Search for religious repression and persecution in China, for re-education camps, or even for organ harvesting, and each time the Uyghurs will be the focus of the results. The Uyghurs are one of China’s largest ethnic minority groups, an almost 11 million strong group of Muslims who speak a Turkic language, 80% of whom live in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s 2019 report on international religious freedom released this April, finds that China is enjoying a 20-year legacy as one of the world’s most atrocious persecutors of religious freedom and explicitly states the immense danger inherent in belonging to any group outside of the Chinese Communist Party. The report specifically highlights the Chinese government’s systematic oppression of Uyghurs and other Muslims, Tibetans, Christians, members of Falun Gong, and the Church of the Almighty God.
Such persecutions include constant surveillance – a process enhanced by multiple technologies employed by Chinese authorities that include facial recognition technologies. Minorities are prevented from religious teachings or worship. Furthermore, between 800,000 and 2 million adults have been placed in internment camps and separated from their children, who have been sent to orphanages to be alienated from their families. Surveillance apparatus ensures officials are immediately informed when a Uyghur steps out of line – quickly bringing the threat of imprisonment, torture, or other punishments.
China’s President Xi Jinping sees religion as a problem and his solution is “Sinofication” – the submission of any religion to Communist orthodoxy and the Party. Hence, today, around 1 million ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are detained in political camps in Xinjiang without being tried, without access to legal representation. and often without facing any criminal charges. Arbitrary arrests have also taken place targeting Uyghur writers, scholars, artists, and other public figures.
The Chinese authorities have termed these measures as a method for countering extremism, stating that they believe the people interned in the camps are influenced by religious extremism, separatism, and terrorism. International human rights groups have classified the camps as grave violations of the rights of religious and ethnic minorities. Over the past months, due to international condemnation, China has retroactively legitimatised the use of these political camps as “education and training centres”.
Direct contact with the Uyghurs in the region is difficult and risky. International journalists have been denied access to the camps, and filming anywhere near the perimeters is forbidden. It is only by viewing satellite images that the scale of the camps can be truly understood. Testimonies of those detained and who have now been released is scarce and when recounted is harrowing. Recounts exist of many Uyghurs dying in the camps, but the bodies are never returned to the families.
The International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China estimated that China performs 60,000 to 100,000 transplants a year. The sources of these organs are unknown. The authors of a Coalition Report suspect that the Chinese Government is involved in live organ harvesting of Falun Gong, Uyghurs, Tibetans, and selected Christians and refer to the ongoing campaign as one of the greatest cover-ups in human history and a possible new form of genocide.
The numerous reports of torture, punishment, and live organ harvesting of ethnic and religious minorities have been taking place for years and is escalating. Europe must demand an international observer mission to the camps, and an in-depth investigation of the allegations surrounding China’s ever increasing human rights violations.