In the northwest part of China sits the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, an area that borders Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Happening inside the region, not known to people around the world until recently, is an assault on religious freedom and human rights.
The Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region has a population of 19 million people, according to BBC. Eight million of those 19 million belong to a Turkic ethnic group called the Uyghurs (pronounced wee-gurs).
Since the 9/11 attacks that hit the U.S., prompting then-President George W. Bush to announce the Global War on Terrorism, the Chinese government has been said to be fighting it’s own war against terrorism, calling it the “people’s war on terror.” The Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region has been the Chinese government’s focus.
Only recently, news reports from several outlets have circulated, describing Uygher Muslims detained in internment camps and subjected to torturous methods. Mehdi Hasan reported for The Intercept in mid-August that nearly one million people are being detained in these internment camps.
The Intercept isn’t the only media outlet to shed light on this. Business Insiderpublished a report back in May that described the treatment Uygher Muslims are subjected to in what the report described as “re-education camps.”
The report tells a story through an interview with a man named Omir Bekali, who was detained inside one of the internment camps. Bekali said that prisoners are forced to denounce their Islamic faith, criticize their own beliefs and beliefs of loved ones, and recite Chinese Communist Party propaganda.
Bekali detailed accounts where he was subjected to stand at a wall for hours, was sent to solitary confinement, and was deprived of food for up to 24 hours at a time. Bekali said he was subjected to such treatment when he refused to follow orders.
“The psychological pressure is enormous, when you have to criticize yourself, denounce your thinking — your own ethnic group,” Bekali told Business Insider. “I still think about it every night, until the sun rises. I can’t sleep. The thoughts are with me all the time.”
Business Insider said in the same report that people in the region are being sent to these internment camps without due process and without any legal paperwork.
China declared their own war against terrorism over concerns of separatist movements in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Based inside the region is a group named the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). The group did not begin to gain attention until a 2000 report by a Russian newspaper, which said that Osama Bin Laden had pledged funds to the group during a 1999 meeting in Afghanistan. This is according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
The Council on Foreign Relations said that reliable information is hard to come by, according to experts, and that many experts disagree about the group’s ties to global terrorism. The Chinese government has called ETIM a terrorist group, and warned the Bush Administration that ETIM had ties to Al Qaida, the Council on Foreign Relations said.
U.S. lawmakers have asked the Trump Administration to sanction China for what they described as “human rights abuses.” In a letter signed by 17 U.S. lawmakers, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Rep. Chris Smith (R- New Jersey), Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang are being detained and tortured and face “egregious restrictions on religious practice and culture” and other abuses.