Eid Celebrations Underscore Religious Repression In Xinjiang

On Eid-al-Fitr, the celebratory conclusion of the Muslim holy month Ramadan, videos of dancing Uyghurs outside of a mosque in Kashgar demonstrated, perhaps counterintuitively, the extent of religious repression in the region. According to social media posts, attendance at the dances was mandatory and believers were banned from prayer and private gatherings. In one village outside of Kashgar, Uyghurs marked Eid by singing propaganda songs. In Urumqi, the national anthem preceded prayer. Strikingly, all the attendees were beardless and old. A new report from the Uyghur Human Rights Project shows that imams have been a particular target of China’s campaign of regression against Uyghurs. For The BBC, Joel Gunter detailed the report’s findings: 630 imams have been detained—with 18 dying in custody or shortly thereafter:

And the only clues to the alleged offence committed by Abidin Ayup, a prominent scholar and imam from Atush city, were a few lines that appeared in a long court document from a separate case against a Han Chinese official. The official was accused of allowing Ayup’s son to visit him at a hospital detention facility after he was arrested. The court document refers to Ayup, who was 88 when he was detained in 2017, as a “religious extremist”.

[…] Muhammad, who is now in the US, said nearly 60 members of her extended family had been detained since Ayup’s arrest, including her husband and all of the imam’s eight children.

[…] They were targeted “because of their invisible authority”, she added. “The state has tried everything to break them, to destroy them. And not only the religious leaders but also those who practise Islam quietly, and take pride in being Uyghur. They have made every effort to dig them out and destroy them.” [Source]

Mosques are disappearing along with imams. The destruction of religious and cultural sites across the region has been previously documented by satellite imaging. For Reuters, Cate Cadell travelled through Xinjiang documenting shuttered or converted mosques:

Minarets on the building’s four corners, visible in publicly available satellite images in 2019, have gone. A large blue metal box stood where the mosque’s central dome had once been. It was not clear if it was a place of worship at that time the satellite images were taken.

[…] As the mosque’s leader or imam removed his shoes, Ade demonstrated a machine given by the government that shrink-wraps shoes in plastic.

“Now you don’t even need to take your shoes off in the mosque, it’s very convenient,” he said.

[…] In Changji, about 40 km west of the regional capital, Urumqi, green and red minarets of the city’s Xinqu Mosque lay broken below a Chinese flag flying over the deserted building’s courtyard. [Source]

The systematic dismantling of traditional religious life has been accompanied by increased state intrusion into the family. A new report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think tank, found that the Chinese government uses coercive birth control measures to decrease the size of Xinjiang’s indigenous communities. The drive to cut birth rates among Xinjiang’s Uyghur population is happening as the central government ponders methods of increasing the national birth rate after sobering census results showed China’s population to be rapidly aging. At The Associated Press, Dake Kang wrote that birthrates in Uyghur, Kazakh, and other Muslim minority areas dropped 48.74% between 2017 and 2019:

Eysa Imin, a Uyghur from Korla in the center of Xinjiang, recalled eight people in his neighborhood detained for having too many children. When he himself was thrown in a detention center in 2017, he ended up sharing a cell with an old schoolmate who had been arrested, tortured, and interrogated for having four children.

“When they arrested him, they said it was a sign of extremism,” Imin said. “The government started connecting having many children with Islamic extremism. … It feels like they want to eliminate us.”

[…] The recent two-year decline in birthrates in Xinjiang is far larger than that of China over the entire 36-year length of the ‘one child’ policy, under which Han Chinese were subject to stricter birth restrictions, Ruser noted. ASPI also unearthed government notices showing that Xinjiang officials are being given quotas to lower birthrates, with punishments meted out to those who failed to meet family planning targets. A target set in one heavily Uyghur county is lower than the birthrate of South Korea, the lowest in the world. [Source]

The census showed Xinjiang’s population grew 13.8 percent from 2010—even as birth rates began to plummet in 2017. What, then, drove the increase? At The South China Morning Post, Sidney Leng and Cissy Zhou wrote that the expansion of the paramilitary Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) was an important factor:

Between 2016 and 2019, Xinjiang’s population increased by 1.25 million people, about a third of which came from XPCC, based on government data. From 2016 onwards, the number of people employed by the entity grew at a much faster rate than the region’s total population.

At the end of 2019, the total population of XPCC was 3.25 million, a 4.6 per cent increase from 2018, according to official data. [Source]

State media outlet Global Times challenged the SCMP’s reporting on the grounds that focusing on changes between 2016 and 2019 is “problematic.” From Liu Xin and Zhang Han:

As Uygurs comprise the largest part of the region’s population, the Global Times analyzed the datasets for Uygurs and Han Chinese from 2010 to 2019, only to find the XPCC population grew 640,000, about 18.7 percent of the region’s 3.42 million increase.

It is problematic to use the 2016-19 increase to indicate the 10-year trend or use an untypical section of data to represent future trends, analysts said.

The Global Times also calculated the rate of Uygurs to Han Chinese, which was 1.22 in 2010 and 1.49 in 2018, meaning the proportion of Uygurs actually increased in contrast to what the SCMP indicated. [Source]

A number of businesses have stopped sourcing products from Xinjiang due to concerns over allegations of forced labor and United States sanctions. H&M found itself in the middle of an internet firestorm ignited by state-affiliated accounts when it renounced Xinjiang cotton. One store has taken a decidedly different tack. For The Wall Street Journal, Megumi Fujikawa wrote about the Japanese chain Muji, which proudly advertises its use of Xinjiang cotton:

On its online store in China, Muji includes the words “Xinjiang cotton” next to several items. The move was well-received by Chinese social-network users, some of whom said on the Twitter-like Weibo platform that they recognized the company’s eagerness to stay on the country’s good side.

[…] Activists say it is hard to be sure that inspections such as those cited by Muji are uncovering the real situation in Xinjiang. Given the allegations of forced labor and Chinese assaults on Uyghur culture, they say, apparel companies shouldn’t buy from the region unless they can be certain that their suppliers have no connection to human-rights abuses.

“I want the company to prioritize human rights before Chinese money,” said Uryu Hirano, 27 years old. She called on Japanese consumers to boycott Muji, saying it was the best way to get the attention of the company’s executives. A Muji representative declined to comment. [Source]

Listen to NPR’s “Five Fingers Crush The Land” to gain a deeper understanding of the Uyghur people’s history, culture, and plight.


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