Columns

U.S.: China's Mass Internment of Muslims a 'Dystopian Vision with Deeply Troubling Consequences'

In this Aug. 31, 2018, photo, barbed wire protects the walls around a cluster of schools on the outskirts of Kashgar, in western China's Xinjiang region. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

The U.S. confirmed at a United Nations meeting on Monday that China is trying to “Sinicize religion” and “adapt religion to a socialist society” through its worsening crackdown on Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslims in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

A recent UN report said more than a million Muslims are languishing in China’s political re-education internment camps.

“There are credible reports of mass detentions in political ‘re-education camps’ affecting Uighurs and other minorities; of mass surveillance; of restrictions on travel; and of Uighurs abroad allegedly being returned to China involuntarily,” the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office said today.

At a meeting on the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s findings, U.S. Representative for Economic and Social Affairs Kelley Currie said that a “growing body of public information, including the CERD report, paints a disturbing picture” as “under the guise of fighting ‘terrorism’ and ‘religious extremism,’ China’s leadership has greatly intensified their long-standing repressive policies against non-violent cultural and religious practices in Xinjiang, including torturing prisoners, forcing citizens to renounce their religion, and pledge allegiance to the Communist Party.”

Currie noted that “the atheist, Han-dominated Chinese authorities clearly believe they have both the capability and the prerogative to transform religion and ethnicity to their own preferences—a dystopian vision with deeply troubling consequences for the many ethnic minorities throughout China.”

“China has criminalized many aspects of religious practice and culture in Xinjiang, including punishments for teaching Muslim text to children and bans on parents from giving their children traditional Islamic names,” she said. “Citizens can also be detained for having ‘abnormal’ beards, wearing headscarves and other modest clothing, refusing to watch state television, refusing to wear shorts, abstaining from alcohol and tobacco, fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, attending mosques on days other than Friday, practicing traditional funeral rituals, having family or friends abroad, traveling abroad oneself, owning camping equipment, and asking others not to swear.”

“The Chinese crackdown on ethnic culture also includes restricting the use of Uighur and other minority languages in classrooms. Uighur academics, writers, and other cultural figures have been detained simply because they study, document, or advocate preservation of aspects of Uighur identity.”

Currie cites “growing evidence” since April 2017 pointing at “hundreds of thousands – possibly millions – of individuals” who have been detained in “re-education” centers in Xinjiang.

“This is the largest internment of civilians in the world today. There are no legal charges, no trials and no legal recourse. In these so-called ‘vocational education’ centers, detainees are required to renounce their ethnic identities, religious beliefs, and nonviolent cultural and religious practices,” she added.

“Chinese authorities attempt to justify these outrageous actions by claiming they are merely responding to extremist threats or helping to eradicate ‘backwards’ practices,” Currie said. “However, the scale of these security and social engineering measures is completely disproportionate to the incidence of social violence and extremism among Muslims in Xinjiang.”