One of the worst events that occurred in 2019 was the incarceration of nearly one million Uighurs. In 2019, Chen Quanguo won the election as secretary of The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and the government created a new agenda- “The Strike Hard” policy. CCP began its crackdown on the region of Xinjiang in an effort to combat religious extremism. CCP is closely monitoring Uighurs and is using the “Strike Hard” campaign as a witch-hunt for Uighurs, Kazakhs, and Hui Muslims. Those who practice Islam by reading the Qur’an or praying at the masjid is taken to the internment camps. Men who have beards and women who wear the hijab are targeted and sent to the camps as well. CCP is masking the genocide of Uighur Muslims by simply stating they are eradicating extremism.
At the beginning of 2019, China began construction along its Western border. Based on the images captured by satellite feed, many people assumed schools or factories were being built. However, after the construction, it was discovered that these buildings are internment camps. These internment camps are supported by watch towers, enclosed with barbed wires, and secured with surveillance cameras. The internment camps are constructed based on the mission of CCP: qu jiduanhua gongzuo, which means “de-extremification work.” Initially, CCP denied the existence of these internment camps and went so far as to disable geo-tracking of these camps on any device. It is difficult to find pictures of these internment camps, but a few images have been leaked from the Chinese government. These images prove that vocational schools are a euphemism for the internment camps. Shawn Zheng, a Canadian law student, visited Xinjiang to find out about the situation of Uighurs. According to Zheng’s findings, internment camps can be distinguished from other buildings based on their external features. For example, detention centers are two stories high, while internment camps are typically three to four stories high. He also discovered that the Chinese government had closed several masjids in Xinjiang. The question that boggles Zheng’s mind, along with other journalists, is how is it possible to detain so many Uighurs? The answer is in one of the government’s secret files- the Karakax List. This list entails the names of all Uighurs who were imprisoned from 2017-2019. This list has been leaked to the public despite CCP’s efforts on media regulation. The Karakax list is created in Karakax County, in which 97% of the population is Uighur.
Leaked Internment Camp Images
Videos featuring the inside conditions of camps are elusive to the internet. However, a few have been leaked. The videos describe the horrific conditions inside the internment camps, along with memories of ex-convicts. The Turpan internment camp depicts that the cells are filled with more than 50 people. Prisoners are not allowed to move without the guard’s permission. In addition, the guards continuously watch the prisoners when they are eating, using the restroom, sleeping, etc. Prisoners have to share a single toilet and have no access to clean water. Men and women have their heads shaved and are subjected to beatings if they disobeyed guards or practiced Islam. Prisoners are expected to wake up as early as 5 a.m. and sing hymns praising the CCP. They are forced to watch documentaries praising Xi Xinping and are taught that there was no such thing as religion. Women were given drugs that would sterilize them and were often subjected to rape. Prisoners are not allowed to inform their relatives about their condition. Otherwise the government would imprison them. Prisoners are allowed to talk to their relatives once a week to reassure them and video chat once a month.
A Day in the Life of a Uighur Detainee
“I resisted their measures…They put me in a small solitary confinement cell…In a space of about 2×2 meters I was not given any food or drink, my hands were handcuffed in the back, and I had to stand for 24 hours without sleep.”–Nur, a former detainee, March 2018 (Human Rights Watch)
“The authorities put a helmet-like thing on my head, and each time I was electrocuted, my whole body would shake violently and I would feel the pain in my veins. I don’t remember the rest. White foam came out of my mouth, and I began to lose consciousness. The last word I heard them saying is that you being an Uighur is a crime.”-Mihrigul Tursun, a former detainee, November 2018 (The Independent)
The Xinjiang Papers
On November 22, 2019, the Xinjiang papers were released to the public and left the world in shock. The Xinjiang Papers are leaked files that reinforce CCP’s beliefs on the extermination of Uighurs. With nearly 400 pages in Mandarin, it describes the masterplan of Chen Quanguo and the construction of internment camps. In these papers, CCP is ready to answer the questions of any Uighurs who asked about the whereabouts of their family. CCP’s answers by stating they were sent to a “training school” and couldn’t return home yet. These papers also describe the protocol of the internment camps. The documents reveal that the construction of detention camps started in January 2017, after the attack on the Karakax Communist Party officials in December 2016. Prisoners are placed in cells depending on how “extreme” they are. These files evaluate prisoners based on their national IDs, occupations, neighbors, and assessments of their religious activities. This type of assessment is called the Three Circles assessment. In each detainee record, there is an official judgment given by a CCP guard that determines if the detainee is allowed to leave the internment camp. There have been 667 records of detained Uighurs from Moyu, in Karakax County. China is performing these “religious assessments” with the mobile app IJOP. This app tracks Uighurs using facial recognition and monitors their whereabouts and interactions. This app is also used to categorize people based on the 36 types of dangerous behavior.
The Xinjiang Papers also disclose how President Xi Xinping’s remains keen on following America’s “War on Terror” agenda. 161 pages of the Xinjiang Papers describe the directives of surveillance on Uighur Muslims. The main reasons why Uighurs are detained are because they have more children than the family planning policy, are a potential threat, have a criminal record, hold a passport without visiting a foreign country, have visited one of the 26 dangerous countries, perform or attend illegal preaching, practice religious traditions at home, are related to a criminal, wear a face veil, have a beard, or perform an unauthorized pilgrimage. Adrian Zenz, a senior student of Chinese Studies from Washington D.C., is working with his team to decipher these documents. They have been able to identify 337 Uighurs from a list of 2,800 in the Xinjiang Papers. It has also been discovered that even the Uighurs who have been released from the camps, are forced to work at an industrial park. Xi Xinping stated that, “There must be effective educational remodeling and transformation of criminals,” he told officials in southern Xinjiang on the second day of his trip. “And even after these people are released, their education and transformation must continue.” The documents also detail future plans on eliminating Islam in other regions in China.
“Freedom is only possible when this ‘virus’ in their thinking is eradicated and they are in good health.”Statement from the Xinjiang Papers
Global Response to the Uighur Genocide
China has denied the existence of internment camps in the past, but the Xinjiang Papers have shed new light on this issue since they have been leaked to the public. The Chinese Communist Party has been exposed for carrying out a genocide of Uighur Muslims. The United Nations along with 22 other countries is imploring China to stop detaining Uighur Muslims and to end the construction of the internment camps. UN Ambassador Karen Pierce has stated, “We call on the Chinese government to uphold its national laws and international obligations and commitments to respect human rights, including freedom of religion or belief, in Xinjiang and across China.” China, on the other hand, does not appreciate the UN’s stance on the Uighur internment camps and said that this will affect the trade relations with the United States. China’s UN Ambassador, Zhang Jun, stated, “I do not think it’s helpful for having a good solution to the issue of trade talks.” China is clearly apathetic towards this issue, as they do not see their fault after the UN demands them to end the genocide. Most of the “so-called” Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, refuse to take any action or even speak up against the persecution against Uighur Muslims because they are afraid of breaching their trade relations. Instead, a joint statement was signed by the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and other European countries at the UN conference in Geneva. This statement urges China to end its internment camp program and the persecution of Uighur Muslims. This is an iconic moment in foreign diplomacy because the US and the other countries have shown they are not intimidated by China’s threats as they have spoken out against the injustices and inhumane acts China is committing.
UN Human Rights Chief, Michelle Bachelet, stated that she will be visiting Xinjiang to examine the situation of Uighur Muslims and demands “unfettered access.” Unfortunately, she hasn’t been able to visit China yet, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully, Bachelet will be able to visit Xinjiang soon so that China can once again be exposed for its unethical standards of the internment camps and end the genocide on Uighur Muslims. Without international action, the ramifications would be devastating for Uighurs as their entire culture and identity will be wiped out by the next few years due to the genocide. Masjids, burial sites, and even halal markets are being destroyed. It is only a matter of time before Uighur culture and Islam are erased from Xinjiang. Other countries, such as India, have followed China’s suit in eradicating Islam. If the U.N. interferes and passes substantial resolutions to end the persecution and restore religious rights, then Uighur Muslims can practice their religion freely.