China faces worldwide condemnation and US sanctions for forcing hundreds of thousands of Uighurs into detention camps and human rights abuses.
Human Rights NGO Amnesty International released a new report, “Like We Were Enemies in a War’: China’s Mass Internment, Torture, and Persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang” accusing the Chinese government of “massive and systemic abuses” against Uyghur Muslims in the western province of Xinjiang.
While hundreds of thousands of Muslim men and women have been subjected to “physical and psychological torture”, systematized mass surveillance made them “the most closely surveilled population in the world” with over one million people in the detainment camps of Xinjiang.
The research was conducted between October 2019 and May 2021 where 128 people were interviewed. They comprised 55 former internment camp prisoners, and 68 family members of missing or detained people.
“The Chinese authorities have created a dystopian hellscape on a staggering scale in Xinjiang. Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities face crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations,” Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary-general, said in a statement.
Ironically, a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), China has often been accused of violating Articles 2,3, and 26 of the convention.
Besides alleged brainwashing and forcing communist doctrines, they are accused of preventing Uyghurs Muslims from practicing religious rituals. This is in direct violation of Article 27 of the ICESCR. Apart from several reports, 50 former camp detainees have shared testimony of this with Amnesty International.
As per the reports, the Chinese government mounts a hard-line campaign against Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups by a network of indoctrination camps in Xinjiang. The state’s residents witness routine police interrogation, body scanners, checkpoints, and cameras. Uyghurs living outside have lost contact with their family members in Xinjiang as the authorities want to cut the flow of information.
It was at the end of the Qing dynasty in 1912 when an Uyghur commander captured the province with short-lived demand of an independent state. However, he was later assassinated in 1928. It was the rise of Communist revolutionary Mao Zedong which led to the re-assertion of control of Xinjiang in 1949.
The central government implemented liberal policies and declared Xinjiang as an autonomous state in 1955. Amid the huge migration of Han Chinese members to the region, Uyghurs participated in a mass exodus into Soviet Kazakhstan due to the fear of demographic changes and religious persecution.
As the migration of Han Chinese continued, there was a rise of communal riots in the capital of Xinjiang. On one hand, the Uyghurs Muslims fought against religious persecution and on the other hand, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) reported the deaths of hundreds of Han Chinese.
Xinjiang, because of its unique cultural identity became the main target of the Chinese “homogenization of culture” policy which intended to impose the communist doctrine of “togetherness” to all societies into a “whole unit” in the 1960s.
The repression continued mentally, verbally, and physically as the native Uyghurs were treated as “foreign invaders and aliens”. With the onset of the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese government burnt Quran, demolished Mosques so much so that the number of mosques scaled down from 29,545 to just 1,400, and encouraged pig breeding which is forbidden in Islam.
By 1979, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mandated the one-child policy under Article 12 of its new Marriage law which was issued by Xinjiang authorities under Article 15 of Chapter 3 of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region for family planning in 1981.
Uyghur students protested against the repressive family planning regulation on the streets of Beijing fearing further demographic alteration of Xinjiang but were met with brute force.
The minority group faced severe blows from the Chinese government. Uyghur women and their families were forced to pay fines (2,000 to 6,000 yuan) and were subjected to forced abortion at any stage of pregnancy. The Turk Muslims witnessed rampant abuses and violations of freedom of expression, religion, and privacy.
Following the brutal struggle and the ongoing Han Chinese migration to Xinjiang province, when Chinese premier Xi Jinping took over power, the repression scaled up. It was in 2014 when China launched the “Sinicization campaign” on the Uyghurs. It was a “strike hard campaign against violent extremism” where they not only targeted technological gadgets but also confiscated Muslim texts which were not approved by the government.
Under this worst form of 21st century “cultural genocide” policy, the government conducted raids in Uyghur Muslim populated areas to find any kind of hidden religious material.
Instead of reparation after global condemnation on human rights violations, the Chinese escalated their torment on the minority group. Although China abolished its one-child policy in 2016, the Uyghur population continued to face forced sterilization, abortions and forced implant of intrauterine devices in Uyghur Muslim women.
By 2017, China started political “re-education camps” as vocational education and training centers in Xinjiang. In reality, these were the detention centers where over two million Uyghurs were arbitrarily detained according to the western media.
Most of these Turk-speaking Uyghurs remained inaccessible to their families and were detained for contacting people from any of the 26 countries that China considered as ‘sensitive.’
Xinjiang accounts for only 1.8% of China’s population. According to reports, between 2015 and 2018. The natural population growth fell by 1.6% to 0.26% and was responsible for over 80% of total IUDs performed in China.
According to the ANI reports, the Census showed that the natural growth population rate for Xinjiang fell from 11.4 per thousand in 2017 to 6.13 per thousand in 2018 and 3.69 per thousand in 2019. Nevertheless, the Xinjiang government claimed that the growth rate reduced because people chose to marry at a later age.
China has spent $108 million on over 1,200 detention facilities since April 2017 as per the Reuters satellite imagery investigation in collaboration with Earthrise media.
As per the reports, inside the detention camps, the detainees are tortured, deprived of sleep, and are forced to learn Mandarin to promote Chinese nationalism. The women are subjected to sexual abuse with forceful implantation of intrauterine contraceptive devices. Men are not allowed to sport a beard while women are barred from wearing veils.
Outside detention camps, Xinjiang remains under high surveillance. There is spyware installed in phones in order to keep a tab on Uyghurs’ online activities. They can face charges for sharing any religious text on WeChat or for installing WhatsApp. CCP has deployed over one million Han Chinese to keep a watch on Uyghur Muslims’ activities.
In February this year, China censored the newly launched social media application Clubhouse after Han Chinese citizens participated in a conversation with Uyghurs. One such conversation went for over 12 hours in which a Han Chinese girl apologized to Uyghur women for the brutality faced by her family. Initially, the app was not under surveillance but within days it came under the Chinese government radar and witnessed a massive firewall.
As Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities face systematic state-organized mass imprisonment, several western countries have called on the Chinese government. President Xi has received condemnation in the recent three-day G-7 summit conducted by the seven richest western nations: the US, UK, Japan, Italy, France, Germany, and Canada.
However, Beijing has repeatedly denied the claims that abuses take place in these “re-education” centers and accused western countries of “political manipulation.” Beijing has brushed off the criticism by calling them a “conspiracy”, “misinformation” and measures to counter-terrorism and extremism.