Uyghur Muslims: Deprived of Religious Freedom for Years

Uyghur Muslims: Deprived of Religious Freedom for Years

ACTNews, XINJIANG – It has not been easy for around 10 million Uyghurs in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in northwestern China to even just have Islamic-sounding name, let alone to pray and prostrate in mosques.

For years, restrictive policies of the Chinese government have been targeting the Uyghurs in XUAR region, including the prohibition of headscarves for Uyghur women or long beards for Uyghur men, even just having an Islamic-sounding names (including male given name Muhammad). Many of them are not even allowed to fast in the month of Ramadan.

Although Chinese government has repeatedly denied, but the fact is that many Uyghur Muslims in XUAR are living in discrimination. They are even deprived of their own faith and religious identity.

In mid-2017, many reports by international media agencies focused on the Chinese government’s ban on Muslim names. Muslim parents in XUAR were not allowed to give their children names that are familiar among Muslims, such as Muhammad, Jihad, or Islam.  Children with banned names will not be able to obtain a hukou, or household registration, essential for accessing public school and other social services.

Prior to the ban on Islamic-sounding names, similar discriminatory policy had also been carried out by Chinese government in 2015. Women in Urumqi – capital of XUAR -  were prohibited from wearing full-face veils or burqa. The government argued that "Burqas are not traditional dress for Uighur women, and wearing them in public places is banned in countries such as Belgium and France," as cited from Xinhua, China's official news agency.

A year after the burqa ban was implemented, Uyghur Muslims once again had their religious freedom restricted. In Ramadan 2016, Chinese government prevented students and teachers in the Muslim majority region from fasting.

This ban also applies to the members of the Communist Party and Civil servants. The Chinese government also ordered restaurants to stay open.

Along with the ban on Muslim-sounding names for the Uyghurs, the government also imposed restriction on wearing headscarves in public as well as “abnormally long” beards under the pretext of counter-terrorism. The Chinese government blames the violence that happened in recent years on Islamist militants and separatists.

A million Uyghur Muslims face detention in hidden camps

A report in August 2018 showed even a harsher reality of religious discrimination faced by the Uyghurs. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination approximated that up to one million Uighurs may be held involuntarily in detention in XUAR.

The Uyghurs were held in detention in massive internment camps located far from the capital of XUAR province. Statements against the involuntary detention were also issued by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in mid-2018.

An investigation by BBC in October 2018 has also shed the light on the detention facilities built in Dabancheng, a small town located only about an hour’s drive from the provincial capital, Urumqi. In July 2015, a satellite captured pictures that showed only a vast area of grey sand and empty desert.

Only within the span of less than three years, however, another picture taken by the satellite showed that a huge, highly secure compound has been built, enclosed with a 2-kilometer-long wall and guarded by 16 watchtowers.

One of the detainees that was released in February 2018 told Amnesty International that around 6,000 people were held in the same camp where they were forced to sing political songs and study speeches of the Chinese Communist Party. They could not talk to each other and were forced to chant “Long live Xi Jinping” before meals.

Further investigation in Dabancheng revealed that, to this day, there are probably many more detention facilities throughout XUAR. GMV, a multinational aerospace company, has analyzed the security facilities located across XUAR.

They went through a list of 101 facilities located across XUAR - drawn up from the various media reports and academic research about the re-education camp system. The Chinese government denied the claim stating that that these facilities are only vocational schools.

GMV’s analysis identified and compared common features such as watchtowers and security fencing that are probably used to monitor and control the movement of people. They look more like incarceration facilities than education centers.

GMV’s data also showed a significant increase of the number of security facilities in XUAR. In 2017, for instance, around 15 facilities in XUAR were constructed. In 2018, around 10 new facilities were built across the region.

Not all detention centers were built from scratch. Some were converted from other public facilities, like schools or factories.

The investigation of the human rights violations towards the Uyghurs is still ongoing. More than 10 million Uyghurs in XUAR are trying to survive under harsh persecution and discrimination. For many of us, the issue persecution of the Uyghurs is something we never heard before while, in fact, they have been deprived of their Islam for years. []


Picture Sources: BBC, CNN, Getty Images 



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