Everyone knows about the Holocaust, we all consider it part of the somewhat distant past that we’ve learnt from and will never repeat. Thankfully, for the most part, that’s true. Sadly, one country has yet to learn. As you read this, their government is rounding up one of their largest ethnic minorities and detaining its people in euphemistically named ‘re-education camps.’ That country is China.
Some background: when a non-Chinese person thinks of China’s culture, they’re probably thinking of Han Chinese culture. The Han are the largest ethnic group in the entire world, making up 18% of the world’s population and 92% of China’s. That eight percent is China’s ethnic minorities, of which there are 55 in total. One of the largest is the Uyghurs, making up eight million people mostly living in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in northwest China, or as its people call it, East Turkistan. Uyghurs are a Turkic people who practise Sunni Islam, and have a rich culture (I’ll admit I’m biased though). Uyghurs believe that in 1949, East Turkistan was illegally incorporated into China, and there has been separatist sentiment in the region since then, most notably in the Urumqi Riots in July 2009. While it is understandable that a large and powerful nation such as China would not want separatist sentiments spreading among such a large group of their population, there is absolutely no excuse for the government’s inhumane response to this separatism.
Events such as the Urumqi Riots have been classified as terrorist occurrences, and beginning a few years ago, China has been placing Uyghurs in what can best be described as concentration camps in an attempt to assimilate them into communist Chinese culture. These people are forced to sing and shout communist propaganda songs and slogans, eat pork and alcohol (which is forbidden in Islam), and denounce their faith and culture. Under China’s communist regime, the only faith they officially recognise is, and I quote, ‘Marxism and Leninism’. Islam has been officially classified as a mental illness. If they do not comply, they are starved. A detainee in one camp has even described young girls in the facility being assaulted and impregnated by guards. Many of the detainees are sent to these camps after being in state prisons with no trial or lawyers. China is seemingly quite proud of this too: while they used to deny the existence of these camps or refuse to comment on them, they have now officially legalised these ‘re-education camps.’ They will only crack down harder.
Even those still living at home are not safe. Scanning QR codes is a popular tenet of Chinese technology, but instead of using them for social media or business advertisements, QR codes are being placed on the homes of Uyghur families to
monitor when they eat, pray, and leave the house. China is already an extremely heavily surveilled country, but East Turkistan is considered to be the most surveilled region in the entire world. Scarier still, Uyghurs living abroad, even those who are citizens of other countries, are not safe from the wrath of China either. A Uyghur-American posted a comment online speaking out against Xi Jinping, China’s president, and police subsequently went to his mother’s home to follow up. I know several fellow Uyghur activists living here in Britain who do not even know where their family members are, or even if they are still alive. There is no way for them to get in contact. Any day, this could happen to any of us. Nobody is safe. Many have stopped speaking out to try and protect their loved ones; many still are speaking louder than ever to try and get them to come home.
I write this article as a plea for help. While some news outlets are writing articles about it, the articles never make the front page, are never clicked on. When I share updates with my friends on social media, they all react in shock and horror, but most admit to having never heard of this until I brought it to their attention. Now, I’m bringing it to yours.