What is Happening to Muslims in China?

By Allison Rigler

Credit: Time Magazine- photo taken on June 4, 2019 shows a facility believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, north of Akto in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region

     In November, a leak of highly classified government documents from China broke through to the public. They detailed the brutal treatment of the Uighur Muslims, an ethnic Turkic minority native to the far west province of Xinjiang. With China’s infamous facial recognition technology, the Chinese government can easily track and control the Uighur population.

   The New York Times published and translated these documents- one of the most chilling is a document sent out that instructed the people of the Xinjiang region on how to subdue the returning students of Uighurs that were arrested and taken. If the students asked “Where is my family?”, the prescribed answer is “They’re in a training school set up by the government” and that their families aren’t criminals, but they cannot leave these schools. Not only did the documents give a detailed script on how to handle the students, but also on how to threaten them into submission. They were told that their behavior would either lengthen or shorten the time their parents would spend in the “schools”. They were also told that it’s for the family’s and students’ own good, and that they should be thankful for the Comminist Party’s help.

  Authorities are reported to have arrested and taken in as many as a million Muslims, arresting them for ‘transgressions’ like reciting a verse of the Quran at a funeral, which is what Abdusalam Muhemet was detained for earlier this year. Muhemet was detained for two months before he was asked, along with many others, to renounce their past lives and religion. They went along, not knowing what the consequences would be if they resisted. They were forced to study Chinese, memorize laws, practice marching and learn factory working skills.  “That was not a place for getting rid of extremism,” Muhemet reported, “That was a place that will breed vengeful feelings and erase Uighur identity”. People have been detained for months and even years before they are released.

   The camp that Muhemet was detained in is one of many hundred built in recent years in Western China, all with the goal to transform the Muslims into “model citizens” and ‘prevent acts of terrorism’. Uighur Muslims have had a long history of independence movements against the Chinese Government, becoming a motive to detain muslims to prevent “extremism” advertised by Chinese media and government.

    Along with the so called “re-education camps”, China has destroyed over 10,000 mosques. China’s government also forces citizens of the Uighur region to download spy apps, so none of the citizens can use their phones freely.

     Days after  The New York Times published an exposé on the treatment of Chinese Muslims in Xinjiang, Chinese officials began to meet and discuss destroying the records. While the leaked documents have not been directly denied to be authentic by Xinjiang officials, Communist Party Chief Xu Hairong has been reported to have called the reports “malicious smears and distortions.” Since the leaks there has also been reports of heightened security measures and pressure on Uighur Muslims who have spoken out about their experiences. The Chinese Government has even gone to lengths of threatening Uigurs outside of China that have brought light to the situation and helped leak the documents detailing the internment conditions.

   In response to the efforts to cover up the treatment of Muslims, people have been using their voice to keep the situation in the public eye, like Mesut Ozil a muslim soccer player for London’s Arsenal. Ozil criticized China for the treatment of the Uighur Muslims, causing this past Sunday’s match between Manchester City and Arsenal to be blocked by Chinese broadcasters. “[In China] Qurans are burned, mosques were closed down, Islamic theological schools, madrasas were banned, religious scholars were killed one by one. Despite all this, Muslims stay quiet,” Ozil stated in a social media post the friday before the match. Thanks to Ozil’s passion to spread awareness, the topic has heated back up as more news outlets have picked the story up to make the world know about what is happening to Muslims in China.

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