A testimony at the United Nations argues that more than a million Uyghur Muslims, in China’s western Xinjiang province, have been sent to “political indoctrination” camps. China has been struggling with the Province for the past few decades due to its ethnically Turkic, and Muslim, majority.
Xinjiang province continues to be a thorn in China’s side. The populations of the region are predominantly Turkic Uyghurs and do not directly identify with their Eastern cohorts, those of which are ethnic Han Chinese. In April of this year, it was declared that the region’s 10 million Muslims would not be able to wear long beards or veils in public. Home schooling was also banned along with downloading material that the government views to be extremist. China is intent on controlling the region by any means necessary in order to remind its inhabitants that the territory is a part of China and that independence is not an option.
The Chinese government aims to win this culture war through brute force and state sponsored indoctrination. Censorship of the media and internet runs prevalent throughout the country but is increasingly common in Western China. The Human Rights Watch reported in December of 2017 that millions of people living in Xinjiang were having their DNA, retinal scans, and fingerprints collected in a massive database by the government. Surveillance is already tight in China due to laws that force individuals to surrender passports if asked to and required GPS trackers in cars.
Recent years have seen a rise in violent attacks on policemen in Xinjiang. Authorities blame the attacks on Uyghur separatists that seek to create an independent Uyghur state. The government responds with harsher crackdowns, censorships, and more oppression on the entire Uyghur population after every attack. In 2009 the province had its internet cut off for an entire 10 months. Imagine if our politicians in Washington decided to cut off all of Western America’s internet for 10 months and what that would that mean for our democracy and freedom.
China is also notorious for its ejecting of outside journalists that write content that is critical of government policies despite claims that international journalists and their reports are completely respected. Megha Rajagopalan of Buzzfeed was denied a new visa for her reporting of Xinjiang province. Al-Jazeera English had a visa renewal also declined in 2012 and France’s L’Obs magazine had a correspondent ejected for writing a report that was critical of government policies in Xinjiang.
Xinjiang’s government posted an official document on their website stating that the purpose of the biodata collections “is to fully and accurately verify the real number of Xinjiang’s population, to collect the images, fingerprints, iris scans, blood types, and DNA biometrics of those between the age of 12 and 65.” This statement does not do much besides confirm a government plan to record the information of most of an entire population.
In February, accusations came forth from the World Uyghur Congress that roughly 130,000 (soak that number in for a second) Uyghur Muslims are detained in government camps. That number has since been updated to 1,000,000 as of June. These camps are not surprisingly squalid, overcrowded, and shrouded in secrecy. Detainees can be kept indefinitely and do not enjoy the legal rights that most Western citizens get such as due process or access to an attorney.
Much is still unknown about the entire situation, specifically how many Uighur are in custody, what China’s long term plans are, and the conditions within these camps. The purpose behind collecting such a massive amount of biodata also remains unknown. But, it remains important to continue spreading awareness about these crimes against humanity, to encourage journalists on the ground to continue doing their vital research, and to remind our politicians about these events as well.
*Cemal Latif Ozgur is a Boston College graduate that currently lives in Washington D.C. He writes about foreign policy and international affairs. @CemalLOzgur
DISCLAIMER! The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Wash.