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Uyghur “Re-Education” Camps: A Humanitarian Crisis

Aditi Dhaundiyal writes, China’s policy of generating terror amongst the Uyghur population in the XUAR and the Uyghur diaspora abroad by using repressive policies that seek to ‘de-radicalise’ through what they call “vocational skill education training centres” or “re-education camps” is ironic.

The Uyghurs are Turkic- speaking people of Central and East Asia. Although an ethnic minority in other parts of the Chinese mainland, they are a majority population in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). The Uyghur Muslims identify their culture as closer to Central Asia than the Chinese mainland and have voiced demand for an independent East Turkestan or Uyghurstan. The Government of People’s Republic of China views this separatist demand as a threat to its national security. Also, since Xinjiang has the largest reserves of coal and natural gas in China and is of economic importance, China is keen to maintain a tight grip over this region. This has translated into policies of religious and ethnic discrimination, all in the garb of fighting terrorism and radicalisation. China’s policy of generating terror amongst the Uyghur population in the XUAR and the Uyghur diaspora abroad in efforts to “prevent their radicalisation” is ironic.

The Chinese government has put in place repressive policies that seek to ‘de-radicalise’ the Uyghur Muslims through what they call “vocational skill education training centres” or “re-education camps”. The Chinese government maintains that these camps do not infringe upon the human rights of Uyghurs but accounts of former detainees suggest otherwise. It is reported that around 1 million Uyghur Muslims have been arbitrarily held in what human rights groups call ‘mass detention centres’. Former detainees recall physical and mental torture. They reveal forced consumption of pork and alcohol, study of communist propaganda and Mandarin. The detainees are made to sing the Chinese national anthem and communist songs, and show gratitude to Chinese Premier Xi Jinping through chants such as “Long live Xi Jinping!” These conditions are corroborated by accounts of former detainees such as Kazakh nationals Kayrat Samarkan and Omir Bekali. Mihrigul Tursuran, a former Uyghur detainee recounts the inhuman conditions that include electrocution and the tasting of an unknown medicine that caused loss of consciousness among other side effects.

Amnesty International’s 2018 report states torture, ill-treatment and arbitrary arrests of Uyghurs with no access to legal counsels and imposition of travel restrictions that involve handing over passports to the police and submission of biometric data. Apart from harassing relatives of Uyghurs taking shelter abroad, China has also directly pressured countries such as Egypt to forcibly return Uyghur students and asylum seekers.

Strict mass surveillance is brought to light by a Human Rights Watch report that reveals use of a certain mobile application (Integrated Joint Operations Platform) by the Chinese police to store data of Uyghurs for the purpose of surveillance. Surveillance through Han Chinese informants appointed by the state is also reported. It can be naturally expected that the Uyghur community will be discriminated against through the Social Credit System that the Chinese government plans to bring in by 2020.

The Uyghur community has been persecuted en masse in the pretext of ‘stability’ and ‘national security’. Surprisingly, Turkey is the only Muslim majority country to have publicly called out China on the inhuman treatment meted out to Uyghurs. Mohammed bin Salman, the Prince of Saudi Arabia, has defended China, stating that “China has the right to carry out anti-terrorism and de-extremisation work for its national security”. Other Muslim majority countries such Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan have been mum on the issue.

The voiceless Uyghur community has received little international support except condemnation from few powerful countries, UN and other human rights groups. However, a systematic violation of human rights such as this needs much stronger opposition. It is pertinent that the international community put pressure on China to shut down the internment camps before it escalates further into a case of textbook ethnic cleansing.

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