By Tasawwar Rahman (‘22)
Depicts protester wearing Uighur flag with tears of blood. Brussels, April 2018. Photo by Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty
Taken. As the world is distracted by China’s rise, our economic priorities have begun supplant our moral. A people taken. A culture taken. A religion taken. And the world remains silent. Look away, away from the polished glamour and to the people, the people yearning to be free. It is our duty as free people not to ignore but to redress so that one day these stolen voices may rise anew.
Fundamental liberties such as freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, of self determination are trampled, and even in some cases the right to live. This the world knows, but the human rights violations by China extend far past this. What China hides, tells a more sinister story. It’s the story of a systematic campaign to oppress ethnic and religious minorities for the purpose of terrorizing a population keen to leave.
As is in the cases of Tibetan Budhists and Uighur Muslims. In Tibet, this means regulating religious education and criminalizing promotion of Tibetan language, culture, and the Dalai Lama. It means forcing monks and nuns to denounce the Dalai Lama or get expelled from their monasteries, incarcerated and tortured. Religious leaders are subjected to “patriotic reeducation classes” where they face sexual abuse, neglect, and torture. An especially horrific example of the Chinese government’s crackdown of religious leaders is its 2 decades long kidnapping of the then 6-year old Panchen Lama and his family. He was labelled the world’s youngest political prisoner and his whereabouts remain unknown. Even ordinary Buddhists are subject to the same treatment. That in addition to the societal discrimination Tibetans already face. The world watches in disgust at China’s unwillingness to free the people of Tibet.
However, the situation in Xinjiang, is equally if not more troubling but up until recently has received little media scrutiny. Around 2 million Uighurs are arbitrarily detained in internment camps. Most all have not been charged with a crime other than practicing their religion. Uighurs in these camps are forced to renounce their religion and are indoctrinated by the Chinese Communist Party. They are forced to eat pork and drink alcohol in violation of their religion, and to confess to arbitrary crimes and face torture. Examples of torture including neglect, denailing, and public gang rape. Forced abortions and medical experimentation have also been reported. Prison labor is utilized in poor condition state sponsored factories. And according to Chinese state papers, inmates are selected methodically in order to break up families leaving their children effectively orphaned. There have even been cases where Uighurs are killed to harvest their organs.
Uighurs not yet interned also endure countless violations of their civil rights. Government workers live with the local Muslims for 5 days every 2 months in what is an unheard of breach of privacy. And technology is used to monitor the already limited movement of Uighurs. They are restricted from travel and are subject to profiling stops. And the world only now begins to see the gravity of the crimes, much too late.
The former US ambassador to the UN has said it comes straight out of a George Orwell novel and called it “the largest internment of civilians in the world today,” perhaps “the largest since WWII.” The US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom said it is one of the “worst human rights situations in the world.” And even Turkey, with its spotted human rights record, has labelled it “a great shame for humanity.”
The Chinese occupation and internment of its Uighur Muslim minority must end. The Chinese occupation and oppression of its Tibetan Buddhist minority must end. China, it is you whom I speak to now; free the Uighurs, free the monks, free the nuns, and free the Panchen Lama. The actions taken by China against the Uighurs, Tibetans, and others such as the Falun Gong falls nothing short of an ethnocide. A cultural genocide meant to terrorize those who wish to leave into submission. But instead of continuing to carry out its illegal campaign, China should ask themselves the obvious question of why they have caused these groups to want to leave. China is a mighty nation with a storied past, it is in that history that China should learn that the way it rules its vast empire is not through repression, but through careful cooperation. But misstep after misstep has eroded that thread of trust, and China has gone past the point of return. It is because of that realization that our actions matter all the more, that the life and liberty of the Uighurs and Tibetans is inextricably tied to the nature of our own. The international community must now come together to condemn and punish these acts of cowardice, before it’s too late. The United States and all free nations must take a stand. Because never again can we allow an entire people, an entire culture to be ripped from this earth once more, taken and ignored.