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Opening our Eyes: What’s Happening with the Uighurs in Xinjiang

By Eman Hamed

Edited by Kathleen Khorn

In an era defined by social mobility and activism, it is no wonder that advocates of political reform have shed light on human rights violations across the globe. From Brazil to Yemen to Hong Kong, citizens of the world dedicate themselves to a collective endeavor: to combat the vehement injustices that prevent the development of a better tomorrow, and to emphasize the vital political truths we hold. Specifically, there is one sector of the world proven to perpetuate human rights abuses and disregard innate, civil liberties: China.

Let’s Talk Context

From as early as 2014, the Communist Party of China (CPC), the leading political party, has deployed high tech surveillance and malware to illegally spy on Uighur Muslims, who are an ethnic group that practices Islam. The Chinese government claims the warrant for this intense surveillance and tracking was a singular event in which a car plowed through a crowd in a market. A small-scale Uighur militant group, consisting of sixty-seven Uighurs out of the thirteen million in the region, took responsibility for that act, which propelled the CPC into violating the rights of all Muslims as a result.

Journalist and geopolitical correspondent for Asia, Paul Mozur from the New York Times reports that in 2017, the Chinese government took their misconduct toward Uighur Muslims to the next level. Chinese police forces and hackers began using their gathered surveillance to locate them in Xinjiang, a Muslim-majority province in China. Upon locating these individuals, the police forcefully took the Uighurs out of their homes and forced them to give blood samples, voiceprints, and facial scans.

Urumqi, China, 2009 - Uighur women grieving after Chinese authorities took their husbands.

The Violence, Fear, and Unjust Action

At this point, a plethora of Uighur Muslims went into hiding, shoving their Qurans to the back of their bookcases, causing women to revoke their hijabs, and many mosques shutting down. Surveillance on this group continued, and the Communist government insisted on finding any and all Uighur Muslims through heavy policing in neighborhoods and monitoring Muslims through devices like their smartphones.

In removing Uighurs from their homes, China relocated hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslims to “reeducation camps.” According to the Council on Foreign Relations, in these concentration camps, Muslims are put into overcrowded areas, which spread diseases like the coronavirus at rapid rates, and are coerced into consuming pork, which the religion of Islam forbids. More so, they are put into submission with beatings and physical violence, where women are often raped and implanted with contraceptive devices afterward. The environmental conditions within these camps are horrid as well, with a lack of proper sanitation and unstable structures.

Most demoralizing, if Muslims refuse to be stripped of their personal ideals, the final resort is murdering them. On July 4, 2020, the United Nations declared the Uighur minority suppression to be a genocide.

What Does the CPC Have to Say?

The CPC justifies the mass detentions of Muslims, of which there are over eighty-five camps, as an effort to “Sinicize religion,” which NPR contends is to shape all religions to conform to the officially atheist party’s doctrines and customs. At the international stage, a multitude of countries, mainly in Europe, have condemned the Chinese internment of the Uighurs; however, these threats and condemnations have done nothing to allay the severe reality: China is fueling a Muslim genocide and forcing Uighurs to renounce their faith.

So What Now?

Holding China accountable is a stepping stone to progress. Countries need to continue to exert pressure on China, both politically and economically, to absolve their internment camps and the suffering Uighurs. The United Nations as an intergovernmental organization also needs to prompt substantive action to dismantle the violent system in Xinjiang, because as Amnesty International asserts, only when the Chinese government feels a negative impact to its function will it reconsider its campaign of targeting Uighurs. Economic and political sanctions, opting-out from the One Belt, One Road Initiative, and lessening or halting trade and transactions can be productive in granting freedom and safety to Uighur Muslims.

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