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China censured for Uighur abuse

14 December 2018


Uighur Muslim women leave a centre where political education lessons are held, in Kashgar, China,in September

Uighur Muslim women leave a centre where political education lessons are held, in Kashgar, China,in September

CHINA must no longer be given a “green pass” to oppress Muslims in Xinjiang province, the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, said this week.

After reports that China had detained one million Uighurs in “political education” camps in the province, he called on the UK Government and the UN to “make representations to the Chinese government urgently”.

“I have been greatly concerned to hear the news coming out of Xinjiang province, which suggests that the Chinese state is trying to systematically destroy the cultural, religious, and linguistic identity of the Uighur people,” Dr Smith said on Wednesday.

“It is deeply ironic that these events are taking place in the week when we are commemorating the 70th anniversary of the signing of the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights.”

In the House of Lords this week, he expressed concern that human rights were being “questioned and pushed back, even by some of our allies”.

“What is occurring in Xinjiang is exactly the type of pushback that worries me,” he said on Wednesday. “As Christians, we have a duty to defend the weak and the oppressed and stand up for those who are voiceless. No more can China be given a green pass to behave in such ways.”

On Tuesday, the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, Baroness Berridge, said that it was “deeply concerned by reports of the oppression of Uighur Muslims in China”.

“This persecution is part of a systematic, and escalating, attack on Chinese citizens’ right to freedom of religion or belief,” she said. “Reports claim that this attack not only includes arbitrary detention and torture in prison camps, but also the forced organ-harvesting of religious prisoners of conscience, including Uighurs and Falun Gong practitioners.”

She cited a recent parliamentary intervention by Jeremy Lefroy, the Conservative MP for Stafford and treasurer of the APPG — “it is vital that, as Christians, we stand up for Muslims” — and urged the Government to “speak out against this worsening persecution and to do all it can to evaluate these reports”.

Uighurs are a Turkic ethnic group native to Xinjiang. In August, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination described the province as “something resembling a massive internment camp, shrouded in secrecy; a sort of no-rights zone”. It is reported that students who have returned to the region have died in detention, or disappeared.

In September, a report published by Human Rights Watch concluded that the Chinese government was “conducting a mass, systematic campaign of human-rights violations” against the Uighurs, including “forced political indoctrination, collective punishment, restrictions on movement and communications, heightened religious restrictions, and mass surveillance”.

“The Chinese government is committing human-rights abuses in Xinjiang on a scale unseen in the country in decades,” the charity’s China director, Sophie Richardson, said. “The campaign of repression in Xinjiang is a key test of whether the United Nations and concerned governments will sanction an increasingly powerful China to end this abuse.”

Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which has voiced concern about the treatment of the Uighurs for a number of years, estimates that the numbers detained in the past two years may be as high as three million (News, 19 October).

The Chinese government has denied the existence of re-education centres, instead speaking of “vocational education centres”, and has said that security measures and religious restrictions have been imposed to prevent violent anti-government activity and tackle extremism. In recent years, there has been a drive for greater centralisation and national uniformity, including the “Sinicisation” of religions (Features, 29 June). Xinjiang, in the north west, once part of the Silk Road route, is strategically vital to the government’s “Belt and Road” plan to connect industrial China to surrounding countries. Hundreds of Uighurs are reported to have travelled to Syria to join militant groups.

The UN is seeking access to Xinjiang to investigate reports.

On Thursday, BBC World Service broadcast an investigation, China’s Hidden Camps, including analysis of satellite images indicating the existence of 44 centres “built or expanded at remarkable speed”. A “giant compound” was described, surrounded by a high wall and 16 watchtowers, and undergoing extension. 

Among those interviewed was a young man who described being placed in a re-education camp after reciting an Islamic verse at a funeral. Others described being forced to run around a square in the early morning and to recite poems on threat of having food withheld. One spoke of physical torture in a “punishment room”. A note attached to one empty home announced that the missing residents were being “looked after” and at a city-centre mosque on a Friday only one person was found: a security guard mopping the steps. Interviewees included British Uighurs whose family members had been detained.

State-run television has been broadcasting footage of adults being taught about the dangers of religious extremism and interviews with grateful recipients. 

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