Currently, China is holding Uyghur Muslim prisoners in what it calls re-education camps. China is holding them captive in its re-education camps without trial, with the excuse that these centers are voluntary and a way to fight Islamic extremism. However, police forces hold power over these places, making it impossible for the Uyghur people to leave by choice. Despite the negatives these camps represent, people can do remarkable things to help from wherever they are. This article covers information about the discovery of the Chinese re-education camps and how nations and people are taking action.
The China Cables Leak
Currently, estimates state that China is holding somewhere between one and three million Uyghur Muslim prisoners in what it calls re-education camps. This number would equate to around 10 percent of the Uyghur Muslim population in China, which is about 10 million. The government is claiming that these centers are voluntary and a way to fight extremism. However, after the leak of the China Cables, China had a difficult time sustaining this narrative.
The China Cables refer to the leak of the operating manual for the Chinese re-education camps, which people formally knew as the Xinjian re-education camps. Prisoners only obtain weekly phone calls and a monthly video call with relatives. Other than that, any other contact can result in their suspension. The Chinese camps have high security and prisoners are under constant surveillance, which makes it nearly impossible for them to contact the outside without someone catching them.
One can mostly trace the documents back to 2017, and they explicitly reveal the government’s plans to use these facilities to forcibly teach manners and ideologies to the prisoners. Even though the government says the people can leave the camps and are there voluntarily, the China Cables state that the camps would only release the students after a year and only after achieving a minimum point score. Despite the evidence, Shohrat Zakir, chairman of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, said: “What we established are vocational training centers — they are not concentration camps as called by some people.”
The World’s Action
The world has been noticeably quiet about this issue. However, some U.S. representatives have provided comments and critiques about the camps. Mike Pompeo, the United States’ Secretary of State, has called the treatment of the Uyghurs “the stain of the century.” Deputy John Sullivan called it a “horrific campaign of repression.”
Even though it took some time, the U.S. government finally took concrete action. The administration blocked Chinese officials who carry out the repression from gaining visas to the U.S. The Commerce Department sanctioned Xinjiang’s Public Security Bureau, its subsidiaries and eight companies for their involvement in the persecution, detention and surveillance of the Chinese camps. China has used the camps as a testing ground for intrusive surveillance of the Uyghur.
Any of these things would not be possible if it were not for the power of the people, beginning with the leak of the China Cables and opensource research. Opensource research is the type of research that includes sources available to everyone on the internet. German academic Adrian Zenz followed this type of research by using a Chinese search engine, Baidu, to discover documents that proved the existence of these camps.
Shawn Zhang is another significant contributor, who is a law student that used satellite imagery to investigate the location and size of the camps. Both of their research has supplied evidence and images to news outlets. It has also helped disprove the Chinese government’s denial of the camps. One should never underestimate the importance of the power of the people. Zhang says: “During my research, I have felt a lot of pressure from the Chinese government (…) [but] I think it is worth it because there are so many Uighur people held there. They just totally vanished, they disappear, like going into a black hole. They’ve lost contact with their families. At least my research can help international society to pressure the Chinese government so there can be a better chance of a peaceful solution.”
The Save Uighur Campaign
There has also been an increase in coverage of this issue, particularly in social media, through the hashtag #SaveUyghur. It is essential to keep talking about this, so more people become aware, and those in power feel pressured to exercise change. Finally, there are also nonprofits such as The Save Uighur Campaign, where people can donate and contact Congress. This NGO’s mission is to help the Uyghur Muslims suffering from the Chinese re-education camps. In its own words, “The project is a concerted effort to tie media exposure, public relations, and government action together into a single strategy aimed at the liberation of the Uighurs from the oppression they face at the hands of the Chinese government.” It is prompting people to protest and giving them the resources to do so as well.
A popular way of protesting, which Save Uighur also promotes, is Fast From China. China bans Muslims from fasting, which is part of their religion. As a way of protest and an act of solidarity, people stop eating Chinese products during the month of Ramadan. There is even a hashtag for this, #FastFromChina.
The Save Uighur NGO does something fundamental by encouraging people to contact Congress, as this is where one can see the most tangible progress when fighting for this issue. Congress is considering two bills that support Uighur Muslims. The Senate has already passed one, while the House of Representatives is yet to pass the other one. One can find the tools to support it and contact leaders on the Save Uighur website.
Atrocities are happening in China, but people are doing some things about them. People can start taking action and changing the circumstances by informing themselves and contacting their leaders. Some fantastic ideas are already in motion to fight against these Chinese re-education camps, both from the government and the people. From discovering the China Cables to a hashtag, everything counts in this battle. Despite the negatives these camps represent, people can do remarkable things to help from wherever they are.
– Johanna Leo