Who are the Uyghurs?
Among China’s 56 minority groups, 10 are Muslim, including Hui, Uyghur, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Uzbek, and Tartar. Hui Muslims slightly outnumber Uyghurs but blend in well throughout the entire country. They already know Mandarin, understand the Confucian culture, and look Chinese. In contrast, Uyghurs live in Xinjiang and resemble Central Asians. They resent Han Chinese moving into their mineral-rich province, taking over top jobs, and forcing them to work in textile mills. Besides, they have chafed under Beijing’s heavy-handed rule for decades.
Uyghurs are Suspect
Along with others, Muslims suffered during China’s Cultural Revolution (1966-69), but after 9-11, they were viewed with suspicion. As time went on, the Uyghur-Han conflict intensified, with Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital as the hot spot. They face numerous allegations: In 2009, 197 were killed in riots, mostly Han, and a message spread on social media: “Kill the Han.” “Kill the Hui.” In June of 2012, they were accused of trying to hijack a plane but were overpowered by passengers and crew. In 2014, 2 cars reportedly crashed into a Urumqi market, and explosives were thrown into the crowd. Later that year, it is said that Uyghur terrorists stabbed 150 people at a train station, killing 31. Authorities called it “China’s 9-11.”
Absolutely No Mercy
With this backdrop, President Xi visited Xinjiang in 2014, and secretly instructed officials to wage an all-out war against religious extremism and separatism–with “absolutely no mercy.” After inspecting police tactics in Urumqi, he said they were too primitive: “Dictatorship” tools were necessary to eradicate radical Islam because of the “toxicity of religious extremism.” It is like “taking a drug; you lose your senses, go crazy and will do anything … we must be as harsh as them.” Strangely, all outward signs of Muslim piety were deemed “extreme”–veils, beards, and prayers 5 times a day–even giving up smoking or drinking! In short, Uyghur faith, mosques, schools, traditions, culture, and language were to be wiped out in the “People’s War” against terrorism. Anyone who called himself Uyghur had a mistaken identity.
Spying on the Uyghurs
Rather than targeting a few criminals, through technology, Xi put the entire Muslim population of 15 million in Xinjiang under surveillance. In August of 2016, a hard-liner, by the name of Chen Quanguo was appointed to execute a very “fierce campaign.” Previous administrations had been too “soft,” so Chen told police to “round up everyone who should be rounded up.” Soon, “re-education” camps popped up throughout the province as well as a massive system of sophisticated checkpoints: Cameras were omnipresent, and tens of thousands of extra police were hired to scan Muslim’s phones and confiscate passports. Chen required physicals for everyone, collecting biometric data–blood types, fingerprints, voiceprints, iris patterns, urine samples, and DNA samples under the guise of medical care. These were stored in a massive data bank. Facial-recognition software greatly facilitated detection and Muslims could be arrested for as little as visiting a foreign website. For a fuller report on China’s use of technology for Uyghur surveillance, see “How Mass Surveillance Works in Xinjiang, China.“
Conservative figures put one in ten Uyghurs in camps and that means over a million. First-hand accounts are grim–squalid conditions and torture rooms that include beatings and electric shocks. Detainees are strip-searched, forced to sign documents that express regret with a promise to never repeat the mistake–even though they may not know what the mistake was. Detention rooms are like cages, equipped with cameras and a microphone hanging from the ceiling. One woman said guards follow them everywhere—even to the bathroom: They have 3 minutes to wash their faces and brush their teeth, 1 minute to urinate and 5 minutes to shower. Every moment is controlled, and every movement is monitored. Commands are screamed out in ear-splitting Mandarin–a language older Uyghur women cannot understand. Lights are on 24-7, and no one can cover their eyes. Prisoners are told to love the party, love the state, and above all to keep smiling. No tears are allowed.
Rape Culture and Genocide
According to the BBC, this is what is happening to Uyghur women. “… Rape has become a culture. It is gang rape, and the Chinese police not only rape them but also electrocute them … “ Another said, “They not only rape but also bite all over your body, you don’t know if they are human or animal … they didn’t spare any part of the body …” “… One girl became completely different after that [rape and torture], wouldn’t speak to anyone, she sat quietly staring off into space … like someone who simply existed, otherwise she was dead … in my opinion, everyone who leaves the camps is finished … their goal is to destroy everyone … And everybody knows it.” In a separate incident, a young woman was gang raped in front of 100 other detainees to force a confession. Police took turns raping her, and as the young woman cried out for help, onlookers were monitored by cameras. If they showed any sign of resistance, they were singled out for punishment.
The World is Watching
For years China has been lying about what goes on in the camps, but we know differently. The UN calls it genocide, as does the US State Department, and last year Southern Baptists passed “Resolution 8 on the Uyghur Genocide.” Ambassador Haley asked us to boycott the Winter Olympics in Beijing, and most nations refused to send a single diplomat. Our promise to never again turn our eyes from genocide brings back memories of Anne Frank, Auschwitz, and the Holocaust. Jewish eyes appear to see most clearly what China is doing: UHRP (Uyghur Human Rights Project) “’Never Again’ Commentary and Jewish Voices for Uyghur Human Rights.” The 15-page document lists hundreds of Jewish voices comparing China to the Nazis.
The US Press Secretary Jen Psaki echoes Nikki Haley’s concerns in a recent briefing saying, “The international community, including the public and private sectors, cannot look the other way when it comes to what is taking place in Xinjiang.” For more on Uyghurs in China see Uyghur Genocide: Standing up for Persecuted Muslims.