Uyghur Concentration Camps

Disclaimer: Sensitive for certain audiences. Discusses violence. 

Written by Neha.

Currently, the Communist Party in China is mass incarcerating Uyghur Muslims in concentration camps located in Xinjiang province. According to the United Nations, an estimated one million have been detained. During their time in the camps, their religious, cultural, and ethnic identities are torn from them. The detainees are forced to praise the Communist Party and prove their loyalty. Some are forced into labor, others are tortured and brainwashed, and all endure the most frightening loss of all: humanity.

Uyghur Muslims, also known by the variant spelling Uighur, are a minority in China. The re-education camps seek to reshape the entire population to China’s current Han majority. 

A report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute finds that at least twenty-seven factories spread across nine Chinese provinces are using forced Uyghur labor purportedly transferred from Xinjiang camps since 2017. The report goes on to estimate that between 2017 and 2019, at least eighty-thousand Uyghurs were transferred, all under a governmental program known as Xinjiang Aid.

You may be familiar with some of the companies profiting from the forced labor: Nike, GAP, Abercrombie & Fitch, H&M, Calvin Klein, Google, Zara, Victoria’s Secret, and over seventy-five more global brands. 

Some detainees experience worse than forced labor. The ones who speak out against the Communist Party, actively rebelling and refusing to renounce their religion, are tortured till they break. Some are forced to drink alcohol and eat pork, a direct violation of religious rights. Other forms of torture include being beaten, starved, electrocuted, strip-searched, medically experimented on, and gang-raped. Detainee Mihrigul Tursun, tells US politicians, “My hands bled from their beatings. Each time I was electrocuted, my whole body would shake violently and I could feel the pain in my veins.”

Led by the UK, twenty-two other countries at the UN came out in 2019, condemning the Communist Party for their inhumane actions and continued detention of the religious minority. The UK’s UN ambassador, Kathryn Pierce, delivered a heartfelt statement to the UN’s Human Rights committee, saying, “We call on the Chinese government to uphold its national laws and international obligations and commitments to respect human rights, including freedom of religion or belief, in Xinjiang and across China” ( 19).

The Communist Party has repeatedly denied the allegations, even after a government leak by Zhu Hailun, the previous deputy-secretary of Xinjiang's Communist Party, which detailed the concentration camps and the torture that occurs within.

In the nine-page memo, the strict instructions enforce that the camps should be run as maximum high security prisons with severe punishments, no escapes and discipline. The instructions include to "increase discipline and punishment of behavioural violations, … make remedial Mandarin studies the top priority,” and "[ensure] full video surveillance coverage of dormitories and classrooms free of blind spots” (BBC 19).

In addition to the egregious abuse of human rights, trade relations between the U.S. and China have been tenuous after the U.S.’s condemnation. The U.S. was one of the twenty-three nations against the camps that encouraged Beijing to implement UN recommendations in Xinjiang. Beijing reacted angrily to the statement, saying it wasn’t “helpful” for US-China trade talks. Zhang Jun, China’s UN ambassador, argued the accusations were “baseless” and a “gross interference in China’s internal affairs and deliberate provocation.” He mentioned the US’ criticism of China could affect trade talks between Washington and Beijing. (Reuters 19)

As of today, thirty-six countries stand with the Uyghurs, but that is not enough. With the coronavirus pandemic affecting the economy worldwide, the fight for human rights in Xinjiang has been left stagnant. It’s important to keep discussing it. Tell your friends, family, anyone who’ll listen. Information can stop oppression, and by uniting as one, it will happen. Go to our TAKE ACTION section on human rights to learn how you can help. 


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