Uyghur Activists speak up about the Chinese internment camps

Muslims in the west of China are facing one of the worst examples of oppression and ethnic cleansing in the world today. East Turkestan, the home of the Muslim minority known as the Uyghurs, has seen the mass-internment of two million civilians who face physical and mental torture until they renounce their faith. The Chinese government calls these camps “re-education camps”.

These camps have multiplied exponentially in recent years with the appointment of a new Communist Party Secretary of Xinjiang, Chen Quanguo, whose previous appointment in Tibet was famous for its brutal security and surveillance policies. These tactics are now being implemented in East Turkestan.

Though East Turkestan is under Chinese control, Uyghurs tend to have a closer ethnic and cultural connection to other Turkic peoples in central Asia. This means that alongside religion, the re-education camps are aimed at wiping out the Uyghur language, dress and cultural practices entirely.

To achieve this, the Chinese government has created the world’s most extensive surveillance state. Facial recognition cameras, body scanners, mandatory apps, GPS tracking, and surveillance drones cover every inch of the region, and Chinese tech companies like Huawei use these government contracts to develop even more intrusive systems. A recent propaganda video released by the Chinese government shows the extent of this surveillance, with at least 5 cameras in a single classroom which was being touted for its simple teaching objectives.

Beyond simply assimilating the Uyghurs to become more like the Han Chinese majority, the Chinese government’s policies point to a larger agenda. East Turkestan is at the heart of China’s biggest global project, the Belt and Road initiative. This multi-billion dollar project spans the entire globe, and allows China to become an economic superpower in competition with the US. In order to achieve this though, they aim to completely dominate the region of East Turkestan, and wipe out the Uyghur people.

Who are the Uyghur people?

The Uyghur are a Turkic people who mainly live in their historic homeland of East Turkestan, known in China as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. They are predominantly Muslim, and share close ethnic, cultural and linguistic ties with other Central Asian peoples.

What is East Turkestan?

East Turkestan is the homeland of the Uyghur people. It has historically been a strategic area in the spread of trade, knowledge and culture for it’s position on the Silk Road. Some of its cities date back to the 2nd Century BC.

In 1949, it was invaded by the People’s Republic of China, and has been under their control ever since. Tensions between the Uyghur people and the Han Chinese majority have always existed, but in recent decades the Chinese government has become increasingly heavy handed in their management of the region.

How are they being oppressed?

After the 2009 riots in the East Turkestan capital Urumqi, the Chinese government has adopted the language of the West’s War on Terror in it’s suppression of Uyghurs in the region. Mass surveillance, forced marriages, torture, cultural suppression and internment in concentration camps have become commonly used tools in the region, with a particularly large spike after the appointment of Chen Quanguo as Party Secretary of the region in 2016.

What happens in the internment camps?

Whilst it is difficult to know what happens due to intense control of media and propoganda in China, reports from detainees who have escaped indicate that brainwashing techniques, such as denouncing religion and praising communism and the President of China XI Jinping, are commonly used, alongside torture and food deprivation.