Humanitarian Crises in Xinjiang– The Peril of Uighur Muslims

Xinjiang, also known as East Turkestan by its population of 12 million Uighurs, is the largest region of China bordered by eight countries including Mongolia, former Soviet republics, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. In 1940 it gained independence for a short span, but China regained the territory after the Communists took power in 1949 and has been called an autonomous region ever since. Many Uighurs have developed anti- Han and separatist sentiment over time since the 1990’s which is a result of discrimination and marginalization by the Chinese authorities.

In 1950, in People’s Republic of China, with the lure of financial incentives the Communist Party had encouraged the Han majority to migrate to the region. Han thus comprises of 39% of Xinjiang’s population which was once a tiny minority. Beijing in the last four decades has invested billions of dollars in economic development in Xinjiang and Tibet with a hope of strengthening the once-restive minority groups into becoming a more fully invested Chinese state. Beijing claims that it has invested ample amount of opportunities to Xinjiang in economic development in the region.

Uighurs on the other hand have struggled to adjust into Chinese society and have faced ethnic, linguistic and religious discrimination by the Chinese government. In 2009, the death of two Uighurs due to a brawl in South China boiled over ethnic tensions in Urumqi. A riot between Uighur and Han officially resulted in thousands of injuries and deaths. In response to this, internet access was cut by the Communist Party leaders until May 2010. Various journalists and human rights advocates have been estimating that up to one million Uighurs have been detained and allegedly cut off from the rest of the world and subjected to torture by the Chinese authorities.

Severe restrictions on personal freedom have been reported both in and outside Xinjiang as police checkpoints have been deployed across the region’s cities. Chen Quanguo, a Communist Party boss in Tibet was appointed for the same task in Xinjiang.. Since assuming power, he has installed a ‘grid like social management’ system in which officials collect data based on video surveillance. A campaign against “two-faced” officials who exhibit political disloyalty had also been launched, as a result prominent Uighurs such as the President of Xinjiang University was arrested. Chen has also organized the detention of around one million Uighurs in re-education camps where detainees are made to drink alcohol and eat pork, sing Chinese anthems, and denounce their religion.

Apart from this various measures against the minority group have also been taken. These include a total ban on any form of expression of Islam in Xinjian. Not only mosques have been shut down, but Islamic texts have also been banned, including the Quran. Further, Muslim sounding names have been outlawed along with beard and clothing that suggest adherence to the Islamic faith.

More recently, China made it mandatory for all Uighur Muslims to have their motorbikes and cars fitted with a GPS tracking device, so that authorities can pinpoint any Uighur at any given moment.Chinese police in the province have been provided smart glasses which uses facial recognition software to identify the Uighur Muslims on trains, buses and in public areas. Linked to a central database, the “smart glasses” are designed to notify a patrolling officer about a Uighur Muslims’ movement.

Video cameras equipped with facial recognition software are installed everywhere in Xinjiang’s cities and villages. Also it’s not just religious activities. Simply going abroad is enough to get one sent to internment camps if he is a Uighur or Kazakh. The Chinese government on the other hand has denied the nature of harsh facilities touting them as being educational in nature and claiming that the prisoners are voluntarily opting for the same.

Today, Uighurs live in a dangerous world where government officials, assisted by sophisticated technology, impose an iron grip over nearly every aspect of daily life with an aim to eradicate any vestige of Uighur culture. This stringent and cruel behavior of the Chinese authority against the already suppressed minority group is detrimental for it if its long term peace is taken into perspective as it might lead to further outlash of the community in time to come. China is a realist state which has never resorted to peaceful means for any ethnic or geopolitical problem. This might be beneficial for it in the short run but it can have major implications in the long run.

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