East Turkistan, a vast land twice the size of Germany and rich in oil, gas and precious minerals is inhabited mostly by Uyghur Muslims. An ethnically Turk nation, they have nothing whatsoever in common- culturally or historically- with the Han Chinese who make up 90 percent of China’s population. Besides the Uyghurs, East Turkistan has a notable ethnic Kazakh and Hui Muslim population as well, all of whom are now living a nightmare that would make even Hitler turn in his grave.
Historically, East Turkistan has never been considered part of China. It lies beyond both the Great Wall and the Jade Gate that marks the western limits of China. It was first made part of the Islamic world when Qatiba bin Muslim al Bahili conquered Kashghar and introduced its residents to Islam in 96 Hijri. Since then, it has mostly been independent, except for two and a half centuries spent under Chinese colonialism. In 1949, China annexed East Turkistan and renamed it Xinjiang, meaning new frontier. The region has seen successive waves of violent repression by the Chinese state, beginning with its annexation to the Cultural Revolution of 1975-76 and the campaign of repression in the early 90s as well as post-9/11 when China found the opportunity to justify its crimes as part of the ‘global war on terror’. Millions of Muslims have died so far in successive waves of ethnic cleansing and genocide which continue unabated to this day.
Until recently, China had denied every allegation about the mysterious disappearance of over a million Uyghur Muslims. Now, in a chillingly Orwellian tone, the Chinese government claims that the Uyghur nation is being ‘sent to school’ to be ‘politically educated’, ‘assimilated’, given ‘vocational training’, and in these ‘re-education centers’ those suffering from ‘ideological illnesses’ and ‘mental diseases’ are being ‘cured’. High-ranking Chinese officials have repeatedly described Islam as a ‘mental disease’ and compared Muslims to ‘drug addicts’ who must be rehabilitated. The kind of ‘rehabilitation’ that takes place in these so-called ‘political re-education centers’ is almost an exact replay of all that transpired in Nazi concentration camps. The only difference perhaps being that the Chinese have a liking for crematoria instead of gas chambers, and of course the victims this time around are Muslims- not Jews. Hence the shocking silence over the issue.
According to human rights organizations, one in every ten resident of East Turkistan is missing. In their fascist attempt to destroy the Uyghurs as a people, Chinese authorities have reportedly emptied entire villages of male residents, leaving no one behind to till the land or feed the families. What may land one in these ‘re-education centers’ could be something as normal as possessing a copy of the Quran or a prayer mat, telling someone not to sin, refusing to smoke, drink or dance, or simply having a relative abroad. There is in fact a publicized list of 75 signs of what the Chinese government considers damning proof of the three evils of ‘extremism, separatism, terrorism’. These indicators of extremist tendencies include possessing something as innocent as a tent, fitness equipment or a compass, purchasing or storing food in large quantities, having a Whatsapp, Telegram, or Twitter account, downloading any ‘banned’ app, visiting an Islamic or news site, using a VPN, and the list goes on. Interviews with former detainees and relatives of the missing with foreign media and human rights organizations have provided a glimpse of what goes on in these camps. Here is a brief overview of the ‘re-education’ program that China has put in place for its Muslim population:
- Detainees are forced to unlearn Islam, criticize core Islamic beliefs, denounce Muslim culture as backward, criticize their society and its norms, and essentially renounce their Islamic past to reinvent themselves as Godless adherents of the communist/socialist faith.
- As part of the indoctrination program, detainees are fed with communist propaganda day in and day out. Men and women as old as 70 years and above are forced to learn Mandarin, which basically means learning up to 1500 characters, failing which they are severely punished. They are forced to learn by heart and sing songs praising the Party and President Xi.
- Detainees are told that there is no such thing as ethnicity or ethnic identity; that they are Chinese and not Turks; that China is one nation and that in the future the entire world will become a single nation without ethnic identities.
- Detainees are forced to consume haram food, including pork and wine.
- Imams and Islamic scholars are forced to dance in public, shave their beards and consume pork and wine.
- Contact with family members is mostly forbidden. If telephonic contact or a meeting is ever allowed, it takes place under the watchful eyes of the Chinese police.
- Detainees who fail to obey orders or show signs of resentment against the indoctrination program are sent to solitary confinement, which means a 1.8 meter by 80 cm hole in the ground where they are forced to stand for days, the hole filled at times filled with cold water. Other forms of torture at the camps include being restrained for days in an iron chair with the head locked in an iron helmet, hanging, starvation, beatings, spending up to five days in dungeons filled waist high with toxic water.
- Detainees are divided into two categories: those with relatives abroad and those without. Each category is marked with a sign on the back. Those without any relatives abroad are generally whisked away in groups, never to be seen again. It is suspected that they are the preferred target of an extermination program since they do not have anyone outside China who may leak the news of their killings to the outside world.
- China is the largest supplier of human organs in the world. There is irrefutable evidence which points to the fact that vital organs such as the heart, kidneys, liver and eyes are extracted from detainees who mysteriously disappear from the camps.
- China has built several large crematoria in the Xinjiang region in recent years. The bodies of those who die within the camp premises or are killed after being whisked away are exhumed in these crematoria. Relatives are not given any news of their death.
- China has put in place a program of enforced orphanhood. Families are being teared apart as children between the ages of 5 and 15 are being taken away from their families to live in orphanages and boarding schools where they are brainwashed, stripped of their culture and identity, made to eat all kinds of haram food and brought up as atheists swearing loyalty to the Chinese motherland and the Party. If either father or mother is considered suspect and sent to the concentration camps, their children are forcibly taken away forever and are not even allowed to stay back with their grandparents. The conditions in these orphanages and boarding schools are reported to be dehumanizing to the extent that many children have attempted suicides.
- Women and girls locked in these camps have their hijab forcibly removed. In many cases, they have to undergo forced haircuts.
- Women, specifically teenage girls, are taken away from the ‘re-education centers’ for days by state officials and Party cadres. If they ever report or speak up against the violation of their honor, they are killed and their bodies cremated.
Possessing a Copy of the Quran is a Crime Punishable with Imprisonment and Torture!
The above is a picture of a Muslim woman whose only crime is that the Chinese Police discovered copies of the Holy Quran in her home. The Chinese government has warned that if any Muslim is found possessing a copy of the Holy Quran, he or she will be severely punished. Muslims have been ordered to ‘surrender’ copies of the Holy Quran and all forms of Islamic literature. The spokesman of the International Uyghur Conference is reported to have said, ‘We have received notifications that every Uyghur resident must submit any Islamic literature that may be present in his house. The list includes copies of the Quran, prayer mats, and anything that symbolizes the Religion.’ He said that the Chinese Police Department has released notifications to this effect on the social media as well.
The following video shows a Turkistani Muslim being tortured for possessing a Quran in his house:
The story doesn’t here. Using any social media or communication app other than the highly surveilled state-sanctioned ‘WeChat’ app is considered proof of extremism. Launching a group or participating in group chats on WeChat is punishable with several years of imprisonment. Even possessing an ‘Islamic app’ on one’s smartphone is a crime!
Extensive Surveillance Program
Chinese authorities have launched a massive 8.5-billion-dollar surveillance and policing program in East Turkistan that has no parallel anywhere in the world or in history. Officially known as Integrated Joint Operations Platform, it uses state of the art predictive policing and big data technology to monitor the lives of Muslim residents and track down those who show potential signs of ‘suspect’ behavior. In the last three years, over 200,000 officials have been sent to East Turkistan as spies who live amongst the people and monitor activities in public places. Some of the surveillance methods used in the latest program of surveillance include:
- Each citizen is issued an electronic identification card that includes complete biometric information as well as all details of his ‘crime record’ and security status. It is linked with a central database which documents every significant detail of the card holder’s life history and his social circle. In East Turkistan, local residents are forced to swipe these cards at checkpoints, shopping malls, public places.
- A biometric data collection program known as ‘Physicals for All’ has been launched specifically for the Muslim of East Turkistan. Under this program, DNA, blood and hair samples, iris scans, height, complexion, heart, kidney and liver health, gait, pace of walking… in short even the minutest of details are recorded and made part of a database. This database is directly linked with electronic ID cards issued to Muslims.
- GPS tracking devices are installed in all cars belonging to Muslims.
- Wifi sniffers in neighborhoods collect IMEI, Mac addresses, packets of data linked with each address.
- Routine checks of the contents of one’s smartphones. Not possessing a smartphone or mobile is considered highly suspicious!
- Forcibly installing spyware in smartphones owned by Muslims.
- Use of any encrypted messaging apps such as Telegram, Signals, or even Whatsapp is punishable.
- Muslims who are allowed to perform Hajj must carry with them electronic devices and smart cards which record all details of their journey.
- Cameras with face recognition technology have been installed in public places and neighborhoods. Those considered ‘untrustworthy’ in official parlance have cameras forcibly installed inside their houses, including in living rooms and bedrooms.
- Several ordinary items such as tents, knives, fitness equipment have barcodes which are then linked with the electronic identification cards of the buyer.
- Muslim homes have been tagged with barcodes that contain information about all the residents residing therein. Chinese police regularly carry out search operations in Muslim neighborhoods. Bar codes are electronically scanned, and if anyone other than the registered members of the household is found present inside at the time of the raid- friend or relative- he may be whisked away, while the members of the households are questioned on the presence of ‘outsiders’ inside their home.
- If any Muslim denies a Chinese police officer or Party cadre space inside his home or refuses to allow him to stay inside his home at any time that the latter may wish to do so, he is deemed guilty of violating the law.
- Based on their political views and social behavior, Muslims are officially categorized into three categories: ‘trustworthy’, ‘average’, ‘untrustworthy’.
- Families are clustered into groups of ten. Each group of ten families has a local cadre appointed over them to monitor and report their activities.
- Government encourages citizens to report on those who possess, among other things: match sticks, books, prayer mats, knives; have family members living abroad or are married to more than one wife.
- Any Muslim sent to the ‘re-education’ camp, killed in custody or designated as ‘untrustworthy’ shall have his subsequent three generations closely monitored and surveilled lest there may be any retaliation against the state.
These measures are all designed to instill fear among Uyghur Muslims to the point that they feel that they are criminals and their mere existence as Muslims is a crime.
War Against Halal
The Chinese government claims that abstaining from pork and wine is a sign of religious extremism. It has therefore launched an official campaign against Halal food. All Halal food restaurants catering to ordinary Muslims, specially students, have been shut down. Placards or signs indicating the availability of halal food at restaurants and food stores have all been taken down. Official Chinese government accounts on the social media convey a sense of warlike emergency against the consumption of Halal food. Chinese authorities in Turkistan have vowed to wage a ‘relentless battle against Halal food’! Government backed newspapers have lashed out against the use of the label ‘Halal’ on products of daily use such as toothpastes, chewing gums and the like.
Fasting is an Offence!
Last Ramadhan, as Muslims all over the world celebrated the Holy month with religious fervor, the Chinese government placed a blanket ban on fasting! If you unfortunately happened to be a Muslim living in East Turkistan, then any attempt by you to abstain from food during Ramadhan would be construed as an ‘illegal fast’- a punishable offence! The Chinese government also forced all educational institutions and mosques to sign guarantees that no prayers, adhan or fasts would be allowed inside their premises during Ramadhan. During Ramadhan, Chinese state officials take up residence in Muslim neighborhoods. Homes that have their lights switched on pre-dawn (time of Suhoor) are reported to the authorities for violating the law.
‘Muhammad’, ‘Fatima’, ‘Hussein’, ‘Khadija’ are Prohibited Names
Last year, the Chinese government issued a list of prohibited names and terminologies. Muslim families were banned from naming their children after any of these personalities. The list includes the name of the Holy Prophet peace be upon him, Muhammad, which of course is the most common name among Muslims world over. The list included terms and names such as ‘Quran’, ‘Islam’, ‘Jihad’, ‘Iman’, ‘Madinah’, ‘Khadija’, ‘Fatima’, etc. Chinese authorities warned residents that anyone carrying these names would automatically be banned from accessing healthcare or education.
Saluting the Communist Flag is Mandatory
Chinese authorities force Muslims in East Turkistan to attend a ceremony ‘honoring’ the Chinese Communist flag every Monday morning. Those who fail to attend are taken to the concentration camps to be indoctrinated once again since failure to respect the Chinese flag is a crime under special laws enacted for the Muslim Uyghur population.
No Beards, No Veils!
The Chinese government has declared beards and hijab signs of religious fanaticism. Muslim women have been banned from wearing niqab or hijab in public places. Government employees and police officials have been ordered to note down the names of those violating these rules and appearing in public places with a beard or a hijab in case of women.
Crackdown on Muslims Reaches the Dead in their Graves
The Chinese government, obviously not satisfied with its draconian measures against Muslims still alive in spite of Chinese brutality, has extended the dragnet of its fascist policies to include the dead in their grave. Chinese human rights activists recently released videos which sparked widespread outrage. The videos show Chinese authorities launching a crackdown on the dead in their graves for not being cremated and for having been buried in accordance with Islamic rituals! Amidst the wailing, screams and protests of relatives of the deceased, Chinese authorities took out hundreds of bodies from the graves and took them away for cremation. And to Allah we complain against these sordid reincarnations of the Nazis100!
Unprecedented Invasion of Muslim Homes
In one of the most outrageous attempts to violate the sanctity of Muslim homes, the Chinese government has dispatched over a million officials to East Turkistan as part of its ‘Becoming Family’ Program. Under this program, party cadres and state officials live inside the homes of Muslims as uninvited pests for days at end, monitoring every activity that takes place inside their homes, violating the privacy and sanctity of the constituent unit of Muslim society- the family. This unprecedented outrage means that the honor of Uyghur Muslim women and daughters is constantly at risk of violation at the hands of these wild predators present inside their homes for days. Literally turning the lives of Muslims in East Turkistan into hell on earth, these officials stay as uninvited nosy guests with access to all activities that take place inside the Muslim home, seeing to it that no trace of Islam is present in the lives of Muslim families. Political views of family members are documented, and if any man, woman, elderly or child is found holding Islamic beliefs or ‘questionable’ political tendencies, he is reported to the authorities.
These were a few glaring examples of the crimes being committed against our people in East Turkistan. What is most unfortunate is that these atrocities have failed to move the conscience of the Muslim world, a large part of which has trade and military ties with the Chinese regime. It is a shame that even the media in the West has given more coverage to this issue than electronic or print media in any Muslim country. The silence is deliberate and Chinese influence in these countries is actively at work behind the scenes.
It is noteworthy that China is dependent on the Muslim world as a market for its goods, supplier of fuel and energy, transit route for its trade and energy supplies. The list of countries that have strong economic ties with China includes most gulf states, Central Asian states, Egypt, Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Indonesia. China has cleverly used its economic leverage and trade agreements with most of these states to not only silence criticism but also purchase the ‘conscience’ of these governments (supposing that they possess this rare commodity in the first place). It has used the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a forum to further its diabolical racist agenda against ethnic minorities, ensuring cooperation from member states in deporting Uyghurs, Kazakhs and Hui Muslims, besides Tibetan dissidents.
Until a few years back, Erdogan was a vocal critic of Chinese Human Rights violations in East Turkistan. After the signing of a series of trade and military agreements with China, the ‘Ottoman’ has completely sealed his lips on the issue and Turkey’s hospitality for Uyghurs has become lukewarm ever since. Other countries, specifically Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Egypt, UAE and Pakistan have actively cooperated with the Chinese government in deporting Turkistani Muslims residing in these countries. China’s war on its ethnic Turk Muslims has reached the approximately half a million or so Uyghurs who have escaped East Turkistan to seek asylum in Muslim or Western countries. Muslims in East Turkistan are frequently threatened with death, burning of homes, rape and torture if they fail to convince family members living abroad to return to China. Many Uyghurs living in supposedly safe countries such as Turkey, Canada, Sweden and Australia have reported receiving threatening telephone calls and text messages reminding them that they are being monitored; that they too will be rounded up; that their family members will pay the price of their escape from China, and ironically enough… that there is no leader greater than President Xi!
It is highly unfortunate that in spite of extensive trade and military relations with China, not a single government in the Muslim world has used its ties as a leverage to force the Chinese government to abandon its criminal fascist policies against the Muslims of East Turkistan. Or perhaps this is too much to ask for in the era of Trump, Sisi and MBS…!
(Adapted from Jaraim as Seen Didh Ahlana fi Turkistan al Sharqiya by Ahmad al Majid. The article first appeared in Arabic on www.kawthar.co. The facts and figures quoted in this article are all well documented and have been taken from reports of various human rights organizations, notably Human Rights Watch.)