According to the Uyghur governor of Xinjiang province in western China, 90% of those in so-called “re-education centres” have been released. Regional governor Mr Shohrat Zakir observed that “more than 90% have returned to society,” adding that these people “have work that they like and find suitable.” The statement, given at a press briefing by regional governor Mr. Zakir on 30th July, follows reports that as many as one million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities in the autonomous province have been detained.
This policy forms part of the official response to the perceived fundamentalist terrorist threat from Xinjiang, which has historically fallen in the Islamic and Turkic cultural and geographical sphere. There have been months of conflicting reports around whether these centres are summer boarding schools, as the Chinese government maintains, or brainwashing centres for cultural, linguistic, and religious genocide.
Mr Zakir’s comments of 30th July have been widely viewed as yet another attempt by China to obscure the reality of conditions in China, and have drawn fierce indignation from the worldwide Uyghur diaspora. Friends and family of detainees have responded with outrage as they have still not been able to contact their loved ones. The hashtag “#Provethe90%” has begun to circulate online as the pressure mounts for Chinese authorities to demonstrate that minorities have been freed from the camps. As Arfat Erkin, a Uyghur living in the U.S. whose father has disappeared in Xinjiang, “China does not need to say they released most if they really did so. All it needs is to give journalists normal access to those camps – not staged camps – and give official permission for Uyghurs to contact their relatives abroad.” From the diaspora in Australia, Fatimah Abdulghafur also recounted the outrage in the Uyghur community on hearing the official statements. She said that the online community reacted extremely negatively with Uyghurs saying, “this isn’t true, if it’s true where is my person?” Most of the 3000 Uyghur-Australians have a family member who has gone missing at home in Xinjiang.
For some time now the People’s Republic of China has waged a propaganda war over the treatment of Turkic-speaking Muslim minorities in its borderlands, but despite the best efforts of Chinese state media and government officials, it becomes more and more evident that Xinjiang is facing a human rights crisis of gross proportions. The facts of the matter are established through the increasing reports of cultural abuses, such as the cutting off of beards, the razing of religious sites, and even forcing Muslim people to eat pork, which is forbidden in the Quran. The time for ascertaining the nature of crisis in Xinjiang has long passed, and to continue engaging with the PRC over the “facts” is to become embroiled in a pointless and unwinnable media war.
Meaningful action is underway, however, as 22 countries signed a joint letter to China in July, urging that the nation end mass internment. Ambassadors of UN members states, among them the UK, Japan, and Canada, signed the letter at the Human Rights Council. It is an important step in assisting the Uyghurs, but it is still far too short of what is needed.
Though significant, such a letter does not carry as much weight as a formal statement read at the council or a UN resolution, according to the BBC. Diplomats told Reuters that they steered away from more serious actions for fear of retaliation from the rising world superpower. The UNHRC has a right and a duty to protect human rights around the world, even against powerful nations such as China. For international pressure to succeed in alleviating the plight of Uyghurs and other minorities in China, human rights must come above national political and economic concerns.
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