Millions of Uyghurs in China suffer the inhumanity of concentration camps, crematoriums, unrelenting surveillance and forced marriage, leading to genocide
Twelve million Muslim Uyghurs who make their home in the northwest corner of China differ racially and culturally from the country’s Han Chinese majority. As a result, the Uyghurs have been targeted for ruthless indoctrination aimed at bringing them under the stifling regimentation of the Chinese Communist Party.
Question: When was the last time you spoke to your parents?
Answer: More than two years ago.
Q: Have you texted or sent pictures of your kids to your family in your hometown?
A: No. They told me not to contact them more than two years ago, and now I have no idea where they are.
Q: Have you contacted your siblings back home?
A: No, I have no idea of their whereabouts.
Sadly, these are typical, everyday conversations among the victims of Chinese oppression who have abandoned their homes to take flight in the Uyghur Diaspora. Despite the worldwide proliferation of smartphones and the universal convenience of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, Uyghurs find themselves almost totally cut off from communicating with their loved ones.
But that’s just the beginning of the Uyghur horror story. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) combines racism and cutting-edge technology to assert nearly total control over the entire Uyghur population. The Uyghurs dwell in a constant state of terror and endure unrelenting surveillance and censorship. The CCP denies them freedom of movement, freedom of thought, freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
The Uyghurs (pronounced we-gur) have been isolated from the rest of the world since 2017. Even those who have escaped to other countries often fear to speak out because their friends and families back home could face savage retribution.
The United States Department of Defense estimates that as many as 3 million Uyghurs—a fourth of the Uyghurs who reside in China—have been herded into concentration camps that the CCP euphemistically calls Vocational Education and Training Centers. The camps represent the culmination of decades of repressive policies, and the aim is social reengineering, says Darren Byler, a lecturer in anthropology at the University of Washington. Inside the camps, detainees are indoctrinated with Communist Party propaganda and forced to renounce Islam. They’re raped, tortured and forced to undergo abortions, according to Aiman Umarova, a Kazakh human rights advocate.
China’s first concentration camp in Xinjiang was built under the “Strike Hard Campaign” in 2014. The camps have grown in size by almost 500% in the past 24 months alone. The Chinese government is building crematoriums in the camps to alter a culture that doesn’t practice cremation, says Foreign Policy, an American news source. Crematoriums in combination with concentration camps bring to mind the Nazi Holocaust.
China’s campaign of despotism also extends far beyond the camps, says New Dawn, a Turkish newspaper. Security that’s tighter than George Orwell dreamed of in his novel 1984 has fostered a massive, high-tech police state in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region that most of the world’s Uyghurs call home, the paper says.
The streets of Xinjiang’s towns and villages are festooned with cameras equipped with facial recognition software. Iris scans identify residents on the flimsiest of pretenses. Police maintain street-corner checkpoints. GPS tracking devices trace the movements of every vehicle, and QR scanning codes help keep track of daily activities in every home, according to Newsweek.
While gathering all that intelligence on the Uyghurs, the CCP has also managed to maintain an information blockade so tight that news of the situation rarely reaches most people in many countries.
The goal of the incredibly intrusive surveillance and iron-fisted social control is to wipe out Uyghur civilization by force. Their religion has been outlawed. Uyghur mosques, cemeteries and historical buildings have been demolished or turned into entertainment facilities, says The Washington Post. Copies of The Qur’an, Uyghur historical books and cultural materials are burned. Everything that makes the Uyghurs unique has been treated as an abnormality—a disease to be eliminated. That includes language, culture, history, religion, identity and way of life.
But that’s not how the CCP tells it. According to China’s ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai, Beijing’s regime is turning Uyghurs into “normal persons,” says CNN Philippines. Today, all “normal religious activities” of Islam are banned and labelled as “extreme” and “toxic” under the pretext of the “People’s War on Terror.”
My family has not avoided the horrors. After I exposed the atrocities in the camps and the fate of my in-laws, the authorities abducted my sister, Dr. Gulshan Abbas. Surely, my sister, a medical doctor, doesn’t need job training in a camp. Moreover, she’s not outspoken on political matters. But, unfortunately, her fate’s not unique. Detainees include hundreds of physicians, academics, businesspeople and other professionals. What’s more, the children and the elderly in the camps don’t need job training.
Even children who aren’t in the camps have become a target of China’s policies of assimilation and social engineering. The Chinese government is trying to eradicate the Uyghur identity by controlling the younger generation. While their parents are detained in the camps, more than 500,000 Uyghur children have been held hostage in government-run orphanages, where they swear loyalty to the CCP, says Taiwan News, an English-language daily. The overcrowded orphanages are tantamount to locking children up like farm animals in a shed, according to Radio Free Asia reports. Some are suffering severe injuries, and some die without adequate medical care.
Besides incarcerating masses of Uyghurs in the camps in the Xinjiang Region where most members of the ethnic group live, the CCP has dispersed Uyghur prisoners throughout China in an attempt to hide the number detained. So many have been imprisoned that the Uyghurs’ economy has been destroyed. Much of the value that remains in the Uyghur economy and ownership of the Uyghur’s land has been redistributed to members of the Han Chinese ethnic group that constitutes 92% of the country’s population.
Meanwhile, conditions in the camps show no sign of improvement. Dr. Olsi Yazeji, a Canadian-Albanian scholar, joined a group of reporters on a “visit” to the camps by invitation of the Chinese government. He went with the intention of telling the world that concentration camps where just false propaganda by the U.S. and other Western countries. However, even in pre-arranged, government-orchestrated visits and interviews with coached, supervised detainees, he saw Uyghurs facing oppression only because of their faith. Dr. Yazeji said publicly that he encountered real concentration camps and witnessed brutal human rights violations.
During the interviews in the camps, the government repeatedly told the journalists in Dr. Yazeji’s group that detainees return home for the weekends and use phones to call family members. The reality? My sister has been missing for almost a year and a half, and she has not called her daughters, one of whom she knew was pregnant.
The CCP is orchestrating “mass rape” of Uyghur women who are forced to share a bed with Han Chinese while their husbands are away in forced-labor facilities, says the Daily Sabha, a Turkish newspaper. Chinese state-owned media report 1.1 million Chinese cadres have been stationed in Uyghurs’ homes, according to Bloomberg News. They have taken up residence in Uyghurs’ living rooms, dining areas and bedrooms. As a result, Uyghur women are facing sexual abuse.
The “Pair Up Program,” or “Double Relatives,” monitors and supervises Uyghurs inside their own homes and shows the deep imbalance of power between Han Chinese and Uyghurs. It’s part of the CCP’s forced assimilation. Under the programs, Uyghurs outside the camps are facing severe political indoctrination by their Chinese houseguests. The “hosts” are required to provide these houseguests with information about their lives and political views. The “guests” are supposed to become part of the family, but the relationship actually constitutes one-sided discrimination and oppression in the private sphere.
Meanwhile, state-owned media have released propaganda videos encouraging Han Chinese men to travel to Xinjiang and marry Uyghur girls. Men are offered money, jobs and housing for intermarriage. Girls and their families are afraid to refuse the forced marriages because they could be viewed as Islamic extremists and get sent to the camps, the U.S. State Department says.
Besides helping to dilute Uyghur culture, the forced marriages ameliorate the government’s infamous birth-limitation policy. That one-child limit, combined with a cultural preference for sons, has created a skewed gender ratio of 117 boys to 100 girls in China, says Leta Hong Fincher, a sociology doctoral student at Tsinghua University. I firmly believe Uyghur girls are being raped through sham marriages.
Enslaved in factories
The atrocities don’t end at the gates of the camps or stop with the stifling scrutiny. Millions of Uyghurs have been forced into modern-day slavery, laboring against their will at low-level tasks that help China’s economy grow, says Foreign Policy. In addition, the Belt and Road Initiative dislocates Uyghurs from their homes and transfers the properties to Han Chinese, The New York Times says. On organ farms, millions are forced to undergo DNA tests to aid in surveillance and, according to some reports, prisoners are killed to harvest their organs, says Business Insider.
But the persecution of the Uyghurs is only part of a rising tide of intolerance rapidly spreading from Beijing, says CNBC. China is also persecuting Tibetans and attempting to control Hong Kong. This struggle should concern everyone who values the basic human rights of dignity, respect and freedom. These rights are a fundamental part of the human legacy that is under attack from the totalitarian Chinese nationalist regime.
International bodies should come to the aid of Uyghurs in China. But fear of interfering with trade, the power of the Belt and Road Initiative, and the strength of debt-trap diplomacy are keeping much of the world silent. China, as the second-largest financial supporter of the U.N., strong-arms the world into kowtowing to its every wish. The Chinese regime is bribing and leveraging some politicians, journalists, scholars and businesspeople around the world.
The world backs down
Last summer, 22 countries, which later increased to 24, including mostly Western democracies, signed a U.N. declaration condemning China’s so-called “Uyghur Detention Centers,” says The Daily Mail, a British newspaper. In response, 37 countries signed a letter expressing support for China’s brutal treatment of the Uyghurs. The number supporting China later increased to 50, according to the newspaper.
When will the world stand up for what’s right? China is changing the rule of law, spreading totalitarian ideology and making its influence felt around the world, while committing genocide at home. The world’s weak reaction to China’s transgressions may be more shocking than the transgressions themselves.
Besides turning a blind eye to inhumanity, the world is actively investing in CCP-controlled companies and inviting those companies to export 5G infrastructure that could harbor spyware. China has instilled fear of talking on the phone in 12 million Uyghurs but remains the world’s largest supplier of telephones, notes the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.
The world is also granting China the privilege of hosting the Winter Olympics in 2022, an event where people should come together to celebrate their differences. To say the least, the CCP does not respect such values but instead tramples them. It seems like a repeat of the 1936 games in Berlin, where Hitler announced the opening of competition.
Caught in the act
The 403 pages of the Xinjiang Papers, one of the first major leaks from Beijing in decades, provide an unprecedented inside view of the CCP’s racially targeted hatred and brutality, The New York Times reports. They reveal Xi Jinping’s vision for using the “organs of dictatorship” against Uyghurs and showing them “absolutely no mercy.” And it was the new Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo’s heavy-handed tactics that ordered security forces to “round up everyone who needs to be rounded up” into involuntary camps for “concentrated education and training.”
The papers prove these vicious policies were conceived and orchestrated by top officials in the Chinese government. Xi Jinping’s ability to mislead the international community about the nature of the camps continues to erode. The fact that the leak happened indicates that some official questioned China’s approach deeply enough to risk his or her life to take action.
The papers verify discoveries that journalists, researchers and activists have made over the past few years. What’s inescapable is the culpability of senior party leaders, especially Chen Quanguo.
Plea for compassion
It’s time to sanction China under the Global Magnitsky Act, a U.S. law passed in 2012 to punish Russia for its crimes. Freezing assets and restricting freedom to travel has the power to shame officials and express the world’s disgust with their actions.
Perhaps the number of Uyghurs in the concentration camps would not have reached the millions if the world had acted early, when intellectuals were among the first imprisoned. By waiting so long to respond, the world has enabled China to commit every act prohibited by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide passed by the U.N. in 1948.
But it’s not too late to stop this genocide. Act bravely to help bring the atrocities to an end. Hold China accountable for its unspeakable crimes against millions of Uyghurs. We are all responsible for what happens next.
The Chinese government’s monitoring, arrest and internment of members of its minority Uyghur population may be tied to the “Xinjiang Conflict.” The clash is named after the northwest region of China, Xinjiang, where nearly 50% of the population is Uyghur. Animosity there reached the boiling point in 2014 after three separate attacks—at least one of them by Uyghur sepearatists—killed more than 70 people and injured several hundred more. One of the incidents, the 2014 Kunming attack, has been referred to as “China’s 9-11.” It was a railway station knife attack that claimed the lives of 31 people andl injured 143.
Learn more and help
Visit campaignforuyghurs.org or firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow @cuyghurs and Rushan Abbas @rushan614
Rushan Abbas, author of this article, came to the United States to attend graduate school in 1989 after completing her degree at Xinjiang University in China. Since 2017, when the Chinese Communist Party ratcheted up the persecution of her people, the Uyghurs, she’s been unable to contact family members who remain in her homeland. But she’s learned that the Chinese authorities have abducted her sister and aunt as retaliation for her activism in the U.S. Now she works seven days a week explaining the continuing atrocities in her homeland at public forums and other gatherings. She’s become an American citizen, worked as a reporter for Radio Free Asia and served as an interpreter for Uyghur prisoners at Guantanamo.