Aalisha Agrawal Monday, 29 June 2020

China's Growing Islamophobia

Aalisha Agrawal
Monday, 29 June 2020

China's Growing Islamophobia

While the world has been occupied fighting a deadly pandemic, hardly any coverage has been given to the human rights violation occurring in China. Millions of Uighurs Muslim and other ethnic minorities are being held in concentration camps in the Xinjiang region of China. The Uighur community are Turkic-speaking Muslims from the Central Asian region. They are said to be the largest population that live in China’s autonomous region Xinjiang. Muslim minorities including the Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kyrgyz and Hui also take up a considerate percentage of the population in the Xinjiang region. China claims that the community comprising 11 million Uighurs in Xinjiang hold extremist views that are a threat to national security. In 2017, China also passed a law that prohibited men from growing long beards and women from wearing veils, along with this they also demolished several mosques around the country.

Over the past few years, the Chinese government has openly denied the existence of these detention centres, but after images of camp construction with watch towers and barbed fences, similar to that of a high-security jail emerged, the government finally acknowledged them and called them re-education centres for Uighurs and other ethnic minorities. These detention camps as the Chinese call it have been built across Xinjiang over the past three years, and are supposedly for voluntary re-education purposes to counter extremism. The education provided to the minorities involve daily inculcation of communist ideology and persistent attempts at eradicating minority culture, language and religion. There are said to be a total of 28 detention camps over Xinjiang. Several reports of human rights violation, death in custody and forced labour has surfaced over the past year. About a million people, mostly from the Uighur the community has been detained without a proper trial. Research shows that over 15,000 people from southern Xinjiang were sent to the camps over the course of just one week in 2017.

Several reports also claim that these centres are constructed specifically to strip the minorities of their culture and language, and politically and culturally re-educate them. In these camps, the Chinese bombard the detainees with the language and traditions of the Han Chinese. Ben Emmerson QC, a leading human rights lawyer and an adviser to the World Uyghur Congress, said the camps were trying to strip people of their identity. However, China argues the camps are reformative and to combat extremism and to have their religious thoughts reformed and most importantly they argue that the camps are completely voluntary. China states that the since the establishment of these camps, the Xinjiang region has seen a comparative decline in acts classified as terrorism. In short China is carrying out a cultural genocide, i.e. not mass killing of people but a mass extermination of their ideas and beliefs.

Even though the Chinese government has consistently argued and maintained that the camps are for re-educational purpose only, a leaked government memo, consisting of the on goings and rules in the detention centres has recently surfaced, and provides as a proof against the horrific crimes faced by the minorities. The memo includes orders to: • "Never allow escapes" • "Increase discipline and punishment of behavioural violations" • "Promote repentance and confession" • "Make remedial Mandarin studies the top priority" • "Encourage students to truly transform" • "Ensure full video surveillance coverage of dormitories and classrooms free of blind spots"

This leaked document reveals how every aspect and movement of the detained are monitored and controlled. The memo also reveals how the detainees will only be released once they demonstrate a transformation in their behaviour, beliefs and language. Another document also reveals that the Chinese government uses mass surveillance and a predictive-policing programme that analyses personal data and helps them detain a larger number of Uighurs. A report claims that the Chinese government detained a whopping number of 1.8 million people through a data sharing app called Zapya.

While the world fights a pandemic, the authorities in China are expanding detention camps, increasing surveillance and policing, and co-opting residents through intimidation, force and financial incentives. The injustices against the Uighur Muslim community and other minorities in China needs to be brought into the limelight.