Writer: Hou Fong
Editor: Tonwaan Apiratikiat
Graphic Designer: Maulina Gheananta
TW: mentions of torture, rape, sterilization, forced labour
The treatment of the Uyghur People in Xinjiang China has been a rising humanitarian crisis in the last few years, all orchestrated by the Chinese Communist Government. Let’s first give some background to who the Uyghur Muslims are. The Uyghurs are one of the minorities in China who are native to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in Northwest China. They speak Uyghur, with roots found in the Turkish language. As of 2020, the population of Uyghurs located in China is at 12.123 million. That’s approximately 93% of the Uyghur population. With their presence in the Xinjiang region of China dating back to the 9th Century, the Uyghur people certainly had deep cultural and historical roots in China. (1)
The questionable actions taken against the Uyghur Muslim Population in China over the last few years have sparked a global outcry, with multiple countries including the United States of America publicly condemning their actions. Despite this, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) attempts to keep its misdeeds shrouded in secrecy, and its testimonies from former targets and victims of the Chinese government’s tactics has come to light, along with leaked documents that paint China in a not so favourable light, exposing what has truly been happening.
The Uyghur Muslim Internment camps, also known as the Vocational Education and Training Center is undoubtedly one of the most well-known examples of the mistreatment of Uyghur Muslims in China. The Uyghur Muslim Internment camps were believed to have begun their operations back in 2017 as a counter-terrorism measure, as it is often reported by the local medium as Counter-extremism training centres (去极端化培训班). (2) Xi Jinping claims in a series of secret speeches that is merely using the tools of a “dictatorship” to eliminate Islamist extremists and to protect the country from terrorism. A majority of the facilities are from schools or other government officials, but there are some that were constructed for this purpose of internment specifically.
As of September 2020, 380 detention centres have been identified to be built in the region of Xinjiang, as reported by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. The same report also raises suspicions towards the true motives of “re-education”, and that the supposed training of those camps might be better defined as slavery. As several of the camps has been built conjoined with factory complexes, which brings the high possibility of Uyghur within those internment camps being exploited for forced labour in factory supply lines, and there are strong signs that around 80,000 Muslims are being forced to work in factories that are parts of the supply chains of major companies, such as Apple, Adidas, Google, HP, H&M (7) and much much more, which would be in clear violation of both the US’s Tariff Act of 1930 and Australia’s Modern Slavery Act in 2018. (4)
The Chinese government was already under suspicion of trying to suppress the population growth of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, with practices such as the forced fitting of IUDs into many women regardless of the number of children they had given birth to, which prevents sperm from fertilizing eggs; and thickens the cervical mucus and thins the uterine. Therefore stopping the Ugyhur from giving birth to any more children. Along with some being tricked into getting sterilisation surgery. (5) It seems those practices of birth suppression have only intensified with the indoctrination of Uyghurs into camps, as practices have extended to the “students” of those camps being force-fed white unidentified substances that lead to bleeding and loss of menstruation in some. The demographic genocide of the Uyghur is only further evidenced by the figures of IUD explanations provided to the CCP, with the number of new IUD implants in Xinjiang accounting for 80% of the Chinese population each year, despite only making up 0.31% of the Chinese population. The Chinese government has denied the existence of ethnic cleansing, especially towards Uyghur Muslims on multiple occasions, but the mounting evidence against it is not supporting its case. The actions taken by the CCP is a clear attempt to drastically reduce the Uyghur population.
The lack of transparency from the Chinese government regarding the inner-workings of the internment camps makes us uncertain of the questionable practices that occur. However, from the accounts of the survivors of those camps, we are able to gauge the extent of the inhumane conditions of the indoctrination camps. First of all, the implementation of watchtowers, video surveillance and double-locked doors (6) limits the possibilities of Uyghurs escaping the camp, which is in alignment with one of the primary orders in the operation of the camp; “Never allow escapes”. The resemblance between infamous concentration camps in history and the internment camps in China is becoming increasingly clear.
Second of all, all Uyghur “Students” trapped in the camp are forced into a strict daily routine that drills obedience and compliance in their head. Every morning, they line up in the same position as they get their first meal of the day, sit in a fixed classroom seat as they listen to Chinese government propaganda, work at fixed, predetermined stations, and sleep in the same bed every night, staring at the same walls. This constant repetition slowly deprives the Uyghurs of their ability to think independently. As many studies have shown, repetitive actions slowly rots away self-motivation and can lead to a multitude of depressive issues, lowering any mental defences that still might exist. In addition to the repetitive labour, the Uyghurs are beaten into submission through various torture methods, for example, removing women’s earings by directly pulling it out, causing them to bleed; along with being forced to drink alcohol and consume pork which is forcing the Uyghurs to go against their own culture and religion. The slightest action that is considered as stepping out of line in the eyes of the wardens can result in a painful beating. The Chinese government is gradually depriving the Uyghurs of their humanity and converting them into machines of labour. The CCP is completely aware of what they are doing and doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon; they still attempt to mask the situation by forcing their captives to act cheerfully at the sight of cameras from the press, under the threat of torture and punishment if they act otherwise.
Thirdly, the exploitation of female Uyghur Muslims within the Internment Camps are severe. Multiple Uyghur Women had been subjected to rape and involuntarily sexual acts within the camps. Witnesses and victims state that masked men in black suits would drag Uyghur women out of their dorms. And they would be brought to a small room at the end of the long corridor, the women would then be restrained with handcuffs, preventing movement, and be raped by one or two men from a third-party, with the guards just outside the door. Most of the Uyghurs within the camps have given up resisting, as the punishment they would usually receive is far worse. The Uyghur Internment Camps have a well-established system of mass rape, which allows it to be easy for thousands of Uyghur Women to be exploited and become victims of such crimes.
Within the walls of the prison, the psyches of the Uyghurs are slowly getting worn away until their original identities are completely shattered. BBC has reported in their numerous documentaries of the questionable re-education being pushed by the communist Chinese government. The so-called curriculum that the Uyghur Muslims are forced to endure includes being forced to learn Mandarin Chinese and forget their native tongue, sing songs that praise the CCP and their leader Xi Jinping even if they don’t agree with any of it, and denounce and reject their only religion, Islam, as the Chinese government sees that any form of Islam expression in the Xinjiang Region is an act of extremist behaviour. The Chinese government is brainwashing and suppressing the Uyghur People and their identities until the Uyghurs are no longer able to regain their identities.
The discrimination of the CCP towards the Uyghur Muslim population is completely unjustified as there is no reliable evidence that extremism in the form that China claims still exists today. China once blamed its terrorist attacks on a separatist group founded by militant Uyghurs which were once on the US’s list of terrorists. However, it was recently removed after the lack of proof that the group was still operating in the last decade. China has yet to make any retractions on its statements on the group. The truth is, there is no significant or true extremist and terrorist risk in the Xinjiang region of China: the intent behind the Chinese government’s actions was just to exploit a minority for monetary gain, and to purify its population to be more in line with their ideologies. This is a modern-day genocide. No matter how you call it, this is still an atrocity, and it will only continue if the international community does not intervene.