In China, widespread persecution and internment of the country’s Muslim minority, called Uighurs, has grown to unprecedented proportions. The Turkish speaking people make up 10 million of the country’s population, mostly concentrated in a northwestern region of China called Xinjiang. As a method of controlling this minority, the Chinese government has built several secret “re-education” camps to house Uighurs, forcibly separating them from their families and trying to treat Islam as if it were an illness. The regime asserts that Islam is “violent terrorism,” claiming that their actions are in the name of safety.
Even outside of these camps, the Uighur people are already being bombarded with the government’s attempts at controlling and decreasing the population. Xinjiang is being injected with a totalitarian-level surveillance system, lining streets with cameras equipped with facial recognition and keeping a DNA database of everyone in the region. Each person is also categorized as either “safe” or “unsafe” on their ID cards, based on their religion. This increasing oppression of the minority population has led many to leave the country, but that hasn’t stopped China from exerting their control over them.
The Chinese government has moved beyond its borders to keep tabs on the Uighurs that have escaped their regime, launching a global campaign to bring them back to the country to repatriate. Upon returning, the people almost immediately disappear, presumably being put into the camps. For those that haven’t returned, China is pooling its resources to create a database of their identities. One such attempt was experienced by an Uighur who currently lives in New York City, with her mother still residing in China. The woman, going by the fake name Barna, told The Daily Beast that her mother asked her for her car’s license plate number, her US bank card number, a photo of her driver’s license, and her phone number.
“From her unsettled voice, I can tell she has been pushed by the authorities. For the sake of my mom’s safety, I said OK,” said Barna.
This story is a familiar one for many escaped citizens who reside in the US, as several have reported the same thing: family members requesting personal identification information by the demand of local public security officials. The pressure from this government isn’t only felt by those living in the US, but in other countries as well.
One Uighur who goes by the assumed name Tursan told the Financial Times that, in regards to residing in Turkey, “Uighurs here feel increasingly unsafe.” This may be due to the relationship between Turkey and China growing more congenial.
China’s actions against these people are not unlike its past treatment of Tibetans either; in both cases, the country was afraid of political turmoil caused by separatists being wrought within its communist regime. However, the country’s actions have not gone without consequence, as the US has threatened sanctions against the country for its treatment of the Muslim minority. Members from the US Congress wrote a letter regarding the situation, stating that “Muslim ethnic minorities are being subjected to arbitrary detention, torture, egregious restrictions on religious practice and culture, and a digitized surveillance system so pervasive that every aspect of daily life is monitored.”
The UN has also stepped in, calling the current state of things a “major human rights crisis.” As international disapproval runs rampant, there is no telling whether or not the regime will let up on its treatment of the Uighurs, especially when they constantly reject accusations of mistreatment.
by Jessica Grioua