The torture and repression of the Uyghur Muslims in China is growing. The Uyghurs are subjected to religious persecution of an unprecedented levels: banning people from giving Muslim names to the children, rewriting Quran to make it compatible with the ideology of Chinese Communist Party, making clerics dance and prohibit the keeping fasts during Ramazan. To know more about the current situation in Xinjiang where Uyghurs live, Awaz the voice spoke with Rushan Abbas, Founder and Executive Director, Campaign for Uyghur, who lives in exile in Washington, USA. Excerpts from her interview by Aasha Khosa
What is the latest news from your people in Xinjiang? We get to hear about a lot of atrocities, effort to change their belief and lifestyle and also about concentration camps...
East Turkistan is referred to by the Chinese government as its “New Frontier” – Xinjiang. Xinjiang is officially a Uyghur Autonomous Region, but in reality, it is anything but autonomous. In fact, it is China’s colony; an Orwellian, mass-surveillance state where around three million Uyghurs are arbitrarily detained outside the legal system in concentration camps. The Uyghur people are ethnically and culturally distinct, Turkic people, held captive under Communist China’s authoritarian control since 1949. As a result of our unique ethnic identity, culture, language and religion, and our desire for our basic rights and freedoms to be respected, we have been persecuted and repressed for seven decades. Currently, under the guise of fighting “Islamic extremism,” the Chinese Communist Party has carried out a brutal campaign to extinguish the Uyghur people.
Currently more than 3 million innocent people are taken to the concentration camps and millions more are being enslaved at the forced labour facilities. According to numerous testimonies, inside of the camps, detainees are intensely indoctrinated with Communist Party propaganda, forced to pledge unwavering allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party and bow to Xi Jinping. They are subjected to brainwashing aimed at eliminating their ties to their Uyghur identity, forced to renounce their religious beliefs, prohibited from speaking their mother tongue, and abandon their way of life. If they do not comply, they face rape, torture, and disappearance. According to credible news accounts and documentation of government bids for construction and jobs, the Chinese government is building crematoriums for a culture that doesn’t practice cremation. The last time the world saw crematoriums and concentration camps together, an outright Holocaust took place. Women are the victims of mass rape as CCP cadres are moved into their homes, often while their husbands or fathers are locked in the camps, exposing them to sexual abuse. They are forced into interethnic marriages that they cannot refuse for fear of repercussions.
The Chinese government is conducting a genocidal campaign against the Uyghurs in the name of combatting “extremism” and “radicalization” as part of the global “war on terror” silencing the Muslim majority countries and Muslim Ummah. Behind that iron shield, the Chinese regime is challenging the human dignity and basic survival rights that God gave us with our birth, with mass surveillance and repression. If this silence continues and nothing is done to stop the atrocities; if we fail to challenge China on this horrific, unprecedented violation of human rights, it will mark the beginning of a dark period for accountability and democratic governance. We will see totalitarian atheist governments effectively utilize mass surveillance and repression to instil fear at home and abroad, depressing action even within the free world that we enjoy today. Just look at what the Uyghur people are facing right now, and imagine the life and world you (we) are leaving behind, if you, if we, do not act now.
India has stood up to the Chinese in Ladakh and it has come as a shocker to Xi Jinping.. What are the expectations of Uyghur people from India?
We have seen a global pandemic caused by the suppressive actions of the Chinese government. We have seen Hong Kong and international agreements crushed. We see concentration camps. Expansionist policies and debt trap diplomacy tactic of China has increased, as well as this latest aggressive approach towards India and other countries. The actions taken by the Indian government in regards to Ladakh was a necessary step taken to push back Xi Jinping. Chinese propaganda continues to deflect and deceive while the regime ruthlessly crushes all dissident thought and attempts to manipulate and control free speech abroad and Uyghurs expect from India to act strongly and boldly with tangible actions against this genocidal regime. A country capable of such evils is not a reliable “ally” to anyone. The Uyghurs people are paying the price of alliances with China, and the rest of the world will too if this regime is not stopped.
At the very least, the world should separate itself from the perpetrators of today's concentration camps in Xinjiang. The world can give Chinese officials a clear choice: violating human rights or enjoying international trade. All of Xinjiang is now a forced labour zone where millions of Uyghurs provide the cheapest form of labour possible that enables billions of dollars in trade advantages for China, particularly in cotton and textiles, agriculture, and electronics. While the world fails to take action, it is rewarding China's actions by allowing such trade—prospering from such trade—in spite of internationally-recognized laws that ban goods produced by forced labour. Xinjiang should be declared a forced labour zone and no company should be sourcing from the companies who profit from this.
There are reports about Chinese monolithic communist Party facing a rebellion from within: is this happening?
Since November 2019, there have been leaked Chinese government internal documents. Whoever leaked those files, from within, did so in the hopes that their actions would be a catalyst for significant change. The Xinjiang Papers, one of the first major leaks from Beijing in decades, reveal Chairman Xi's vision for using the "organs of dictatorship" against Uyghurs and showing them "absolutely no mercy." And, it was the new Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo's heavy-handed tactics that ordered security forces to "round up everyone who needs to be rounded up" into involuntary camps for "concentrated education and training" -- in other words, concentration camps. These camps are used to treat "cancers" that "infect" the minds with religion, as the documents attest. Directives to local officials on how to handle returning students who find family members missing were not only callous, but quickly moved from euphemisms about education and training to threats. Stating that the students' own reactions would also determine how long their family members would remain in the camps.
The 403 pages of leaked documents provide an unprecedented, inside view of the CCP’s racially-targeted and brutal attitude towards the Uyghur people in which the authorities have corralled more than three million innocent people, like livestock, into concentration camps and prisons.
We now know that these ruthless and vicious policies were conceived, and orchestrated, by top-level officials in the Chinese government. Xi Jinping’s ability to conceal and mislead the international community about the nature of the camps continues to be eroded, day by day. The fact that the leak happened is also crucial – it illustrates that some official was brave enough to not only deeply question China’s approach, but also to risk his own life and take action against it by revealing those documents out to the world and to the people that can stop this atrocity. It’s a hopeful reminder given that so many millions continue to suffer under what feels like the weight of the entire Communist Party.
How does China treat people like you (dissidents) who are living in exile?
There are several types of common attacks the dissidents usually receive from China, but the scope is beyond this. They use threats, malicious slander and retaliation to intimidate us. There have been countless incidents about the threats received by dissidents and these records are available from the local police stations in their hometowns. China has detained and imprisoned dissidents’ family members back home. The government has used the state-run media to slander the dissidents and force their family members to speak lies about them.
Tell us a little bit about the history of Uyghurs; How China subsumed their land?
Uyghur lived in their homeland East Turkistan, which is referred to as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region by the Chinese regime.The independent Uyghur Kingdom in East Turkistan — the Seyyid Kingdom, also known as Yarkent Kingdom — was invaded by the Manchu rulers of China in 1759 who annexed East Turkistan into their empire. The Manchus ruled East Turkistan as a military colony from 1759 to 1862.The Manchu were finally expelled in 1864 and Uyghurs established Yetteshahar State. However, the independence was short-lived, Manchus invaded East Turkistan again in 1876. After eight years of bloody war, the Manchu Empire formally annexed East Turkistan into its territories and renamed it “Xinjiang” (meaning “New Territory'') on November 18, 1884.
After the Chinese Nationalists overthrew the Manchu Empire in 1911, East Turkistan fell under the rule of warlords of Chinese ethnicity who came to dominate provincial administration in the later years of the Manchu Empire. The Uyghurs, who wanted to free themselves from foreign domination, established twice the independent East Turkestan, but were overthrown by the military intervention and political intrigue of the Soviet Union. In October of 1949, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops marched into East Turkistan, effectively ending the East Turkistan Republic. The Chinese communists established the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the territory of East Turkistan.
Please tell me about a few (preferably five) things that make Uyghurs' culture and lifestyle unique?
Uyghurs are unique because of their long history as a culture located in the heart of the ancient Silk Road. We have an exceptional culture, our own ethnic language, rich folklore, deep religion, unique clothing, delicious food, beautiful music and impressive art.
Pakistan and many other Islamic countries have kept mum on your issue.... Your comments
Many have been bought off. China is now a more active and influential voice at the United Nations because so many countries are reaping the benefits in the form of billions of dollars’ worth of Chinese investments through its “Belt and Road” infrastructure program.
How do you see the future of China, especially after the mysterious origins of COVID-19 from there and that devastated the economy of many countries?
It is typical of China’s authoritarian narrative to persistently deny the truth, to demand silence, to spread misinformation and to punish whistle blowers, taking a security crackdown approach that caused this virus from Wuhan to become a global pandemic which to this point has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. This lack of transparency and hard-sought punishment of those willing to provide the necessary information is what turned the epidemic from Wuhan into a global disaster.
(Interview was conducted through email)