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]
Story on imprisonment and detention of imams in the #Uyghur homeland finally comes out. The PRC actually trained very many of these religious leaders at state-run schools, and then sent them abroad with scholarships for further study at Al-Azhar. Punished for doing their jobs. https://t.co/qvu9UQwkqQ
— Eric T. Schluessel 許臨君 (@EricTSchluessel) May 13, 2021
For example, Sholpan Amirken described to me the show trial where her brother-in-law, an imam and scholar, was sentenced to 17 years in prison for normative religious practices (most likely officiating weddings and translating books).https://t.co/IiNjj3XnU3 pic.twitter.com/aYbZ1LYqo1
— Ben Mauk (@benmauk) May 13, 2021
Thursday, Kashi, the city in Xinjiang that has the largest Uygur population. After morning prayers, local Muslims and residents danced in front of the Id Kah Mosque to celebrate Eid al-Fitr. pic.twitter.com/Be9wrTMoz2
— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) May 13, 2021
It should be noted that Uyghurs in Kashgar were not allowed to pray for Eid al-Fitr (it's been 6 years since they last could), instead they were made to dance. Also banned for Eid includes house-visits to neighbours celebrating the day. https://t.co/3wytmiBee8
— Nathan Ruser (@Nrg8000) May 13, 2021
video was deleted after 5 minutes – Kashgar pic.twitter.com/iUVHRu0bzU
— Mirap’ (@guljA__) May 13, 2021
Chinese state media pictures of Roza Heyt at Kashgar's Heytgah Mosque: 2021 (left) and 2014 (center and right). Recall that performing sama outside Heytgah square was prohibited in 2014, yet the crowds were huge… pic.twitter.com/F0BV9AmkF0
— Timothy Grose (@GroseTimothy) May 13, 2021
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]
4/ XJ's birthrate nearly halved in just two years – a far bigger drop than Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, the Syrian civil war, Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. The government statistics make that clear as day. pic.twitter.com/EPby9hM54M
— Dake Kang (@dakekang) May 13, 2021
A new report from me and @jleibold. We found that the precipitous and unprecedented decrease in Xinjiang's birth-rate since 2017 has disproportionately come from Uyghur areas. Drastic decreases in indigenous-majority areas, roughly stable in Han areas.https://t.co/goq3zrF2mf pic.twitter.com/0JNHu6A7Jo
— Nathan Ruser (@Nrg8000) May 12, 2021
Since then, the birth-rate in Xinjiang has dropped from about 125% the national birth-rate (a ratio that had been relatively stable since 1990) to less than 80%.
— Nathan Ruser (@Nrg8000) May 12, 2021
Compared to the 48.7% decline overall in Xinjiang, among the Indigenous-majority counties that had published 2019 or 2020 birth-rate figures (these are increasingly hidden), the birth-rate fell 58.5% compared to a pre-crackdown baseline.
Counties 90%+ indigenous fell 66.3%.
— Nathan Ruser (@Nrg8000) May 12, 2021
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.