By Erin Flaherty
Since late 2017, the Chinese government has forced one million Uyghur muslims into detention. The government maintains that these detention centers are “re-education camps”, but some have even gone as far as to label them as modern day concentration camps. Prior to their detention, the Uyghurs had already been facing unjust laws and poor treatment from the Chinese government.
The Uyghurs are a group of Turkic-speaking Muslims that inhabit the Xinjiang area of upper-west China. They declared independence In the early 1900s but were brought under the control of communist China in 1949 and have stayed under it since. The Chinese government has accused the Uyghurs of being Al-Qaeda supporters, saying that they have received training in Afghanistan, regardless of the little evidence to back this claim. Despite them now being the minority in the Xinjiang region, the Chinese government has blamed the rise in violence in the region on them. However, this rise is most likely linked to Beijing's recent repressive reign in Xinjiang.
Last year, Chinese authorities enacted an anti-extremism law banning long beards, veil-wearing in public and homeschooling. After observing this repression, many human rights organizations called for the UN to take action against the Chinese government.
Since last year, Chinese forces have been taking Uyghurs from their homes in Xinjiang and bringing them to detention centers in the region. In these camps, detainees undergo what many human rights organizations have called “brainwashing tactics” such as studying the thought of Chinese leaders, learning Mandarin, praising the Communist Party and singing revolutionary songs.
Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch described the camps as completely unlawful, saying that “the authorities provide no legal documentation to the families and there are no time limits (on the length of detention),".
The number of Uyghurs being held in these centers has continued to rise. A UN human rights panel reported that “two million have been forced into so called reeducation camps for political and cultural indoctrination”. The Chinese government denies this statistic and says that this number is fabricated.
As stated in the previous Maya Wang quote, the Uyghurs have been told no length of time that their detention will be. Currently, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is reviewing the issue along with many others, and it seems that they most likely won't come to any sort of plan of action. Many families are left split and wondering when their loved ones will return.
Recent satellite images have shown that the centers are being expanded, suggesting that the collection of the Uyghur people isn’t stopping any time soon.
Those who are not brought into detention centers are still facing many changes in their day-to-day life. The regional government has started using many new technologies to rule the population. This includes surveillance cameras, DNA collection of most residents and GPS tracker installation in all cars.
One of the newest methods of surveillance that has been released by the Chinese government is an app called Jingwang (“Clean Net”). This app essentially allows the government to search the users entire phone for any suspicious activity, which the government says includes and overly religious content. Xinjiang residents were told on July 10th that they had 10 days to install the app. Then, checkpoints were installed around Xinjiang, where authorities would verify that each resident had downloaded the app. Some say that the Chinese government is using Xinjiang as an incubator to test out censorship methods, leaving us to wonder if these policies will ever go nationwide.
The international response to the events in Xinjiang has been varied. Many countries are complicit, giving the Chinese government their unwavering support due to the dependence many of these countries have on China economically. In the United States, Marco Rubio of Florida and Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey are leading a bipartisan movement to impose sanctions against the Chinese government for their abuses towards the Uyghur population. 15 other senators and representatives signed the letter calling for said sanctions, which was sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
The countless humanitarian crimes that the Chinese government had committed in Xinjiang makes it hard to believe that no countries have taken any sort of action to stop the suppression. It is truly heartbreaking to think that if the Chinese government continues to force Uyghurs into these “re-education camps”, the world may lose the Uyghur culture completely. This sort of cultural genocide must be stopped before we see severe damage to the rich Uyghur culture that had been around for centuries.