic imagery on the walls and quotation from the Quran or picture of a mosque and if they found any of such pictures they accused that person to be extremists.
Despite these atrocities on Uighurs, they are many countries who are not raising their voice against China, the reason could be that China is in the preliminary stages of the multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Road initiative. It’s an ambitious infrastructure project that spans over 60 countries and aims to make it easy for the world to trade with China. China could be indirectly buying the silence of this country.
Now the Trump government had decided it’s time to act, the Trump administration on Tuesday says that China is committing the Genocide against the Uighurs. The Republican Party put this statement for Uighurs a day before the US President-elect Joe Biden is to take office. Biden’s administrative claim that this genocide was happening before the president-elect victory.
Muslims Countries should come forward to raise their voice for Uighurs, they can sanctions the political figures or leaders in China who are responsible for the egregious human rights violations, they should use their International influence because China still cares about its international image, the face-saving is the huge concern for the Chinese government.