Thousands of Muslims Detained in China

Safa Hameed

As of now, the Uyghur Muslims, a Turkic ethnic group from the province of Xinjiang, China, are being detained by Chinese officials and being put into internment camps for the alleged purpose of “re-education”.

The Uyghur Muslims are a population of 9 million in Xinjiang.  For several years they have been trying to secede from China, and refer to themselves as East Turkestan. In 2009, many riots broke out in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. At least 150 were killed and several hundred others injured. In the end, the blame was placed on the “fanatic separatists”.

This is not the first time China has made policies regarding the Uyghur Muslims. For example, many Muslim baby names such as Mecca, Muhammad, and names that reference the star and crescent symbol of Islam have been banned since April 2017. China has also prohibited beards, veils, and home-schooling saying it promotes extremism. Everyday Uyghurs in Xinjiang have to go through 24 hour surveillance as well as GPS car trackers in hopes of keeping the group in check. 

It is not clear how many are detained, some sources say up to 100,000 while others say up to a million. The Chinese government has not said anything as they deny that these kinds of facilities exist.  Former detainees told The Guardian, they were forced to sing patriotic songs, speak and learn mandarin, and memorize the Chinese Communist doctrine. According to a former detainee from the Human Rights Watch, she was sometimes denied food and water, sleep deprived, wasn’t allowed to sit, and had her hands and feet cuffed. Another, Mehmet, was instructed to denounce and condemn his past life along with many others in a camp near Hotan, China.

As stated by a mini-documentary from BBC’s newsnight one Uyghur recalls his visit to the camp saying, “It was dinner time, there was at least 1,200 people holding empty plastic bowls in their hands. They had to sing pro-Chinese songs to get food.”  Azat also added that, “They were like robots; they seem to have lost their souls. They behaved as if they weren’t aware of what they were doing. They were like someone who lost their memory after a car crash.” A detainee from the same documentary, Omir Bekali, claims to have been forced to eat pork and drink alcohol which is prohibited in Islam. He also claims to have been tortured, “They have a chair called the tiger. My ankles were shackled, my hands locked into the chair. I could not move. They wouldn’t let me sleep, hung me up for hours, and beat me using thick wooden batons and whips made of wire.”

The Chinese government, however, has vehemently denied that internment camp exist. They have claimed that if there are facilities of such kind then they are “mild corrective institutions” that are for vocational training. Hu Lianhe, a Chinese official from Xinjiang, stated in response to UN reports that, “There is no such thing as re-education centers.” Zhang Yijiong, who is head of ethnic minority affairs, released this statement to reporters, “We guarantee the legitimate rights and interests of all ethnicities and prohibit the discrimination and oppression against any ethnic groups.”

According to the New York Times, the U.S. has considered imposing sanctions on China for their mistreatment of Uyghur muslims. Over the past few days this issue has gained even more light as the Congressional Commission on China penned a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo along with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin advising them to place sanctions on China as soon as possible. Senator Marco Rubio, chairmen of the committee, commented,It involves not only intimidating people on political speech, but also a desire to strip people of their identity — ethnic identity, religious identity — on a scale that I’m not sure we’ve seen in the modern era.”