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Uighur Muslims: Stories within China’s secret camps

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In recent times, China has got multiple stamps of criticism from around the world over its treatment of the mostly Muslim Uighur population in the north-western region of Xinjiang. Human rights Committee believe that China has detained more than a million Uighur over the past few years in what the state defines as “re-education camps”.There is evidence of Uighur being used as forced labor and of women being forcibly sterilized.

Who are Uighurs and why China is being accused of genocide?

First, there are about 12 million Uyghurs, mostly Muslim, living in north-western China in the region of Xinjiang, officially known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). The Uyghurs speak their own language, similar to Turkish, and see themselves as culturally and ethnically close to the Central Asian nations. They make up less than half of the Xinjiang population.
In recent decades, a mass of Han Chinese migrated to Xinjiang where Uyghurs feel that their culture and livelihoods are under threat.

Now, several countries including the US, Canada, Netherlands have accused China of committing genocide – defined by international convention as the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethical, racial or religious group”. It follows reports that, as well as interning Uighur in camps, China has been forcibly mass sterilizing Uighur women to suppress the population and separating Uighur children from their families.

Allegations against China around the globe

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said China is committing “genocide and crimes against humanity”.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said the treatment of Uighurs amounts to “appalling violations of the most basic human rights”.

A UN human rights committee in 2018 said it had credible reports the Chinese were holding up to a million people in “counter-extremism centres” in Xinjiang.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute found evidence in 2020 of more than 380 of these “re-education camps” in Xinjiang, an increase of 40% on previous estimates.

Leaked documents and evidence which prove the set up of “re-education camps”

Earlier, leaked documents known as the China Cables made clear that the camps were intended to be run as high-security prisons, with strict discipline and punishments. People who have managed to escape those camps have reported physical, mental and sexual torture where women have spoken of mass rape and sexual abuse.

In December 2020, research by the BBC showed up to half a million people were being forced to pick cotton. There is evidence new factories have been built within the grounds of the re-education camps. Activities that was followed up in those camps were China’s ‘tainted’ cotton, Uighur camp detainees allege systematic rape, China ‘using birth control’ to suppress Uighurs population and whatnot.

What was the build-up to the security crackdown at Xinjiang?

Anti-Han and separatist sentiment rose in Xinjiang from the 1990s, flaring into violence on occasion. In 2009 some 200 people died in clashes in Xinjiang, which the Chinese blamed on Uighurs who want their own state. But in recent years a massive security crackdown has crushed dissent.

Xinjiang is now covered by a pervasive network of surveillance, including police, checkpoints, and cameras that scan everything from number plates to individual faces. According to Human Rights Watch, police are also using a mobile app to monitor peoples’ behaviour, such as how much electricity they are using and how often they use their front door. These security crackdowns came into action in 2017 when President Xi Jinping issued an order saying all religions in China should be Chinese in orientation, there have been further crackdowns. Campaigners say China is trying to eradicate Uighur culture.

What does China say?

China has said reports of Uighurs detention are completely untrue. It says the crackdown is necessary to prevent terrorism and root out Islamist extremism and the camps are an effective tool for re-educating inmates in their fight against terrorism. It insists that Uighur militants are waging a violent campaign for an independent state by plotting bombings, sabotage and civic unrest, but it is accused of exaggerating the threat to justify repression of the Uighurs. China has dismissed claims it is trying to reduce the Uighur population through mass sterilisations as “baseless”, and says allegations of forced labour are “completely fabricated”.

Visuals by: Kunal Kaustav Duwarah

Article by Pragyamita Saha, The North-Eastern Chronicle


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