Thousands of Uyghurs turned out in protests in cities around the world at the weekend to demand an end to what they called Beijing’s repression of the mostly Muslim ethnic minority group in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the Uyghurs’ historic homeland.
The protests, which were held in countries as far apart as Germany, France, Austria, Belgium, the U.K, Australia, Turkey, and Japan, will be followed on Feb. 5 by a demonstration outside the Chinese embassy in Washington D.C. calling for the release of over a million Uyghurs now held in political re-education camps in China.
February 5 marks the 22nd anniversary of a 1997 massacre by Chinese state security forces of hundreds of Uyghur protesters in the Xinjiang city of Ghulja, which was observed with a commemorative gathering this weekend in the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan.
In a statement released Monday, Uyghur Human Rights Project Director Omer Kanat said that following the 1997 killings in Ghulja, China’s moves to eradicate Uyghur identity and culture in the Xinjiang region have spread “in an alarming fashion.”
“The internment of over one million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims means all families today live in a constant state of fear. They do not know the whereabouts or condition of their loved ones, or even if they themselves will be spared from the camps.”
“The psychological trauma will be with us for generations,” Kanat said.
Speaking on Monday to RFA’s Uyghur Service, Ilshat Hassan, president of the Uyghur American Association, said that conditions for Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region are growing steadily worse.
“If the Chinese government was shooting peaceful Uyghur protestors in the streets 22 year ago, today China is simply putting innocent Uyghurs into concentration camps for brainwashing, torture, and even death,” Hassan said.
“Today’s China under Xi Jinping is openly challenging the international norms and principles of human rights in the world by extrajudicially detaining up to two million Uyghurs in the concentration camps not seen since the WWII.”
Call for investigation
And speaking Monday morning at a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland, Dokun Isa—president of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress—called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to send a fact-finding mission to Xinjiang to discover for itself the suffering and harm caused by Chinese policies in the region.
“For too long, Uyghurs and other Muslims have suffered gross repression at the hands of Chinese authorities,” Isa said. “We are now looking to the HRC to act—and to get to the truth.”
Though Beijing initially denied the existence of re-education camps, Shohrat Zakir, chairman of the XUAR, told China’s official Xinhua news agency in October 2018 that the facilities are an effective tool to protect the country from terrorism and provide vocational training for Uyghurs.
Reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media organizations, however, has shown that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.
Adrian Zenz, a lecturer in social research methods at the Germany-based European School of Culture and Theology, has said that some 1.1 million people are or have been detained in the camps—equating to 10 to 11 percent of the adult Muslim population of the XUAR.
In November 2018, Scott Busby, the deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State, said there are "at least 800,000 and possibly up to a couple of million" Uyghurs and others detained at re-education camps in the XUAR without charges, citing U.S. intelligence assessments.
Citing credible reports, U.S. lawmakers Marco Rubio and Chris Smith, who head the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China, recently called the situation in the XUAR "the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today."
Reported by Alim Seytoff for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.