Uyghurs, Opportunistic Oppression, Terrorism, and Chinese Propaganda in the 21st Century

China is once again proving its communist-run government is oppressive and dictatorial. According to the Associated Press (AP), “A young Chinese woman says she was held for eight days at a Chinese-run secret detention facility in Dubai along with at least two Uyghurs, in what may be the first evidence that China is operating a so-called ‘black site’ beyond its borders.”
Now seeking asylum in the Netherlands, 26-year-old Wu Huan, who as reported by the AP “was on the run to avoid extradition back to China because her fiancé was considered a Chinese dissident,” claims she was “abducted from a hotel in Dubai and detained by Chinese officials at a villa converted into a jail, where she saw or heard two other prisoners, both Uyghurs.” 

In reality, Huan is just one example of the egregious violations of human rights the Chinese government has perpetrated on its citizens, especially Uyghurs, who are “a Muslim ethnic group living primarily in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in the far northwest of the People’s Republic of China (PRC)” according to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). The CRS report found that “Since an outbreak of Uyghur demonstrations and ethnic unrest in 2009, and sporadic clashes involving Uyghurs and Xinjiang security personnel that spiked between 2013 and 2015, PRC leaders have carried out large-scale criminal arrests and intensive security measures in the XUAR, aimed at combatting ‘terrorism, separatism and religious extremism.'”

Map of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

The oppressive measures are part and parcel of a systemic operation to silence minority voices, quash political dissent, and use the weight of the Chinese police state to control anyone who might even consider speaking out about the miscarriages of injustice that are seemingly a daily occurrence in the PCR. As the Council of Foreign Relations points out, “Some eight hundred thousand to two million Uyghurs and other Muslims, including ethnic Kazakhs and Uzbeks, have been detained since April 2017, according to experts and government officials [PDF]. Outside of the camps, the eleven million Uyghurs living in Xinjiang have continued to suffer from a decades-long crackdown by Chinese authorities.”

And any claim by the Chinese government is questionable, if not a bald-faced lie given the following pronouncement about Uyghurs from Maisumujiang Maimuer, Chinese religious affairs official, on August 10, 2017, on a Xinhua Weibo page: “Break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections, and break their origins. Completely shovel up the roots of ‘two-faced people,’ dig them out, and vow to fight these two-faced people until the end.” As reported by Human rights Watch (HRW), the “Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Terrorism” shows “. . . that the Chinese government has committed—and continues to commit—crimes against humanity against the Turkic Muslim population.”

Specifically, the HRW report states “A leaked internal official document adds to these conflicting narratives, repeatedly referring to the detainees as being ‘punished’. And Chen Quanguo [the Xinjiang Communist Party secretary] has been quoted as directing that the centers ‘teach like a school, be managed like the military, and be defended like a prison.’ To this end, in accordance with Party directives, these facilities are surrounded by perimeter walls, guard watchtowers, and armed guards in order to ‘prevent escapes.’”

Sadly, even being separated by an ocean and a continent does not provide safety for those who have fled China as a response to the myriad of human rights violations, as Huan found out. However, Huan’s overseas retribution, frighteningly, is not an isolated incident.

As Amnesty International states, “To silence and suppress the activities of Uyghurs living abroad, local authorities in Xinjiang reportedly targeted their relatives there. Numerous Uyghurs residing overseas were contacted by Chinese security agents via messaging apps and asked to provide information, such as ID numbers, locations of residence, passport photos and ID information of their spouses. Others reportedly received repeated calls from security police asking them to gather information about and spy on others in overseas Uyghur communities.” 

As justification for their continued tyranny against the Uyghurs and other like-minded groups, the Chinese government has intentionally linked them to the “East Turkestan Islamic Movement” (ETIM), which the CRS states the Chinese government “portrays as a Uyghur separatist and terrorist group with ties to global terrorist organizations.” Unfortunately, there may be some truth to this, making it a dangerous weapon of propaganda. Although in his waning days President Donald Trump removed ETIM from the United States terrorist list, this organization had been previously targeted by the U.S. Government. As reported by MintPress News (MPN), an independent watchdog journalism group: 

“In 2018, Major General James Hecker, the commander of NATO Air Command-Afghanistan, gave a press conference in which he noted that not only was ETIM real but they were working hand in hand with the Taliban and boasted that his forces were destroying their training bases, thereby reducing their terrorist activities both in the Afghanistan/Pakistan/China border region and inside China itself.” 

MPN indicates there is a long-standing historical component to the tensions between Uyghurs and the Chinese government: 

“In 2009, tensions between Uyghurs and ethnic Han Chinese spilled over into deadly riots in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi, where nearly 200 people, mostly Han, were killed. As a result of the unrest, Beijing ordered a massive increase in surveillance and security across the region, flooding the province with cameras, armed police, and spies. To this day, it retains an extremely high-security presence.”

However, it is no so clear-cut that Uyghurs are guilty by association, thereby justifying the level of force used by the PRC. In reality, the vast majority of Uyghurs are caught in the middle of two forces at odds. As MPN frames it, “ . . .the large majority of those killed by ETIM around the world have been non-Salafist Muslims, and considering ETIM to be representatives of the Uyghur population as a whole would be extremely misleading. In fact, the Uyghurs of Xinjiang have been caught in the crossfire between the ETIM and the Chinese government. To this day, the Afghan government also considers the group to be a serious threat to peace and security in Afghanistan.”

The bottom line is that although there may be some association between ETIM and the Uyghur’s struggle for full rights in China, it’s preposterous to assume that upwards of 2 million people have been so radicalized that they are justifiable targets of systemic oppression and widespread obliteration of human rights. As Yehan, a pseudonym for an exiled Uyghur writer now puts it so eloquently, “This doesn’t stop Uyghur independence from being a legitimate cause. . . Sadly, the blue flag and the term “East Turkistan” instantly delegitimize any message they accompany, even for the most decent, compassionate people who might otherwise be appalled by what’s happening inside their beautiful country.”



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