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  • Daivya Sadhvani, AIT

Muslim Uighur Camps In China

Since 2017, more than three million Muslim Uighurs have been held captive in detention camps throughout Xinjiang, China. Initially, the Chinese government denied the existence of these camps. As images surfaced on the internet of camps constructed with watch towers and barbed wires, the government calmed the social media outrage by calling them just re-education centers or job vocational training centers. However, escapees have since revealed that they were detained, interrogated, and tortured because of their religion, and made it very clear they were interned, not re-educated. According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank, there are 380 suspected detention camps in the Xinjiang region.

The Uighurs are a predominantly Muslim Turkic ethnic group who consider themselves culturally close to the nations in Centeral Asia. The majority of Uighurs, about eleven million, live in Xinjiang. Many Uighur communities are also found in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Australia. This ethnic minority speaks Uighur, although the Chinese government is accused of forcing those who speak it to be taken to camps in Xinjiang to learn Mandarin.

In the early 20th century, Uighurs had declared their independence from Turkey for a short period of time. Unfortunately, the region was brought under the complete control of communist China in 1949. According to many Uighur activists, the Chinese government has created new government policies which prevented Uighurs from participating in religious, cultural, and commercial activities. In 2014, university students in Xinjiang told BBC that they were “banned from fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan,” and reports from the region say Uighur local government officials have been banned from fasting or attending mosques. In 2017, President Xi Jinping issued a policy that "religions in China must be Chinese in orientation and adapt themselves to socialist society.” These new policies on religious practices mostly targeted Uighurs. The Xinjiang government passed a law prohibiting men from growing long beards and women from wearing veils, and it demolished dozens of mosques. The government continues to target Uighurs outside of the camps. Uighurs may be sent to camps for attempting to obtain a passport, praying regularly, growing a beard, participating in religious ceremonies like funerals or weddings, or violating China’s birth restrictions.

In these camps, it has been reported that women are subjected to forced sterilization to reduce the population of the Uighurs. BBC interviewed Reyila Abulaiti, a former Xinjiang resident, who said “As far as I know, the Chinese government wants to delete Uighur identity from the world.”

Reports have been found that camps purchased 2,768 police batons, 550 electric cattle prods, 1,367 pairs of handcuffs, and 2,792 bottles of pepper spray. A 2018 report by Agence France-Presse described camps with thousands of guards carrying spiked clubs, tear gas, and stun guns. Leaked drone footage showed hundreds of people blindfolded and handcuffed being transferred by train between camps. In February 2020, a 137 page spreadsheet detailing how Uighur families were tracked by authorities was discovered. It also contained more than 300 names of people in detention camps who were being monitored by officials.

In July of 2019, a letter was sent to the UN Human Rights Council, after which 22 countries responded to “disturbing reports of large scale arbitrary detentions of Uighurs by condemning Chinese leadership.” Four days later, 37 countries defended China’s “remarkable achievements in the field of human rights by protecting their country from terrorism, seperatisim, and religious extremisim.” Most of the signatures came from Muslim-majority countries, such as Pakistan and Qatar. Along with more than 30 countries, the US condemned China at the UN General Assembly, calling the camps a “horrific campaign of repression.”

Works Cited:

  • “The Uighurs and the Chinese State: A Long History of Discord.” BBC News, BBC, 20 July 2020,

  • “What Is Happening with the Uighurs in China?” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service,

  • “China's Hidden Camps.” BBC News, BBC,

Gan, Nectar, et al. “What's Been Happening in Xinjiang, Home to 11 Million Uyghurs?” CNN, Cable News Network, 19 June 2020,

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