Discrimination of Uyghur Muslims

Photo source: Bloomberg

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

The UN believes that there are about one million Uyghur Muslims in internment camps in secrecy. The entity has recently put sanctions against the Chinese officials. 

The Chinese government denies such claims, and interpret the internment, as a place only for criminals, with registered offences, who are being sent to ‘vocational, educational and employment centres’. The Chinese call these centres ‘schools’ and even ‘hospitals’.

In January 2011, Radio Free Asia alleged that around 120,000 Uyghurs were deemed to be held as political opponents at re-education camps in Kashgar, in the Republic of China. China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) put a figure of 228,000, in 2017.

According to an Oped by Sigal Samuel, in The Atlantic, this indoctrination process lasts for several months, where they were forced to renounce their faith, and are forced to recite Communist propaganda songs every day. There are similar reports, where the inmates were forced to eat pork, drink alcohol, forbidden by Islam, and there are also reports of torture and death as punishments. Chinese officials, on the other hand, claim that the convicts are ensured a fair trial. But there are stories reflected on the media, where it is alleged that Uyghurs in detention are not given enough food, are housed in small, overcrowded rooms, and are made to watch films by a state-appointed imam, who explains the ‘legal religious practices’, and ‘correct interpretations of Islam’.

China is actually fearing separatism in the Xinjiang region. Uyghurs believe that the region is actually part of Second East Turkestan Republic, a short-lived, Soviet-backed republic. They fear that this kind of separatist movement could spill over to other places, such as Tibet and Taiwan. It is one of the remotest, and heavily policed regions of China, that makes it harder to report human rights violations there. Neighbouring Russia has encouraged Kazaks and Uyghurs to immigrate there so that they could attack Chinese territory. The government employees working for the Communist government in Xinjiang are not allowed to fast in Ramadhan, and public schools are discouraged from participating in religious activities.

Muslims have likely immigrated to China, few generations after the Islamic Prophet, as part of Arab diplomacy, through embassies and trade, who settled along the Silk Road. For Muslims, Kashgar and Hotan remain historic central cities for Islamic culture in Xinjiang. The citizens of Kashgar have been angry at the demolition of houses in their city by the Chinese authorities. The official reasons were that the housing colonies were unhygienic, and prone to earthquakes, but, Uyghurs see it as a strategy to reduce their power and influence, in the city.

Historically, there were serious disturbances in the northwestern city of Ghulja. Thousands were convicted and detained in 1995. The political matter had really escalated in 2009, when large-scale ethnic rioting happened in the capital, Urumqi. Some two hundred people were killed, mostly Han Chinese. Before this chaotic event, a rigorous crackdown, named ‘Strike Hard ‘campaign provoked demonstrations in the city in 1997, that were vehemently suppressed. In June 2012, six Uyghur militants made a failed attempt in hijacking a plane from Hotan to Urumqi. There was bloodshed in April 2013, when seventy-seven people were killed, after police opened fire on men, armed with knives, attacking government buildings in the Shanshan county. There was bloodshed in October 2013 again, some months later, when a car stormed into a crowd, and blew up in flames, in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. In March 2014, there was an attack in Kunming Train Station. Two months later, in May 2014, car bombs killed thirty-one people in a crowded Urumqi market, and explosives were also hurled into the crowd. Two months after, in July, a knife attack killed around ninety-six people in Yarkant. An imam of the mosque was stabbed to death, a few days later. About fifty died in Luntai county blasts in September 2014.

China has blamed ETIM (East Turkestan Islamic Movement), founded by Hasan Mahsum, for attacks inside Xinjiang and outside the territory. Although, some analysts blame the group's incapacity to launch frequent and big scale attacks. This scenario has prompted the Chinese President, Xi Jinping for a ‘strike first’ policy, against any form of Islamic extremism. He, along with his official peers, want superpowers, such as the United States, not to mingle in their internal affairs. 

One of the communist party newspapers has argued that the onslaught in the region is to prevent Xinjiang becoming the next Syria. They simply cannot think of letting it go, because the region is three times bigger than France, and also a territory with huge resources of oil, gas and coal. It is a source of logistical connectivity with Europe and Central Asia. The region sells its cotton fabrics to famous corporations such as Gucci and Chanel. Politically, it may be the most militarised zone in China, with one in every three Chinese working for the army.

The Uyghur Muslims call the region as East Turkestan and have cultural ties with Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Although some communities, such as Hui Muslims, speaking the Turkic language, are politically neutral, and they are allowed to fast in Ramadhan. Since 1949, the conflict escalated since the Communist government encouraged mass migrations of the Han Chinese, until the 1970s. Due to regional autonomy, some Han Chinese have also complained of second-class treatment.

The US Congressional-Executive Commission on China has described the recent aggression ‘as the largest mass incarnation of a minority population in the world history’.  According to the World Uyghur Congress, every family has around three or four people been taken away. It is believed that there are villages with no men on the streets, where only children and women live. Families are losing contact with their loved ones.

China is playing the card of economic development, but Uyghurs believe that they are in conflict with the larger Communist State, on cultural and religious grounds. Having an upper hand, China has launched a calculated onslaught against Uyghur extremism, to prevent terrorism, and to bring peace to the country.

Long beards are also banned for younger men, so are the women veils, and families cannot have Koran in their homes. Even Kazakhs and Kyrgyz Muslims have been sent to the camps. 

According to The Independent newspaper, prisoners have suffered thoughts of suicide. Others suffer from insomnia, depression, anxiety and paranoia. Ironically, this cultural and religious persecution has not been condemned by any of the Muslim countries, including Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Turkey. All these countries, infact, enjoy an economic relationship with China.  It also seems that the Muslim world is largely unaware of the situation in Xinjiang.

In this scenario, there are many political leverages that are ending up in China’s favour. One of them being a major donor of financial aid to many Muslim countries.


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