Religious Inequality: The Hidden Uighur Detention Centre Crisis in China

Religious inequality is a huge problem in our world today. Not only are people murdered for their religion in lots of countries, people of religions that are foreign to us or that have different customs and clothes to us are routinely harassed and targeted in the US and the UK. Tell Mama is an organisation set up to record and measure anti-Muslim crime in the UK. In 2017 they logged the highest number of anti-Muslim incidents since their launch in 2012, with 1330 incidents reported and 1201 verified. Just in late february this year, swastikas and National Front symbols were spray painted outside a mosque in the multicultural city of Manchester.

Even more shocking than this is a huge issue that has been mainly kept quiet from the world – the Chinese detention centres for the Uighurs of East Turkestan/the western region of Xinjiang. BBC reporters attempted to visit the detention centres or film them from the outside, but were tailed and stopped by the police. The Chinese government have gone to a lot of effort to hide the camp from the media and the rest of the world, even from the people living near the centre who were told that it was a re-education school and the commercial videos it showed were people in clean classrooms, voluntarily working. The centres are only for the Muslim minorities whose first language is not Chinese. The video shows not one girl wearing a headscarf, which suggests there’s a dress code enforced to restrict them from their religious practices. A few lucky people have managed to leave the centres but over the last two years, the number of people leaving the ‘schools’ has decreased hugely.

Many people’s relatives are suspected to have gone into the centres, but have never been heard from again. Xiamuxinuer Pida was a 66 year old woman who had a long service record at a Chinese company. One summer she went to visit her daughter in London, but when she returned to Xinjiang, she called her daughter panicking, saying the police were looking through her house. Her daughter, Reyila, appeared to be the focus of the investigation. She had to send proof of her British passport, her telephone numbers and her university course and then her mother told her that she should never call her again. Reyila never heard from her mother again and believes that she is being held in a centre against her will. “My mum has been detained for no reason. As far as I know, the Chinese Detention Centre Crisis in China government wants to delete Uighur identity from the world.”

Many more horrific stories have been heard, but one of the worst came from someone who spent a month in a camp in Hotan in late 2015. He was 29 when he was in there, and recalled being woken up before sunrise everyday and they had only one minute to get to the yard. While they ran, he saw people who fell behind, and even if they were handicapped or old, they were taken to a special room to punish them for not running fast enough. “There were two men there, one to beat with a belt, the other just to kick.” He also said they sang a song supporting the Communist Party, learnt laws off by heart and if they couldn’t recite them by heart, then they were beaten.

The scale of the camps are far beyond some of the largest prisons in the world, and they are ever expanding. In 2017 the number of camps shot up, and in 2018, the area of the camps expanded. There is an estimate of a minimum of 130,000 possible detainees in Dabancheng. The others are estimated at over 10,000 detainees. The scale of these camps shows to what extent the Chinese government are trying to erase Uighur identity. The streets in Xinjiang are eerily silent and the mosques are silent at prayer times. Doors are padlocked and signs are hung up instructing the citizens on what to tell reporters and tourists about the empty streets. There are plenty more horrific stories of torture, family members who went in and never came out, and many recent reported deaths but the most terrifying thing of all is the fact that people are still being locked up, killed and tortured because of their cultural heritage and religion. When we look back on genocides like the Holocaust, we see ourselves as having come so far from actions like that without even realising it is still happening today, on a shockingly similar scale. We live in privileged places where we can see people of different ethnicities and religions living together, and even though people do commit acts of hate and discrimination every day, we are lucky to live in a society where we cannot contemplate such a large scale act of genocide taking place in our midst. Others in this world are evidently not so fortunate.

– Eloise Bowen, year 11