China’s treatment of Muslims draws United Nations’ attention

26th Oct 2018
China’s treatment of Muslims draws United Nations’ attention

Uyghur Muslims demonstrating in Berlin, Germany on July 10, 2009, for the human rights of this persecuted Muslim minority in China following the July 2009 Ürümqi riots (Photo: Claudia Himmelreich/Fact Finders Berlin/Flickr Commons)

Meng Yihua

The United Nations has called on China to release the alleged 1 million Uyghur Muslims detained forcefully in re-education camps in Xinjiang, China’s northwestern province.

Over the last few years, Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang have seen more and more of their religious and cultural freedoms eroded; fasting has been banned in Ramadan, children are not permitted to attend mosque, men are not allowed to keep long beards, and parents cannot give their babies Muslim names, such as Muhammad. More recently, advanced security measures and high-tech surveillance have turned Xinjiang into a totalitarian, police state, under the command of Chen Quanguo, Communist Party hardliner who is credited within the Government for quashing unrest in Tibet through similarly repressive social control policies.

Beijing claims the strict policies are necessary to tackle the rise of violence and terrorism in the region, but experts believe that the violence is in fact fuelled by economic exclusion and erosions of Uyghur culture implemented by the Government. Human rights groups have argued that the extent of repression is counterproductive and violates basic human rights.

The UN only recently issued a statement about the mass internment of many Uyghurs, citing reports that point to the unlawful detention of up to 1 million Uyghurs. Previous detainees have spoken of torture and “re-education” classes inside the camps, in attempts to remove any Islamic ‘affiliation’.

Two weeks ago, it was reported that prisoners are forced to eat pork in the camps, as the Communist Party begins an anti-halal movement to stamp out what it believes to be Islamic radicalism.

The UN committee on human rights has called on Beijing to end the practice of detention without lawful charge, trial and conviction, as well as the immediate release of all all individuals currently detained in the camps.

Tahir Imin, an American-based Uyghur academic from Xinjiang, has several relatives in the detention camps and talks of how officials characterise Islam as a “disease”; he says the detention camps are a part of China’s attempt to eradicate Muslim ethnic minorities and force them to assimilate with the Han Chinese majority.

Uyghurs living abroad are considered more suspicious, and they face a sense of guilt in knowing that their family back home are under closer scrutiny simply by association.

A 24-year-old Uyghur graduate student in Kentucky says it’s been 197 days since he’s been able to contact his father, whom he says has been detained simply because he studies abroad. He knows he will meet the same fate, should he ever go back home.

Following years of international silence on human rights violations in China, voices around the world are now speaking out, making their views known.

Last month, approximately 150 Indian Muslims gathered on the streets of Mumbai after Friday prayers to protest the imprisonment of the Uyghurs. US officials also finally broke their silence; Florida Senator Marco Rubio led a group of US lawmakers to push for sanctions against China over its widespread surveillance of Chinese Muslims.

He accused China of gross violations of privacy and international human rights. In an international conference organized by the State Department in late August, Vice President, Mike Pence, accused China of forcing millions of Uyghur Muslims to undergo political indoctrination. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, also spoke out against the Chinese Government on their treatment of the Uyghurs.

China has responded by accusing the UN of relying on unsubstantiated information; Hua Chunying, spokeswomen for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the allegations are false, saying that the policies in Xinjiang are “aimed at preserving stability”.

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