What Is Happening to the Uighur People?

Image Courtesy of The New York Times

By Franchetta Groves 

During a town hall hosted by CNN on February 16, President Joe Biden was asked about what is occurring in China to the Uighur Muslims and what he has discussed with Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. 

“If you know anything about Chinese history, it has always been the time when China has been victimized by the outer world, is when they haven’t been unified at home,” Biden said. “The central principle of Xi Jinping is that there must be a united tightly-controlled China.” 

“I point out to him no American president can be sustained as a president, if he doesn’t reflect the values of the United States,” he continued saying, “And so the idea I’m not going to speak out against what he’s doing in Hong Kong, what he’s doing with the Uighurs in western mountains of China, and Taiwan, trying to end the ‘One China’ policy by making it forceful, I said — by the way, he said he gets it. Culturally, there are different norms that each country and their leaders are expected to follow.” 

These comments have made many ask, what is happening to the Uighur people? The Uighur people are a population of about 11 million who live in western China, most of whom are practicing Muslims. Tensions between the Han Chinese and the Uighurs have grown due to economic and ethnic disparities. These tensions led to protests and ultimately violent disturbances. China labeled the Uighur people as a security threat after a terrorist attack in 2014, which was taken credit for by Uighur Muslims. In response to this, the Chinese government began to place security cameras, security checkpoints, and constant police patrols in Uighur-dominated areas.  

In 2017, the Chinese government passed a law prohibiting men from growing long beards and women from wearing their veils. Following this, thousands of mosques were destroyed or damaged. Reports from thinktank Australian Strategic Policy Institute have found that as of 2017, the Chinese government has built nearly 400 internment camps in the Xinjiang region despite claiming that their “re-education” program was coming to a close. China claims that there are no human rights violations occurring at these internment camps, however, they will not allow journalists to come in and observe what is happening. 

The U.S. State Department estimates that there are more than 1 million Uighur people, as well as others from minority Muslim groups, being detained there. Reports show that there is forced labor, sexual abuse, and death taking place there. Human rights groups have reported that women are forced to abort their pregnancies if they were to exceed the quota of births allowed and other women have been coerced into undergoing sterilization procedures.

Many detainees have testified that they were forced to disavow their religious beliefs, criticize themselves and their loved ones, and give thanks to the communist party. Individuals can be thrown into these egregious conditions for simply “wearing a veil” or “growing a “long beard”.

“Our job as college students is to learn as much as we can about the horrors of the CCP abroad, but also the relationship our universities and institutions have with the same. As college students, we have the power of organizing and influencing university administrations, as well as lawmakers, with the unique perspective of those directly affected by the CCP on a college campus,” junior Chris Carey said on how college students can stand up against this issue and why he co-founded Catholic University’s Athenai Institute chapter. 

The Athenai Institute works to limit the influence of the Chinese Communist Party on college campuses and works for establishing free discussion about the human rights violations occurring. 

 “At Athenai Institute, we focus on the nationwide closure of Confucius Institutes,” Carey continued,  “however, even at universities that do not host a CI, it is important to understand and oppose the arrangements the university may have with CCP backed companies, contractors, and more.”

The Chinese government initially denied the existence of these camps. However, when there was too much evidence contrary to this they claimed that they were mere “re-education camps.” This lack of transparency is leading many to question, what is really happening to the Uighur people?

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