United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo fired remarks aimed towards China and their detainment of the Uighur Muslims in concentration camps.  Pompeo spoke out at a Vatican conference organised by the US embassy on religious freedom. He blasted the country over their repressive policies against the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.  

Pompeo called on the global community to join Washington in protecting religious freedom stating China were the “worst perpetrators of abuse against people of faith,” and that “Beijing should be held accountable.” 

China’s autocratic regime was slandered as Pompeo added: “When the state rules absolutely, it demands its citizen’s worship government, not God. That’s why China has put more than one million Uighur Muslims … in internment camps and is why it throws Christian pastors in jail.” 

Who Are the Uighurs?

The Uighur Muslims are a Turkic speaking minority from Central Asia who have been wrongfully held and tortured by the Chinese government as a result of their communist hard-line regime. It is reported that over a million Uighurs and other Muslims have been living in these egregious camps where they have been subjected to some shocking conditions since 2017.  

Back in the mid-twentieth century, the Uighurs quickly proclaimed sovereignty, however the area was brought under the authority of a territorial China’s new Communist government in 1949.  Uighurs are populous in Xinjiang with around 11 million people in and around the city. 

Stemming from the terrorist attacks performed by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement – a terrorist group linked to Al-Qaeda and responsible for many attacks in Xinjiang, China proceeded with the persecution of Muslims to curb future attacks.  

The Truth About The Concentration Camps

In August 2018, a UN human rights committee was told there were solid reports that China had transformed the Uighur self-ruling area into something that looks like a monstrous internment camp”. Around a million people may have been confined, the board was told. 

Denying all claims of human rights violations, Beijing continues to use the excuse in that the “re-education camps” are used to fight terrorism and radicalisation where Muslims are being detained in efforts to absolve all accountability. It is within these “re-education camps” where the Uighurs are allegedly combating extremism but have instead been found to be targeting Muslims removing their rights to practice their religion in attempts to make them “normal citizens”.  

Brutal new legitimate punishments have been enforced to limit Islamic practices. This includes the forbiddance of long facial hair and headscarves, the religious guidance of kids, and even Islamic-sounding names. Extreme surveillance strategies where individuals are forced to give up DNA samples and biometric data so they can be identified by their faith and religion are used.  

The inhabitants of the camps are placed under systematic surveillance and are constrained against their will to political indoctrination where they are forced to renounce their religion and practice the values of Chinese communists. They also submit to poor diets in which they are rarely fed in overcrowded facilities. It is thought that inmates who die are cremated so no evidence is left. Thousands of Uighur Muslims have been protesting against the government’s internment camps advocating for the release or whereabouts of their missing family members. 

Hamid Sabi, a human rights lawyer has accused China of harvesting organs of Uighurs. Sabi took his claim to the United Nations Human Rights Court asking them to investigate the matter further. This is just one of many claims regarding the treatment of the detainees.  

In his speech, the US Secretary of State also told the story of a woman who through the advocacy of her husband, was released from the camps and was forced to eat pork, denounce her religion, recite atheist values and was given unknown drugs.  

What are international countries doing about it?

Australia condemned the detention camps further prompting calls for change. There has been increasing international criticism of China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims howeverup till now, no country has directly acted out of just issuing statements. The country has been widely condemned for their actions, with 22 countries signing a letter to the UN urging them to act and for China to stop its mass detention and execution of genocide of the Uighur Muslims. 

Criticism has also circulated for Muslim-majority countries such as Pakistan and Turkey who have remained distant from the matter. It is suggested that many such countries have turned a blind eye to the matter for the sake of foreign policy and maintaining a strong relationship with China – one of the strongest economical countries in the world.  For example, Turkish President Erdogan, despite being the leader of a Muslim-majority country, has been rather silent on the issue. Critics believe it is because China helped Turkey secure a $3.6 billion deal for energy and transportation. 

On the contrary, a congressional group in the United States has strongly encouraged the government to place sanctions on administrators and companies involved in the human rights crisis in Xinjiang 

With media access to the camps limited, the truly shocking nature of the ongoing human rights crisis in China is slowly being revealed. Groups and individuals on social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook have been rallying to raise awareness of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in China as they did for South Sudan when users of the apps turned their handles #BlueforSudan. 

Previous incidents such as Abu Ghraib and the treatment of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar have set precedence to the anti-separatist and Islamophobic hate crimes some countries have been known to carry out. With comparisons also being drawn to the Holocaust, history could, unfortunately, be repeating itself.