Thousands Of Muslims Are Being Tortured In Chinese Internment Camps

Cultural cleansing isn’t just a thing of the past

In this photo taken Friday, March 30, 2018, Omir Bekalic, center prepares to pray at a mosque in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Since 2016, Chinese authorities in the heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang have carried out a campaign of mass detentions and indoctrination in internment camps with the stated aim of bolstering national security and eliminating Islamic extremism. The program appears to be an attempt to rewire its detainees’ political thinking, erase their Islamic beliefs and reshape their very identities. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

In this photo taken Friday, March 30, 2018, Omir Bekalic, center prepares to pray at a mosque in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Since 2016, Chinese authorities in the heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang have carried out a campaign of mass detentions and indoctrination in internment camps with the stated aim of bolstering national security and eliminating Islamic extremism. The program appears to be an attempt to rewire its detainees’ political thinking, erase their Islamic beliefs and reshape their very identities. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

When most people think of concentration camps and cultural cleansing, they usually think back to the times of World War Two. And unless they are constantly scouring the daily news for the latest human rights violations, the general public is not informed of the atrocities that many authoritarian governments are hiding.

One recent example is the Muslim internment camps in China. While most Muslims were celebrating Ramadan, their holy month, Muslims in China are being herded to detainment camps where they are tortured, suppressed, and humiliated. The purpose of these camps is to force them to disavow their Islamic beliefs and replace their values with those of the Chinese.

Even more, hundreds of thousands have already been detained, and more could be in the future. In the region of Xinjiang, where many Muslims live, Chinese authorities have been capturing thousands of citizens (even foreign ones) and bringing them to the mass internment camps. Starting last spring, the detention of these people has spread across the entire territory of Xinjiang, one which is half the size of India. As stated by a U.S. commission on China last month, it is “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.”

Although the Chinese government has been cracking down on Muslims living in the country for decades, this year, they have increased their efforts. According to Dolkun Isa, the head of World Uyghur Congress, in these camps, Muslims have been prohibited from fasting. “If someone at work tries to secretly fast, [Chinese authorities] will give him food and water during lunch,” Isa reports. Additionally, if someone is suspected of being an extremist, he or she is also forced to drink alcohol and eat pork as a punishment although consumption of either is forbidden by the Islamic religion.

Furthermore, Muslims, even ones outside of these camps, were prohibited from visiting mosques during Ramadan, and, in some regions, officials have assured that Chinese Muslims “have no faith, will not attend religious activities and will lead the way in not fasting over Ramadan.” Even last year, Muslim families in the northwestern region of Xinjiang were forced to hand-over any religious items they had (including prayer mats and the Quran, their holy text). If they failed to follow these directives, they would face punishments.

To make matters worse, Isa reports that “…very few people can come out,” and that “No one knows under what terms [Chinese authorities] are detaining people.” It seems almost random, and each day, Muslims in China have to live in fear of being sent to these camps where they would be brainwashed, humiliated and tortured.

According to former prisoner Kayrat Samarkand, who was detained for three months after returning from Kazakhstan, “Those who disobeyed the rules, refused to be on duty, engaged in fights or were late for studies were placed in handcuffs and ankle cuffs for up to 12 hours.” He reported that, there, prisoners were forced to study Chinese propaganda and praise Xi.

Another former detainee, Omir Bekali who is a Kazakh Muslim, stated that he and other Muslims had to disavow their Islamic beliefs, criticize themselves and their loved ones, and thank the ruling Communist Party.

He said that he tried to resist, but officials there would punish him by forcing him to stand at a wall for five hours at a time. Days later, he was sent to solitary confinement and was deprived of food for an entire day. He later explained that after spending twenty days in the camp, he could no longer bear it.

Even after being released and going back to live in Kazakhstan, Bekali says that the memories of the camps still haunt him. He told the Associated Press “I still think about it every night, until the sun rises,” and explains that he can’t sleep because “The thoughts are with [him] all the time.” His sister, mother, and father have also been sent to the camps after his liberation.

While what is taking place in the Muslim detainment camps has not reached the level of events like the Holocaust (although there may still be information that the government is hiding), these reports still show that we have a long way to go in terms of cultural acceptance. It’s the 21st century, and everyone should be able to live their lives, proud of their own identity. But, that does not seem to be the case in certain countries where the government specifically targets groups and hurts them for just being who they are (Americans, that’s our government too).

It’s time to change this and bring to light the atrocities that are happening right this second because they are not okay. We need to inform more people about what is happening because the more people who know, the stronger our movement will be. This instance of cultural cleansing is not the only current one, but it is a significant one that is not talked about enough. I refuse to believe that this is what our world is coming to because I (and hopefully you too) will make sure that there is no place in society for this kind of violence.

If the reports of the cruelty towards these Muslims have affected you in any way, please sign this petition to stop the abuse that is happening.

Opinion // China / Human Rights / Islam / News