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Uighur Muslims in China

Who are the Uyghurs/Uighurs?

The Uighurs are a mostly Muslim Turkic ethnicity who regard themselves as culturally and ethnically close to Central Asian nations. The majority live in Xinjiang, where they number about 11 million people.
Uighur communities are also found in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, and several thousand live in Australia. They have their own language, also called Uighur, though China is accused of forcing those taken to camps in Xinjiang to learn Mandarin. (BBC)

What’s been going on?

In 2009, tensions fuelled by decades of institutionalized discrimination and marginalization against Uighurs in their own homeland exploded into violence in the streets of Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi. Clashes between Uighurs and Han Chinese killed some 200 people, who authorities said were mostly Han. China blamed Uighur separatists

The action is part of a larger campaign by Chinese leader Xi Jinping to promote Han nationalism as a unifying force – the Han are China’s ethnic majority – and to suppress any ethnic, cultural or religious identities that might compete for popular loyalty with the Chinese Communist Party. (ICIJ)

The internment of predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in the XUAR (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region) intensified after highly restrictive and discriminatory “Regulations on De-extremification” were adopted in March 2017.

Open or even private displays of religious and cultural affiliation, including growing an “abnormal” beard, wearing a veil or headscarf, regular prayer, fasting or avoidance of alcohol, or possessing books or articles about Islam or Uighur culture can be considered “extremist” under the regulation.

Travel abroad for work or education, particularly to majority Muslim countries, or contact with people outside China are also major reasons for suspicion. Male, female; young, old; urban, rural, all are at risk of being detained.

The ubiquitous security checks that are now a routine part of daily life for all in the XUAR provide ample opportunity to search mobile phones for suspicious content or check people’s identities using facial recognition software. (Amnesty International)

Further human rights violations include:

  • An estimated one million Muslim people are being held in Xinjiang, northwest China
  • The Chinese government denies their existence describing them instead as “transformation-through-education centres” and that people go their voluntarily. In actual fact these are detention camps for torture and brainwashing of anyone suspected of disloyalty.
  • People are sent there by force, and it is up to the authorities to decide when a detainee is transformed or has “graduated”.
  • Those that do put up resistance are punished – ranging from verbal abuse, food deprivation, solitary confinement and beatings. There have even been reports of deaths inside the facilities including suicides.
  • China organises “have a look” propaganda tours for foreigners – one of which Mesut Ozil has been invited to – while independent UN experts have been prevented from accessing the region  (Amnesty International)

What’s happening now?

The Xinjiang region produces more than 20% of the world’s cotton and 84% of China’s, but according to a new report released on Tuesday by the Center for Global Policy there is significant evidence that it is “tainted” by human rights abuses, including suspected forced labour of Uighur and other Turkic Muslim minority people.

The revelations came as the international criminal court (ICC) said it did not have the jurisdiction to investigate allegations of crimes against humanity and genocide in Xinjiang.

What can we do?

It is important to ensure that this issue does not not go unnoticed. Stay informed on this issue (see sources below). On instagram, @uyghurprojectig provides updates and calls-to-action you can take to promote human rights and democracy for Uyghurs.

Useful Sources:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-22278037

https://www.icij.org/investigations/china-cables/china-cables-who-are-the-uighurs-and-why-mass-detention/

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/09/china-up-to-one-million-detained/

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/chinas-uighur-muslims-truth-behind-headlines

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/15/xinjiang-china-more-than-half-a-million-forced-to-pick-cotton-report-finds

https://www.globaldata.com/boycotting-xinjiang-cotton-will-no-easy-feat/