Repression of Uighurs

China, Asia

The Uighur people are a Muslim minority group inhabiting China’s northwestern province of Xinjiang. They are culturally, religiously, and linguistically similar to their Central Asian neighbours, and many live closer to Baghdad than they do to Beijing. The region was a key stopping point on the Ancient Silk Road and was consolidated under the rule of the Qing Dynasty in the 18th century and incorporated into the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

In recent decades, the East Turkestan independence movement has swept through Xinjiang, which has experienced unrest and frequent revolts and terrorist attacks. In response, the Chinese Communist Party has engaged in a colossal crackdown on the Uighurs, placing severe restrictions on movement and religious and cultural expression. Specifically, they are unable to travel to any of the 26 countries China deems “sensitive,” regularly attend services at mosques, have more than three children, or send texts containing Quranic verses. 

To date, it is estimated that over one million Uighurs have been imprisoned in massive concentration camps that the Chinese government refers to as “re-education” camps. Detainees have been subjected to widespread surveillance, forced labour, sterilizations, and religious restrictions. Such activities are genocidal and aimed at exterminating Uighur culture and generational expansion. In 2019, leaked government documents detailed the CCP’s plan for the concentration camps, and President Xi Jinping was quoted as saying “show absolutely no mercy.” The United Nations and dozens of human rights organizations have called on China to stop the repression and mass incarceration, but the CCP asserts that their actions are not in violation of human rights and that they’re necessary for stopping terrorism.

Key Facts

12.8 million

Living in Xinjiang

1 to 2 million


Human rights abuses:

Forced labour, torture, killings

Who: The Uighurs are an ethnic minority group native to the Xinjiang region of northwestern China. They are predominantly Muslim and culturally, religiously, and linguistically similar to their Central Asian neighbours. 

Where: Xinjiang, China’s northwestern province, bordering Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.

Population: 46% of the population is Uighur and 39% of the population is Han.

Strike Hard Campaign Against Violent Terrorism: China’s attempt to quell conflict by framing separatist unrest as terrorism. This campaign has resulted in a colossal crackdown on the Uighurs, including mass surveillance, religious restrictions, and widespread detention. 

Human Rights Abuses: There have been widespread allegations of arbitrary detention, forced labour, forced population control, torture, and extrajudicial killing.

The Key Actors

More on this Crisis

Opportunities in the Crisis Index

If you have relevant knowledge of a particular region and are interested in being a Regional Crisis Adviser or Senior Correspondent (Crisis Index), please email our Crisis Index Coordinator at

Interested in contributing to the Crisis Index?

We have a team of knowledgeable advisors and senior correspondents responsible for updating and maintaining our Crisis Index pages. For more information on the roles and responsibilities, click the button below.
Click Here