The Chinese State Council Information Office recently released a white paper that paints Xinjiang, the region home to the ethnic Uyghur people, as a religiously diverse community where many faiths have co-existed for centuries. It argues that Uyghurs in Xinjiang were forced to become Muslim and that they have been an integral part of China for thousands of years. The State Council Information Office is a propaganda arm of the Chinese government; therefore, the white paper can be seen as an attempt to justify its controversial practices against the ethnic minority in the Xinjiang region. According to CNN, up to 2 million Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities have been held against their will in detention centres across the far-western region of China, and the Chinese government has chosen to address the issue by denying the undeniable misconduct.
The document made the claim that Xinjiang “respects citizens’ freedom to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion… Xinjiang always upholds equality for all religions” and insists that the region has “long been an inseparable part of Chinese territory” and that it has never been independent. The document speaks about the history of China as unified and simple, a notion that is untrue. James Leibold, a La Trobe University expert on Uyghurs and other Chinese ethnic minorities, references two pseudo-independent republics created in Xinjiang as early as the 20th century that explicitly took the name East Turkestan and defined themselves as separate from China. Additionally, China’s paper stated that “the Uyghur conversion to Islam was not a voluntary choice made by the common people, but a result of religious wars and imposition by the ruling class…. Islam is neither an indigenous nor the sole belief system of the Uyghur people.” The white paper is filled with such partial truths that seek to exonerate China of any wrongdoing against the Uyghur people and is yet another example of the well-documented persecution against religious communities in Xinjiang. In 2018, Amnesty International claimed that “public expressions of faith in Xinjiang were now deemed “extremist” by authorities, including growing a beard, praying or fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.” Various states have joined the UN Human Rights Council to criticize China’s treatment of the Uyghurs; these include Australia, the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Canada. Although, this action has had minimal tangible impact on the situation in China.
China has actively engaged in the mass incarceration of the Uyghur people in concentration, or “re-education” camps on the basis of religion, no matter what is said in the state-released white paper. Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim and ethnically dissimilar to China’s majority ethnic group, the Han Chinese, are experiencing an attempted cultural genocide. Former detainees of these camps have described forced lessons in Communist Party propaganda, region-wide bans on Uyghur culture and traditions, and various forms of torture. Chinese public servants conduct mandatory “home stays” with Uyghur families to help the Xinjiang residents assimilate.
This issue has been in the international news for some time, and yet there has been no effectual change, merely perpetuation of the persecution.
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