Cultural Genocide of Uyghur Muslims in China


Caitlin Bailey, Columnist

Never again. Those words that the world promised itself 75 years ago have seemingly been forgotten. Never again is happening right now, and has been for the past few years – and no one is doing anything about it.


Since around 2017, the Chinese government has forcibly placed nearly 1.5 million Uyghur Muslims in detention camps on the basis that they want to stop a crime or an act of terrorism before it can occur. Though the US and the UK have attempted to get China to admit their crimes against humanity, the Chinese government is resolute in their claim that nothing is happening besides the ‘re-education’ of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, China. 


The BBC was allowed to visit one of the camps, and what they found there was much like what the Chinese government described. Nevertheless, underneath the gilded facade of a school, the BBC witnessed the dark truth of what is truly happening, and what the Chinese government is desperately trying to hide. 


The BBC was shown a newly updated camp that resembled a school rather than a prison. The prisoners – for they are, in fact, just that, since they are not allowed to leave and have a variety of restrictions – are not allowed to pray. Instead, their time is filled with learning how to dance, and to sing in Chinese. A number of demonstrations were shown to the selected journalists of the BBC, and in each one, the Uyghur Muslims wore strained smiles that didn’t reach their eyes. 


“Some people, before they commit murder, already show they’re capable of killing. Should we wait for them to commit the crime? Or should we prevent it from happening?” said Zhang Zhisheng, who works for the Xinjiang Foreign Affairs Office.


Zhisheng, along with the Xinjiang Propaganda Department, claims that the camps are meant to prevent crimes from happening by finding people who are on the verge of commiting a crime and re-educating them, before allowing them back into society. However, the only people who are being ‘re-educated’ are Uyghur Muslims, and ‘re-education’ appears to be a cultural genocide. 


However, the BBC was only shown one camp – there are countless more, ones that don’t even try to disguise themselves as schools instead of prisons. They are heavily guarded, and journalists are not allowed inside. This was where refugee Rakhima Senbay spent more than a year, for simply having Whatsapp on her phone. 


“They put cuffs on my legs for a week. There were times when we were beaten. Once, I was struck with an electric baton,” recalled Senbay. 


This brutal treatment took place during the first part of Senbay’s imprisonment, and towards the end, she was placed in a facility like the one shown to the BBC. According to Senbay, the prisoners were warned ahead of time of the visits of foreign peoples or journalists to behave, and that, if they did not behave, they would go “to a worse place than this.”


Though Chinese officials deny it, in these camps, Uyghur Muslims are being brainwashed. They are taught Chinese instead of their native tongue, as well as China’s ever-increasing restrictions on religion. They are not allowed to leave, and are forced to live in cramped rooms with many other people. 


“These are places where adults wear uniforms, and where they don’t go home at the end of the day, but sleep up to ten a room, sharing a toilet with no idea how many months or years it will be before they can return to their families,” a journalist from the BBC explains. 


The cultural and ethnic identity of Uyghur Muslims is at stake, not only because of the crimes the Chinese government has committed against them, but also because of the implementation of brainwashing. The definition of brainwashing is radically changing a person’s beliefs, and that is exactly what the Chinese government is doing. 


“We aim to change their religious extremist thoughts,” reasons Buayxiam Obliz, who works for Moyu County Education Training Center. “We’re not completely changing their thoughts. We only remove the extremist elements.”


The UN was created to maintain international peace, and therefore, must do something to stop the genocide of the Uyghur Muslims. We as everyday people can sign petitions and speak out, but there is only so much we can do ourselves; the governments of the world must get involved if true change is to be made. 


However, there is hope. The Humanists UK are currently working on passing an amendment to the Trade Bill, one that would allow the high court of the UK to determine if a genocide is taking place in another country. The bill would give the UK the ability to deny trade with countries that are committing genocide. It’s already been passed by the House of Lords, and has now been sent off to the House of Commons. 


According to Humanist UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson, the bill “would significantly strengthen the UK Government’s ability to oppose genocide wherever it occurs, however powerful the country that is committing it is.” 


The bill was inspired by the atrocities happening in Xinjiang, China. Though the US media isn’t covering the genocide nearly as much as it should, with this new amendment, the UK is doing its part to shine light on it. Hopefully, the rest of the world will follow in the UK’s footsteps so that we as a global community may put a stop to the Chinese government’s disgusting violation of human rights. 


“Nobody can fail to notice the similarities between what is alleged to be happening in the People’s Republic of China today and what happened in Nazi Germany – people being forcibly loaded on to trains, beards of religious men being trimmed, women being sterilised and the grim spectre of concentration camps,” said the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Marie van der Zyl. 


The Chinese government’s intolerance and inhumane treatment of Uyghur Muslims must end. The world fought for justice once, in World War II. Now, we must come together and do so again. Though war is never a good option and usually ends up doing more harm than good, there are other ways we can stand for what’s right, like signing petitions and spreading correct information through social media. This obscene violation of human rights can continue no longer, and it is up to us to stop it. 


Just because a tree falls in an empty forest does not mean that it makes no sound, and just because the media is not talking about the current human rights violation does not mean it isn’t happening. So speak out, make your voice heard. Fight and scream and demand justice before it’s too late, before never again is a forgotten phrase of the past. 


SOURCES: (video of a tour in one of the camps–more like a show camp) (recent 2021 article) (Humanist UK amendment)