Find out about the other human rights crisis in China, why we never hear about Muslim persecution there, and what you can do.
In the past couple of weeks, we’ve been hearing a lot about the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong. Naturally, we fully support the movement there, and we appeal for an immediate and peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Having said that, in this post, we will discuss another human rights issue in China; one that we feel people don’t know enough about. It concerns a different part of China called the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Xinjiang for short.
People don’t hear much about this conflict for two reasons. First, the Chinese government denies the issue exists and makes enormous efforts to cover it up. Second, the media seem to be much more focused on human rights issues in First World locations like Hong Kong or the US-Mexico border. Muslim persecution in a remote part of China seems to be off the radar.
China is holding Muslim groups in secret internment camps
In an earlier post, we discussed the plight of the Rohingya people in Myanmar. One of the points that we made is that the Rohingya case defies the stereotype of Islam. The Muslim Rohingya are victims, not oppressors. Xinjiang is a similar case. China is holding Muslim groups known as the Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and Hui in secret internment camps. In a systematic program of Muslim persecution, camp staff brainwash and torture them, while forcing them to renounce their religion and culture.
Scholars estimate that at least a million Uyghurs and Kazakhs have been forced into these camps. Chinese authorities are indoctrinating another two million of them by force. China maintains more than 1,000 of these secret Muslim persecution camps throughout the region. Xinjiang has less than 2% of China’s population, yet more than 20% of all arrests happen there, according to the group China Human Rights Defenders.
This Muslim persecution takes place without any due process. Internees receive no warrants, no charges, no lawyers, no phone calls, no trial and no sentence. The authorities don’t tell them or their families why they are being interned or for how long. Some internees have been in the camps for seven years or more. This all happens in secret. China denies that internment camps even exist. UN experts have called Xinjiang a “no rights zone” and charge that Muslims are viewed as enemies of the state solely because of their religion and culture.
Freedom of religion does not exist in China
Freedom of religion does not exist in China. The state tolerates some religious activity. Authorities control the venue and the clerics who lead each service. Children are not allowed to attend religious activities. In some places, children aren’t even allowed inside a mosque. The state confiscates Muslims’ passports to keep them from making their pilgrimage to Mecca. The Chinese government won’t even explain what all these measures are for.
For the past decade or so, China denied that the camps even existed. That hasn’t worked out since facts came to light at last years’ Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva. Now they take a different line. They claim the camps are “vocational education and training centres”. Of course, this doesn’t explain the reports of Muslim persecution in the form of beatings, food deprivation and solitary confinement from former internees. China has managed to get diplomats from 37 friendly states to back up their claims about Xinjiang.
China insists that the crackdown is about safety and security. They argue that the so-called training camps prevent Muslims from becoming victims of terrorism and extremism. They have said that so-called religious extremists have disseminated “sinister preachings” and that Muslims behave like “drug addicts”. According to authorities, the camps protect the basic human rights of citizens from infringement. As Orwell put it, “Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”
China is being disingenuous
China is being disingenuous. When confronted with their Muslim persecution policies at the UN, they dismiss questions or deny allegations about Xinjiang. This has made it almost impossible to defend the human rights of millions of Muslims who live there. The situation is murky at best. Which is why human rights defenders are calling for an international investigation.
They want the fact finding to be independent and unrestricted. To date, neither the UN nor China has supported this. Concerned readers can help. Contact your local representatives and tell them that you know all about the Muslim persecution in Xinjiang. Tell them to support an independent fact finding mission to the region to investigate the internment camps. Let them know that the whole world is watching.
Israeli diplomat Abba Eban once said “nations do behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives.” We need to exhaust those alternatives and motivate them to learn more about this human rights crisis.