For decades China has sought to suppress Islam in Xinjiang, the largest resource-rich region in the country. The population is majority Uighur, about 12 million, with their religion and resistance to Chinese rule long making Beijing uncomfortable.
The unprecedented human rights violations that have resulted in millions of Uighur Muslims being detained in internment camps is harrowing. Constituting just 1.5% of China's population, the Uighur accounted for more than 20% of arrests last year, according to data compiled by Chinese Human Rights Defenders.
Which nation, which government, which authority or leader in the Muslim world will stand up for the Uighur Muslims? It is not only about denouncing the oppression and discrimination against Uighur Muslims in China but it is a moral responsibility to hold Chinese authorities accountable for the ill-treatment of Muslims in the region.
Conditions have deteriorated since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012. There is a marked increase in police monitoring, with stations at every 200 to 300 metres in the city, facial recognition cameras and the government is building new camps.
More than a million people are being held in so-called counter-extremism centres and another 2 million had been forced into "re-education camps." None of them, she said, had been afforded the opportunity to challenge the legality of their detention.
The Chinese authorities have continued to implement its brutal crackdown in Xinjiang as Uighur Muslims are being made to denounce their faith and embrace the Chinese Communist Party. Many mosques in Xinjiang remain empty, fasting during Ramadan and Islamic education are heavily restricted and banned and Islamophobia is being spread by authorities to gain support.
China’s political and economic power should not be the reason for any government or authority to remain deafeningly silent in the wake of injustice against its own brothers and sisters. When the world denounces the persecution of Muslims in Palestine and the Rohingya where is a statement to condemn the treatment of Uighur Muslims in China? According to a report from the Guardian, James A Millward, a scholar who has researched Xinjiang for three decades argued that the “state repression in Xinjiang has never been as severe as it has been since early 2017.”
What would it take for a head of state in the Muslim world to challenge Chinese President Xi Jinping on the condition of the Uighur Muslims? Is getting an investment from China a reason to sell out millions of innocent Uighur Muslims who fear for their lives? Frustratingly, countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia have been deporting Uighurs who managed to escape China. The struggle of the Uighurs has been one that has a long history of deliberate discrimination from the Chinese government. Beijing first issued a “warning” by submitting documents to the UN describing the East Turkestan Islamic Movement as a terrorist organisation. The crackdown on Uighur Muslims then began and heightened to the extent that today almost a million Uighurs remain in counter-extremism centres.
According to a report by Amnesty International, Buzainafu Abudourxiti, a Uighur woman returned to China in 2015 after studying for two years in Egypt, was detained in March and sentenced in June to seven years imprisonment after a secret trial. In August, international media reported that education authorities had issued an order in June in the Uighur-populated Hotan Prefecture to ban the use of the Uighur language in schools, including for “collective activities, public activities and management work of the education system”. Media reports stated that families across the region were required to hand copies of the Qur’an and any other religious items to the authorities or risk punishment.
Despite the awareness of the persecution of Uighurs rapidly growing around the world there still remains little pressure on governments to speak up and take action against the Chinese authorities.
China has become a key trading hug on a global scale, which is part of the heartbreaking reason why silence is prevailing over injustice. The lack of support from Muslim-majority nations is alarming. Countries like Pakistan are just kowtowing to China and this is another reason why the persecution continues.
But for how long can countries, including South Africa, continue to remain silent?