Uighur Muslims Suffer In Chinese Re-Education Camps But China Says There Is No Such Thing

This week, China has once again denied claims that they are holding at least one million Uighur Muslims in reeducation camps, despite the UN’s growing evidence against them. In Xinjiang, reports of reeducation camps for Uighur Muslims have become more concerning as members of this ethnic minority go missing or are reported dead, according to the New York Times. The political reeducation camps are supposedly intended to help ethnic Uighur Muslims culturally adjust to life in China and better assimilate into society. In reality, due to growing tensions and violence in the area, security has been heavily imposed and many Muslims have been detained. Released detainees have reported that inside the camp, they are forced to denounce Islam and commit their loyalty to the party.  In January, the population of the camps was at 120,000, but that number has grown since with the World Uighur Congress estimating about one million Uighur Muslims in the camps as of July. Though China continues to deny these claims, Gay McDougall, a member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, provided a report this Friday on the state of the camps, further raising concerns.

McDougall reported that the camps were “something resembling a massive internment camp,” according to the New York Times. China Human Rights Defenders, a Hong Kong based NGO, states the “body of evidence of arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment is overwhelming”, according to CNN. And Kelly Currie, US Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council, presented evidence that detainees were being forced to “renounce their ethnic identities, religious beliefs, and mainstream cultural and religious practices,” the CNN continues. Yet Hua Lianhe, a senior Chinese Communist Party official stated “there is no such thing as re-education centers,” going on to state “there is no torture, persecution, or disappearance of repatriated personnel.” The CNN goes on to report that Lianhe also stated “Xinjiang citizens including the Uyghurs enjoy equal freedoms and rights.” Sarah Brooks, a representative for the International Service for Human rights, specializing in Asia, said China’s response to the UN’s claims kept “a longstanding tradition of the Chinese government to give nonanswers to deeply important questions.”

The camps in Xinjiang follow in the footsteps of China’s dark history of re-education and brainwashing. Forcing people to denounce their religion and follow a strict guideline of patriotism and societal norms is a direct violation of a person’s basic right of choice. The camps must be immediately terminated and all the detainees released. The inhumane acts brought against the Uighur Muslims of China are the result of a system that does not allow religious freedom or even freedom of opinion. These fundamental ideals may be deeply Westernized but every individual of every culture should have the chance to establish their ideals for themselves and the Uighur Muslims are being denied that right.

The Uighur Muslim group are a Turkic-speaking ethnic group that practice a moderate form of Sunni Islam, according to Vox, and have a population of 10 million within China’s borders. Over centuries, as more Uighur Muslims migrated to western China, ethnic tensions grew and China began administering laws specific to this minority such as the prohibiting Mosques from announcing hours of prayer. In the past, these tensions have led to violent outbursts such as the 2009 riots in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, which left 200 dead. In 2017, CNN reported on that Muslims in Xinjiang were banned from wearing the veil or long beards in public. According to Vox, re-education camps began appearing in 2014 in an attempt to address the terrorism and separatism in the area, much of which has been unrightfully pinned on the Uighur Muslims. The camps now stretch throughout the Xinjiang and western region of China, the Guardian describing the spaces as highly secure areas made up of old government buildings that have been repurposed for re-education. The Guardian reports that the re-education centers are advertised as a way to combat terrorism and separatism, but there are many accounts to contradict this goal–detainees must sing patriotic songs, punished for “excessive praying” or committing a “non-religious act” by going on restricted websites.

Reports on the inhumane state of the re-education camps are causing international concern as the UN attempts to address the potential human rights violations. Despite China’s blatant denial of all of these claims, the evidence is against them and there is too much proof and first-hand accounts for this issue to be ignored any longer. Human rights watch groups and many other organizations will continue to work together and gather evidence to create a better life for these targeted groups.