• O'kgabile Mokoena

Guilty by Ethnicity - The Oppression of Uyghur Muslims in China

As more and more symbols of Islamic identity, like wearing a hijab and the destruction of decade-old mosques are erased from China, Islam vanishes from modern Chinese society – taking with it Uyghur Muslims, who face discrimination, detainment and in most cases, execution as per the Chinese government’s demands.


(Uighur, 2018).


“I don’t know what you mean by prison, our place is indeed a training camp,” says a Uyghur ‘training camp’ facilitator. Stories such as this one illustrates the current execution of Uyghur Muslims in what the average global citizen might see as a concentration camp.

‘Uyghur’ refers to Turkish Muslims living within central and eastern Asia who closely identify with central Asian culture. The mass majority of this population of Muslims reside in Xinyang, now seen as a Uyghur autonomous state with relation to the fact that 45% of the population consists of Uyghurs, which also holds the residence of the majority Han Chinese population, a clashing group which plays a part in the ongoing disputes (which most notably surround job security and employment) in Xinyang. The ethnic conflict between both groups give basis to the systematic Uyghur oppression, as the Chinese government elaborates on the idea of trying to aid the issue by punishing the conflict inflicting party- whom according to them, are the Uyghurs.


As early as February 2019, multiple reports, journalistic documentaries, and social media posts made rounds across the internet and into congress concerning the oppression of Muslims in Eastern Asia – specifically the ‘Uyghur’ population, who occupy most of Xinjiang and according to the Chinese government, hold the potential to perpetuate mass upheaval in the region, which was believed to be terrorism, giving reason to their predisposed detainment and execution.


This was one case out of many – the irradiation of Islam in China is underway, with multiple cultural liberties within Islamic culture being taken away by the Chinese government, from going to mosques and praying in public, to the banning of multiple traditional Muslim names. The Uyghur population are amongst a group of East Asian Muslims who are systematically oppressed by the government but are by far the worst to be affected – as far as the public knows off.


In the case of the Uyghurs, the Chinese government seems to want to rid China of them, prompting many to be watched and regulated by government officials to a horrendous extent. Multiple Uyghur accounts recall having government officials stay in the homes of Uyghur women uninvited for days to constantly check up on them, banning Uyghur languages, forcing labour which the governments thrives off of, asking for passports if people are suspected to be Uyghur, and of recent report, targeting for sterilization. In most cases, younger children are also victim to their own form of detainment, in which they are sent off to ‘orphanages’ which prohibit any Uyghur dialects or visitors, and thus strip the children of any shred of their cultural background.


In addition to this, there are the concentration camps or rather ‘training centres’ (as the government calls them) which most Uyghur teens and adults are taken to, with the intent of being kept and be tortured if they disobey or revolt against the enforced detainment and Sinicization. Though, according to the Chinese government, these camps are meant to be rehabilitation institutions which are meant to aid the Uyghur population, with aims to integrate them into Chinese society, forcing them to only speak mandarin and learning more about Chinese tradition and dance, in turn, shifting their internalised ‘hostility’ into proactivity.


What is puzzling about these supposed camps is that Uyghurs are taken here even if they have no history of crime or terrorism, which the government is accusing them of, and are not given any trial whatsoever on whether they are deserving of going to these camps. They are whisked away during the night from their homes when found on the streets, locked up in the camps, and are not allowed to leave under any circumstances. Zhang Zhisheng of the Xinjiang foreign affairs tells of the idea to BBC reporter John Sudworth: “Some people. Before they commit murder, already show they’re capable of killing,” he continues, “should we wait for them to commit a crime?”


The injustices faced by the Uyghur population are but a fraction of what is happening to Islam in China. Within the past two to three years, Islamic faith as a whole continues to be suppressed by the Chinese government, as Mosques, traditional Islamic names, Hijabs, the wearing of a long beard, and praying in public has been prohibited, and of the mosques that have not been abolished now present propaganda supporting the communist party and images supporting Xi Jinping. In addition to this, there have been attempts within the Chinese government to rewrite holy books, in which the NPC attempts to conduct “comprehensive evaluation of the existing religious classics aiming at contents which do not conform to the progress of the times.” blatantly referring to affirming socialist ideas within the transcripts and mending sections which contradict these values.


From a global perspective there has been more of an international political buzz surrounding the issue after other human rights scandals surrounding the NPC have come to light, and after the issue was raised by social media – United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called it a "brutal campaign of repression,” and cautioned the American public with regards to buying Chinese products which are a result of forced Uyghur labour. Turkey also got involved, giving asylum to refugee Uyghurs, but have been reported to be deporting Uyghurs back to China regardless. What is most surprising though is the reaction of leaders of Islamic states who have put in little to no efforts in aiding the issue


The Chinese government’s reasons alone for targeting Islam in the region give insight into the depths China will go to achieve their one party, one nation policy, which emphasises the idea of extremist nationalism as well as unity, with the expense of those who do not fit into the idea of the future china, in turn, irradiating difference within the area. The violation of human rights, freedom, and just trials and religious affairs is a segment of what can be seen by the average citizen if they look hard enough. What is really concerning is what happens to the Chinese minorities when they are not afforded representation in the media, backed by journalists who seek to find the truth? What happens to Chinese minorities that go un-recorded, un-published and unseen?

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