A deluge of rumors have hit the news in America– all centered on the Uyghur Muslims in China. What is happening? Is the Chinese Communist Party killing the Uyghurs? Who exactly are the Uyghur Muslims?
The Uyghur’s plight is one of the largest human trafficking crises in modern history, and yet large companies like Nike do not seem concerned that their products are made with the sweat and tears of an oppressed people who have no voice.
It’s time to know the true story about the Uyghurs and give them a voice on the public stage.
Who are the Uyghur Muslims?
Xinjiang is a region in China with a long history of independence and small revolutions against Chinese rule. The people of Xinjiang speak a Turkic language and resemble both the mainstream Chinese population and Central Asian culture.
Before Communism grew roots in China, Xinjiang had brief phases in history where it declared independence from China. As Chinese settlers flooded into Xinjiang, the Uyghurs disliked the intrusion, and the relationship between China and the Uyghurs grew even more volatile with shootings, riots, and other rebellions. The BBC reports hundreds of deaths in the last ten years due to “a mixture of riots, inter-community violence, premeditated attacks and the police response.”
As Uyghurs have faced the heavy fist of restriction and persecution from China, things have only grown worse. The Uyghur people are no match for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
China’s War on the Uyghurs
As China continues to press the Uyghurs beneath their thumb, organizations like the BBC have attempted to infiltrate the concentration camps where Uyghurs are held, but their efforts are often thwarted.
Artificial Intelligence and Surveillance
China has made it clear that it will be the world’s leader in the artificial intelligence industry, and the world has been shocked at Chinese social rating systems and surveillance systems. The Uyghur Muslims have faced the brunt of this surveillance.
China has tested “a crude version” of its growing AI system in Xinjiang. The Uyghurs who have avoided the concentration camps are monitored both digitally and physically. According to Ross Andersen, Deputy Editor for the Atlantic, “The Chinese government has moved thousands of Han Chinese ‘big brothers and sisters’ into homes in Xinjiang’s ancient Silk Road cities, to monitor Uyghurs’ forced assimilation to mainstream Chinese culture.” These agents live with the Uyghurs, eating meals, living, and sometimes even sleeping with “the wives of detained Uyghur men.”
Uyghurs who wish to avoid the extensive digital surveillance are limited in their options. They are not able to download WhatsApp or “encrypted-chat software” because the download could trigger an investigation. Further, any digital download or action (purchasing religious supplies like a prayer rug or downloading a book) carry great risk.
Uyghurs are met every few blocks with checkpoints and surveillance cameras that process images by algorithms with facial recognition from previous pictures during “health checks.” The Chinese government knows everything about the Uyghurs from these “health checks,” such as their blood type and height.
Uyghur Concentration Camps
Aside from the surveillance state that the Uyghurs live under, they are also under constant threat of imprisonment for the smallest infractions.
Reports from China found that over one million Uyghur Muslims have been imprisoned in concentration camps. Leaked files reported by the New York Times created a commotion as the public learned Uyghur prisoners are forced to take pills and undergo unwanted medical experiments and sterilization procedures, as well as consume alcoholic beverages (contrary to their religion).
In an interview with the BBC, 29-year-old Ablet Tursun Tohti described a typical day in the concentration camps. According to the BBC, Ablet had to wake up before sunrise and was rushed along with his fellow detainees to get to the “exercise yard.” Once there, the detainees were forced to get into a line and run.
“‘There was a special room to punish those who didn’t run fast enough,” Ablet says. “There were two men there, one to beat with a belt, the other just to kick.”
“‘We sang the song called ‘Without the Communist Party There Can Be No New China,’” Ablet says.
“‘And they taught us laws. If you couldn’t recite them in the correct way, you’d be beaten.”
Not only are the Uyghurs monitored and imprisoned, but China has embarked on a birth control campaign, which “outside experts say [...] is a part of a state-orchestrated assault on the Uyghurs to purge them of their faith and identity and forcibly assimilate them.”
Uyghur birth rates in the Hotan and Kashgar regions have declined “by more than 60% from 2015 to 2018, [... and] across the Xinjiang region, birth rates continue to plummet, falling nearly 24% [in 2020] alone– compared to just 4.2% nationwide, statistics show.”
Family planning workers are assigned to Uyghur areas, and home searches are frequent as the workers check for pregnant women or unregistered children.
Unwanted contraceptives (that are contrary to the Muslim religion) are regulary forced on the women, and one woman shared a story where she was forced to go to the hospital to have a “cyst” removed. She resisted the procedure but tearfully reported being forcibly injected, going unconscious, and waking up to the medical team telling her the procedure was done, and she could no longer have children.
This tragic story is just one of thousands as China continues to restrict the Uyghurs and their freedom of choice.
Freedom United reports that “since 2017, over one million [Uyghurs] have been detained”, and their plight is not merely a concentration camp; they are trafficked to work in factories. Many of these factories produce products that America uses.
For example, “over 20%of the global apparel’s cotton supply is grown in [the] Uyghur Region, with 84% of China’s supply grown in the province.” The Qingdao Taekwang Shoes Co. Ltd is one of the largest sneaker manufacturers globally, and in 2020, approximately 600 Uyghurs worked there. Watchtowers and barbed wire surround these forced laborers.
Over 4,000 Uyghurs work for a yarn manufacturer in China and are kept in isolation and managed military-style. A 2019 report found that 560 Xinjiang laborers (Xinjiang is the city where many Uyghurs reside) were transferred for factory work for Foxxcon Technology Co. Ltd. This is also “known locally as ‘iPhone city’ because half of the world’s iPhones are reportedly made there.”
Familiar western companies also sanction and use resources linked to regions that “are likely to be tainted by forced labor”, including Apple, Nike, Uniqlo, and Zara.
Uyghur Muslims deserve publicity, and the genocide and must be stopped. Their plight is not only heart-wrenching but also inhumane. Each person has individual value, and their work should be voluntary, not forced. Their families and children should be a personal decision, not monitored by “family planners.”
China’s control over each person along with the tyrannical surveillance state must be stopped. It has gone far enough.
Take action by buying products with labels that say “Made in the USA” or “Free Trade Certified.” Our choice as the buyer makes a difference as we take a stand. Head over to the website slaveryfootprint.org to learn about how many products you have that are produced by slaves.