• Meghna Singh

Uighur Concentration Camps


n this July 2015 photo, Uighurs living in Turkey and their supporters, some carrying coffins representing Uighurs who died in China’s far-western Xinjiang Uighur region, chant slogans as they stage a protest in Istanbul, against what they call oppression by the Chinese government against Muslim Uighurs in the province
In this July 2015 photo, Uighurs living in Turkey and their supporters, some carrying coffins representing Uighurs who died in China’s far-western Xinjiang Uighur region, chant slogans as they stage a protest in Istanbul, against what they call oppression by the Chinese government against Muslim Uighurs in the province

Who are the Uighurs?

The Uighurs are a mostly Muslim-Turkish ethnic group, who mainly reside in Xinjiang, an autonomous province in China. For centuries, they have been a village dwelling tribe whose economy revolves around agriculture, due to the Silk Road trading route that falls within its boundaries. They have their own language, called Uighur, while some also speak Turkish.


What are the Uighur Concentration Camps?

The Chinese government has allegedly set up internment camps where the Uighur Muslims are being incarcerated and subjected to mass persecution.

After initially denying their existence, the State authorities have justified their presence by portraying them as ‘vocational education’ and ‘relearning’ centers where Uighurs are being re-educated for their ‘own good’.

However, the camps have been accused of systemic physical and psychological torturing of inmates, mass sterilization, sexual assault, and imposing multiple unreasonable restrictions on them.

These range from not allowing men to grow beards and women to wear burqas, eliminating fasting during Ramadan to barring the study of The Quran.

The detainees are forcibly taught laws, sing the Communist Party Anthem and learn Mandarin. Disobedience invites brutal punishment by the authorities including vehement beatings, deprivation of basic amenities, and in some cases persecution.


Each morning, 29-year-old Ablet Tursun Tohti was woken an hour before sunrise and had only a minute to get to the exercise yard. “There was a special room to punish those who didn't run fast enough,” Ablet says. “There were two men there, one to beat with a belt, the other just to kick.”

Earlier, the inmates were released after a certain period of detention but now they are being permanently detained, turning the prospect of living out their lives in this abysm of darkness into a reality.


Why is China detaining them?

China claims that these camps are necessary to battle extremism, separatism, and terrorism that are being advanced by the Uighurs. This theory was propagated when in 2009, violent clashes occurred in the streets of Xinjiang between the Han Chinese and the Uighur, killing 200, whom authorities said were mostly Han Chinese. The most recent crackdown began when 5 people were killed in a knife attack in the streets of Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang.

The sudden outburst of violence is a direct result of decades of institutionalized repression and discrimination against the Uighurs in their homeland.

This action has been viewed as a part of a larger conspiracy by Xi Jinping to promote Han nationalism as a unifying national force and suppress identities that threaten to garner popular loyalty in competition with the Chinese Communist Party.


Response

The global response has mostly been muted. Apart from issuing statements criticizing the Chinese government, there has been a lack of action.

China’s economic and trade might is one of the many reasons why the West is refraining from imposing sanctions.

China has repeatedly abused its position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to blatantly curb all discussions regarding the breach of human rights taking place in the country, thus undermining its existence significantly.

It has also garnered forced support from several countries, notably those having a Muslim majority population like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, who have praised China for its work on ‘human rights’.

All this has deflated the seriousness of atrocities being committed and helped the Chinese government get off scot-free, while the world continues to sleep on what is becoming the most barbaric tragedy the human race has faced in recent times.


Sources:

BBC

ICIJ


~Meghna Singh