The on-going plight Uighurs in China

The Uighurs, a Muslim minority group, are natives of Xinjiang – the autonomous region in the north-west, China. Inhabiting this region for hundreds of years and forming the majority of the population there, the Uighur have been in line with their own beliefs, customs and even have their own language of a Turkic origin. 

Over the years, the Chinese central government has gradually been eroding their freedoms; subtly trying to hide and cover the persecution and oppression of this group from the rest of the world. Only in recent times has this sectional, targeted inhumane treatment come to light. The maltreatment of the Uighur Muslims of China goes against respectable norms and fundamental human rights, especially as Xinjiang is an autonomous region. 

President Xi Jinping stated in 2017 that, “all religions and beliefs practiced in China must be Chinese in orientation”, a coded warning to the Uighurs as they are Sunni Muslims and others whose beliefs were originated elsewhere. In a bid to reinforce and bring this order to full fruition, there has also been a notable increase in surveillance in China; more police stationed at strategic areas, routine stops, checkpoints and cameras (both hidden and not) being introduced.

The Chinese Government is encouraging many Han Chinese, the East Asian group, natives of the Yellow River Basin region of (modern) China, to move to the area occupied mostly by the Uighur Muslims. As expected with most territorial struggles, this has stirred up many issues and conflicts, leading to the riots that took place in 2009. The July 2009 Ürümqi riots resulted in the loss of nearly 200 lives, with the majority loss suffered by the Han Chinese.  

In a fashion similar to the calamities the Jewish community experienced about 75 years ago in the hands of the Nazis, the central government has been holding a startling number of Uighurs in concentration camps, or as they have chosen to call them “re-education camps”. Up to 1.5 million Muslims are suffering in unjust and unbearable living conditions. The Chinese government continues to claim that these rehabilitation centers are ‘vocational skills training centers’. However, their subjects are held against their will, subject to mental and physical torture through forced labor, forced abortion, starvation and death. 

The situation at hand is likened to forceful assimilation. They are forced to learn Mandarin, renounce Islam and deviate from their cultural beliefs and practices. The Chinese Government’s attempts at an ethnic cleansing appear to stem from their fear of radicalised Islamic terrorists. The government has criminalised the most basic rules and obligations set out for Muslims to follow, to the point that it is even a criminal offence to fast during Ramadan – arguably the most spiritual and celebrated period for Muslims. 

Uighurs are also being exploited – used for unpaid hours of labour, working for different firms and industries. Producing materials such as cotton which is bought by many big fashion brands such as, Adidas and Calvin Klein. There have also been reports of the government’s attempts to stunt the growth of the Uighur Muslim population. Reports of men and even women having to endure forced sterilisation obstructing them from procreating. 

Consequently, this inhumane treatment of the Uighur Muslims has gained an outpouring of criticism from activists, protestors and ultimately, the United Nations. Nevertheless, the Chinese government has bluntly refused to change its stance. In 2019, the House of Representatives passed The Uighur Act of 2019, as a result of the treatment of the Uighur. Its purpose was to impose trading sanctions on China, to discourage them from this stance. This act became a concrete law on 17 June 2020, when President Trump signed it.

The UK’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has accused them of ‘gross, egregious human rights abuses’ and he has also stated that the United Kingdom would not stand by and allow them to continue their unjust treatment of the Uighurs. The UK government banned Huawei, a Chinese telecommunications company, from supplying more equipment for the 5G network. Now that the west are responding to China, hopefully the trading sanctions will force China to stop the persecution of the Uighurs.

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