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How the Chinese Communist Party is persecuting Uyghur Muslims

Since 2017, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has waged a systemic campaign of oppression and persecution against Uyghur Muslims, a predominantly Turkic-speaking ethnic group. The geographic scope of the CCP’s campaign against Uyghurs is global, but primarily restricted to Xinjiang, China’s western-most territory, where Uyghurs have lived for centuries. Under the guise of national security, the CCP is seeking to “pacify” the region with totalitarian tactics like pervasive surveillance, thought control, ideological reeducation, forced birth control, and compulsory labor. Life for many Uyghurs is a living nightmare. 

Surveillance state

For Uyghurs living in Xinjiang, there is no such thing as a private life. The Chinese government has built a pervasive surveillance apparatus that not only records the movements of Uyghurs, but also tracks normal, routine actions. Something as innocent as entering one’s house through the back door, not socializing with neighbors, using WhatsApp, or changing phone numbers could trigger suspicion from China’s highly developed artificial intelligence algorithms

These algorithms intrude into the most sensitive and personal facets of the lives of Uyghurs, tracking their phones, cars, reproductive choices, and political views. The CCP often justifies its detention of Uyghurs on the grounds that they are engaged in extremist or terrorist activity, but the scope of China’s high-tech surveillance far outstrips the problem, resulting in arbitrary intimidation and arrests.

Reeducation camps

The surveillance networks throughout Xinjiang flag “suspicious” Uyghurs for CCP authorities. Once Chinese police detain a Uyghur for questioning, they are often sent away for “political reeducation.” China has constructed upward of 1,000 internment camps for this purpose. Estimates vary, but experts posit that China has detained between 1 million and 3 million Muslims in these facilities. Aside from political indoctrination, physical and psychological abuse is commonplace throughout these camps, ranging from rape and torture to malnourishment and forced organ harvesting

The CCP also uses these camps to break apart Uyghur families. In cases where Uyghur husbands are sent off to camps, China has sent ethnically Han men to forcibly procreate with the wives who are left behind. In some cases, where both the mother and father are detained, the CCP has sent Uyghur children to government-run boarding schools where all communication with the outside world is strictly regulated.

Forced labor

The CCP’s oppression of Uyghur Muslims does not stop at the reeducation. Beginning in 2018, reports began to emerge chronicling how China is exploits this group vocationally. China is the world’s largest cotton producer, and the vast majority of those exports come from Xinjiang. For many Uyghurs, the reeducation camps are a launching pad to compulsory labor in this industry. Whether in Xinjiang or throughout China, the CCP is relocating Uyghurs and exploiting them for free or underpaid labor. 

Because of China’s significant cotton exports, companies that operate in Xinjiang or purchase cotton or clothing from China run the risk of financially supporting the oppression of the Uyghur people. A March 2020 report entitled “Uyghurs for Sale” looks at the supply chains of over 80 international brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors and documents how Uyghur workers have been compelled to work in factories that are connected to the supply chains of those brands.

Forced sterilization

China has a long history of imposing restrictive family planning on its citizens, and for years strictly enforced the infamous “one-child policy.” The restrictive birth policy has created a stark gender imbalance, and Chinese men today don’t have enough women to marry, resulting in the trafficking of brides and a larger sex trafficking industry. At the end of 2015, the Chinese government loosened its policies, allowing couples to legally conceive two children, and have encouraged Han Chinese to do so.

But while China has relaxed its family planning policy toward Han Chinese, the CCP has severely oppressed Uyghur women with draconian birth control measures. Uyghur women are subjected to forced pregnancy checks, medication that stops their menstrual period, forced abortions, and surgical sterilizations. 

One of the major reasons that Uyghur women are sent to the internment camps is for having too many children. China’s goal, it seems, is to eradicate future generations of Uyghurs by manipulating who can and can’t bear babies, and how many children a family can legally conceive.

How has the U.S. government responded?

In July 2020, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced that the United States government would apply “Global Magnitsky Sanctions” to top-ranking Chinese officials and a Chinese government entity for their roles in human rights abuses and religious freedom violations against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, passed by Congress in 2016, authorizes the executive branch to impose visa bans and other restrictions on any foreign person or entity “responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals in any foreign country seeking to expose illegal activity carried out by government officials, or to obtain, exercise, or promote human rights and freedoms.” 

In addition to administrative action, Congress has passed several important pieces of legislation to counter China morally. Recently, the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act was signed into law. The legislation imposes sanctions on foreign individuals and entities responsible for human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region and requires various reports on the topic.

Congress has likewise introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. This important bill would prohibit goods made with forced labor in Xinjiang or by entities using Uyghur labor forcibly transferred from Xinjian from entering the U.S. market. This legislation also instructs the U.S. government to impose sanctions against any foreign person who knowingly employs or utilizes the forced labor of Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang.

What can you do to help?

Speak up

Each one of us can use our voice to speak up on behalf of those who can’t speak up for themselves. You can share articles on the persecution of Uyghurs on social media. You can invite a Uyghur to share their story through Zoom to your community. You can urge the U.S. government to continue taking strong measures to address these injustices. Below are some educational resources to continue educating yourself and share with others.

Pray 

We ought to pray often for persecuted people around the world. Below are a few specific ways to pray.

Christians should be on the frontlines of advocating for the dignity and human rights of all people. We cannot remain silent or complacent in the face of such injustices.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) routinely violates the basic human rights of the Chinese people. Their decades of abuse are well documented, including systematically monitoring and destroying Christian churches. Watch our free webinar to learn how you and your church can help. 

Photo Attribution:

Erhan Elaldi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Chelsea Patterson Sobolik

Chelsea Patterson Sobolik serves as a Policy Director in the Washington, D.C. office of the ERLC. Previously, she worked in the U.S. House of Representatives on pro-life policies, domestic and international religious freedom, adoption, and foster care issues. Chelsea is the author of Longing for Motherhood - Holding onto Hope … Read More

Michael Sobolik

Michael Sobolik is a policy analyst and former congressional staffer working in Washington, D.C., where he lives with his wife Chelsea. Read More