Children Held in Xinjiang Amid Accusations of “Cultural Genocide”

As China accuses the U.S. of spreading “lies” about mass detention in after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledged to take the mass incarceration of Uyghurs in the region to the United Nations, Human Rights Watch has called on Chinese officials to immediately release the children of those detained in internment camps:

“The Chinese government’s forced separation of children is perhaps the cruelest element of its oppression in Xinjiang,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Children should be either immediately returned to the custody of relatives in China or allowed to join their parents outside the country.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed five families from the Xinjiang region now living outside the country who described having no contact with their children. Some know and others believe the authorities placed their children in state-run institutions without their family’s consent.

Abdurahman Tohti, a Uyghur living in Turkey, has been unable to contact his son, now 4, and daughter, 3, since authorities detained his wife in August 2016. In January, he spotted his son in a video posted online that showed him in a school answering questions in Chinese. “I miss my children, my wife,” said Tohti. “I want them back very much. I fear if I ever meet my children again in my lifetime, they wouldn’t know who I am, and they would’ve been assimilated as Chinese and think that I’m their enemy.”

The number of children in Xinjiang placed in state-run child welfare institutions and boarding schools without consent is not known. Government control and surveillance in the region, including severe punishments for those who speak out or have contacts abroad, prevent comprehensive reporting. Many Turkic Muslims living outside of China have completely lost contact with their families in Xinjiang. The website Xinjiang Victims Database collected accounts of over 5,000 people in Xinjiang, including more than 100 children, who have been imprisoned, detained in political education camps, or subjected to other restrictions on movement. […] [Source]

The  region has been the site of a mass detention program where an estimated 1.5 million Uyghurs have been or are being held in a series of internment camps. While authorities claim that these camps are “vocational training” facilities, there has been evidence of forced laborpolitical indoctrination, abuse, and deaths inside the camps.

In a comprehensive summary of the current situation in Xinjiang, including historical and political context of the region and the evolving policies that led to the current crackdown, the Financial Times’ Christian Shepherd focuses in on the apparent aim of crackdown in Xinjiang–the “re-engineering” of the Uyghur identity. Shepherd’s report focuses on how Uyghur intellectuals, especially those who have worked on preserving and teaching the Uyghur language, have become primary targets in Beijing’s re-engineering campaign:

Scholars of the region argue that China’s Communist party is attempting to “re-engineer” minority society to make Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang ever more like the Han Chinese majority. Some experts have even begun to call for the campaign to be labelled “cultural ”, a term usually defined as the forced assimilation of an indigenous group with the aim of eliminating its cultural distinctness.

“For [the campaign] to fit the definition of [cultural] genocide, it would need to be a premeditated systematic effort orchestrated by the state,” James Leibold, an expert on China’s ethnic policy at La Trobe University in Melbourne, told the FT.

“I think it’s important that we start to call it what it is. Re-engineering, rewiring, remoulding all work, but the evidence suggests that cultural genocide fits.”

[…] The list that Gulruy Asqar found her brother’s name on in 2018, confirming that he’d been detained, had been put together by Abduweli Ayup, a linguist, poet and Uighur-language activist who lives in exile in France. Ayup has been updating the list of missing, detained or arrested intellectuals since 2017.

Of the more than 300 names on his list, about a third relate to the Uighur-language textbooks. Aside from Rozi, there is Satar Sawut, the former director of Xinjiang Education Supervision Bureau, and former Xinjiang University president Tashpolat Teyip, alongside dozens of other writers, editors and illustrators. […] [Source]

Last week, Radio Free Asia reported on Amnesty International’s call for the release of Tashpolat Teyip–who the organization believes may “imminently” be executed, and also reported on a Uyghur teacher of Mandarin Chinese has been reported dead while presumed to be detained in an internment camp. In an op-ed, The Washington Post relays the story of Tashpolat Teyip, arguing that official policies in effect in Xinjiang disqualify Beijing from “enjoy[ing] the world’s respect”:

Mr. Teyip is an ethnic Uighur professor of geography. From 2010 until 2017, he was president of Xinjiang University, the leading institution of higher learning in the Xinjiang region in northwest China, home to millions of Turkic Muslim ethnic Uighurs. In the past two-and-a-half years, China has been carrying out a drive to corral 1 million or more Uighurs and others into the equivalent of concentration camps in order to wipe out their traditional language, traditions and mind-set in favor of that of the majority Han Chinese. China at first denied their existence, and now describes the camps as small and benign — “retraining centers” is one favored phrase.

In 2017, Mr. Teyip vanished. According to a dispatch from Radio Free Asia, on March 31, 2017, it was announced to Communist Party officials that he was being replaced as head of the university, and that he had been detained. RFA also reported that Mr. Teyip’s name was stricken from the official list of presidents of Xinjiang University. He had published five books and numerous articles and earned a PhD at Tokyo University of Science. More recently, RFA said students and faculty had been shown a police documentary film, which reported that Mr. Teyip had been sentenced to death, with the sentence suspended for two years. The nature of the charges is not clear, but RFA said it was a lack of loyalty in supporting government policy.

[…] Chinese diplomats in the West are decrying the souring of U.S.-China relations, and we agree that the governments should cooperate when they can. But China’s Communist rulers cannot behave with this sort of barbarity and secrecy, and simultaneously expect to enjoy the world’s respect. [Source]

In a recent series of Listening Post podcasts, Al Jazeera examined how China is is attempting to spin media coverage of the situation in Xinjiang to influence global public opinion, and how Chinese propagandists are representing it domestically while attacking international reports as “fake news.” The Economic Times recently reported that China’s use of government white papers to describe the situation in Xinjiang in positive terms “has not made impact to change international opinion.”

Meanwhile, U.S. senators last week applauded the bipartisan passage of the “Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act,” which now awaits passage in the House of Representatives. At Bitter Winter, Marco Respinti celebrates the Senate’s passage of the bill as a potential watershed moment:

China can’t hide the crimes it commits in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (that Uyghurs prefer to call East Turkestan) anymore. After months of denunciations by activists, NGOs, and international organizations, a point of no return has been reached with the passing of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act (S.178) by the Senate of the United States of America. The decision came on September 11, and it is a major one: it’s bipartisan, it was passed unanimously, but above all, it’s the first such legislation in the world. For the first time ever, a legislative body of a sovereign nation condemns the abuses perpetrated against Muslim Uyghurs and calls to action.

Even more. The bill is literally designed “[t]o condemn gross human rights violations of ethnic Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, and calling for an end to arbitrary detention, torture, and harassment of these communities inside and outside China.”

[…] It’s definitely an unprecedented event. Very practically, the bill enacts the publication of a report by the Director of National Intelligence, in coordination with the State Department, “[…] to assess national and regional security threats posed by the  crackdown  across  Xinjiang, the frequency with which Central and Southeast Asian governments are forcibly returning Turkic Muslim refugees and  asylum seekers, and the transfer or development of technology used by the Government of the People’s Republic of China that facilitates the mass internment and surveillance of Turkic Muslims,  including technology relating to predictive policing and large-scale data collection and analysis.”

[…] Now the bill turns to the House of Representatives. If both chambers of the US Congress end up passing it, it will be the beginning of the end of the suffering of innocent people unlawfully detained in Xinjiang in millions, harassed, abused, and tortured. It will be certainly a long way, but nothing can be accomplished without the first step. [Source]

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