The text of Ms. Sawut’s speech at the June 20, 2019, conference in Seoul, The Long Arm of the Dragon, co-organized by Bitter Winter.
by Nurgul Sawut
Some of you may have seen an interview with Chinese Ambassador to UK Liu Xiaoming on June 13, on BBC’s Newsnight. He didn’t shy away from claiming that there is no such thing as “concentration camps” and mass detention of Uyghurs and other Muslim communities in Xinjiang region of China (aka East Turkestan). He even challenged the international community and especially the media on where they got the numbers of one million detainees being kept in numerous camps throughout Xinjiang.
Foreign Policy reported on June 15, 2019, that there was an international outcry over UN Counterterrorism Deputy Secretary Vladimir Voronkov’s visit to Xinjiang. The US, the UK, EU member states, and even high-ranking UN officials raised serious concerns over Mr. Voronkov’s decision to accept the invitation from China to visit Xinjiang. The concerns were twofold: First, Voronkov’s visit to China would validate China’s claim to be conducting counterterrorism in the far West of China and imply that it is OK to repress and carry out mass detention of millions of Muslims under the guise of eliminating extremism and terrorism. Second, his visit would also put the UN’s reputation and credibility at risk.
Information coming from inside Xinjiang revealed that local officials had started removing razor wire from the walls of schools, childcare centers and barricaded walls around government buildings. There was also speculation that the Chinese government would release people from the transformation through education camps and allow them to return home.
Let’s have a look at how this all started and whether such speculation has any basis in reality.
Who are Uyghurs, and where is East Turkestan? How did the mass detention of Uyghurs and other Muslim communities start?
Uyghurs are a Turkic-language speaking people living in their ancestral homeland in East Turkestan. It was renamed Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in October 1955, soon after Chinese annexation in 1949, which had also taken in southern Mongolia and Tibet. East Turkestan borders China and Mongolia to the east, Russia to the north, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India to the west and southwest, and Tibet to the south. The landmass of East Turkestan is bigger than the whole of Western Europe. Its colonial name “Xinjiang” means “new territory” or “new frontier.” Although China officially designated East Turkestan as an Uyghur autonomous region in 1955, in reality, it has never become truly autonomous under the People’s Republic of China (PRC) regime. After the 2010 census, the Chinese government put the number of Uyghurs in East Turkestan at 10 million, but some Uyghur sources say that the real population of Uyghurs is around 20 million. Wikipedia reports that it is 11.3 million.
The systematic assimilation of the Uyghurs as part of the Chinese government’s national strategy has been going on for a long time, but it intensified firstly after the massacre of July 5, 2009, that took place in Urumqi, the capital of East Turkestan, and then even more when Chen Quanguo took office as Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Secretary in Xinjiang. It is worthwhile to put the facts together and examine the nature of the current crisis in the region. Should it simply be called “ethnic cleansing,” or something else?
Fact 1: Uyghurs and other Turkic communities of the diaspora are unable to contact their relatives in their homeland of East Turkestan.
There is mounting evidence out there about how contacts between the Uyghurs in East Turkestan and those living abroad have been cut off. Local officials have turned East Turkestan into a police state, and the whole region has become an open-air prison under an intensive surveillance system. We have over 5,000 Uyghurs and over 1,000 other Turkic Muslim people living in Australia. They are no exception to this curtailing of contact. Many members of their families are missing back in East Turkestan.
Fact 2: More than three million Uyghurs are illegally detained in concentration camps; more are held in detention and the prison systems.
Uyghurs and other members of the Turkic Muslim community have experienced unprecedented mass arbitrary detention for “re-education.” Both Human Rights Watch and the UN Commission on Human Rights, in particular, the current High Commissioner Michelle Bachelette, stated in August 2018, that more than one million Uyghurs and other Muslims were held in camps without any judicial procedure. By May 2019, Senator Chris Smith was claiming that there are more than 3 million people in the so-called “re-education” camps.
The definition of the camps has changed drastically in less than a year. On April 2017, media outlets and UN officials were calling them “internment camps.” In August 2018, the CCP officials were calling them “re-education camps.” By October 2018, Chinese officials were calling them vocational training centers. Then, on 28 January 2019, Senator Menendez of the US Congress said they were nothing other than concentration camps.
Chen Quanguo was promoted to Communist Party Secretary of Xinjiang in August 2016, after subduing another heavily oppressed region – Tibet. Upon assuming the post, Chen initiated a series of unprecedented repressive measures against the Uyghur people, including ideological purges of so-called “two-faced” Uyghur officials as well as Uyghurs who have earned high-respect and/or have strong influence in their own professional fields or careers (the term “two-faced” is used by the regime to describe Uyghurs who do not willingly follow directives and exhibit signs of “disloyalty”). Chen’s regime is now treating all Uyghurs as criminals, and all Uyghurs with religious faith as terrorists. In the last two years, he has arrested tens of thousands of Uyghurs, mostly men of the ages of 18-50. As a result, massive numbers of women have become “widows,” and similarly massive numbers of children have become “orphans.”
Fact 3: Elimination of Uyghur intellectuals.
On 21 May 2019, the Uyghur Human Rights Project reported that at least 435 Uyghur and other Turkic intellectuals had been arrested and taken to various camps in East Turkestan since April 2017. This number consists of 125 students; 77 university instructors; 58 journalists, editors, and publishers; 47 poets, writers, and scholars; 30 high school and middle school teachers; 29 actors, directors, hosts, and singers; 22 medical researchers and doctors; 15 computer engineers; 4 photographers and painters; and 28 others. Of these intellectuals, as of today, 50 individuals have died in custody or shortly after their release.
Fact 4: Large numbers of Uyghur children have been transferred to state-run orphanages.
There is enough evidence to show that nearly half a million Uyghur and other Turkic Muslim children are in state-run orphanages after one or both parents have been taken into the camps. Some older children are even transferred to secondary or high schools in inner China provinces. Those children’s names are changed to Han Chinese names and their identities transformed. Some orphanages even open up regular adoption ceremonies and let Han families adopt Uyghur children. By separating families by force, men from women and children from their parents, the Chinese authorities have achieved a rootless Uyghur society. It started from individual families and expanded to whole communities in urban and regional areas. The Chinese authorities have left no stone unturned.
Fact 5: Linguistic and educational destruction.
Even in Uyghur language schools, Uyghur language is no longer taught. The Chinese authorities have taken a gradual approach. Back in early 2000, the government encouraged Uyghur and other Turkic families to send their children to inner China for their secondary school study. This was represented as a privilege for economically and socially disadvantaged families and their children. Apart from the imperative to provide a high-caliber education to economically disadvantaged students, the Xinjiang Class boarding school program has an overt, and superordinate, political mission to promote ethnic unity and Chinese nationalism.
Gradually, Uyghur schools were asked to teach all major subjects in Mandarin. Uyghur language has become a minor subject, and students can decide not to take it. By 2016, the Uyghur language was completely banned inside every school in East Turkestan, and no one was allowed to speak the language in any public arena. Anyone found using the Uyghur language at school is more likely to be punished, and even sent to a “re-education” camp for political indoctrination. This includes their parents too.
In the local schools, the teaching of Han culture and generating new identities for those Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim children has become part of the new human engineering process. As a result, Uyghur children are forced to accept their new Han identity. It is a new Chinese form of doctrinaire and ultra-nationalist education. They call it a “formation and naturalization process.” Everyone must look, speak, and eat the same.
Fact 6: Tens of thousands of Uyghurs have gone missing.
There is a long history of missing Uyghur young people in East Turkestan. Immediately after the July 5 massacre, countless numbers of young males aged between 18 and 35 were taken by the police. Parents are still looking for those missing children, and no one knows where they are now.
Since arbitrary mass detentions started in 2016, thousands of Uyghurs, especially males aged 18 to 50, have disappeared from the streets and are taken from their homes in East Turkestan. Quite often, Uyghurs abroad are looking for their disappeared relatives or family members. They are the only ones who can raise awareness of those missing Uyghur people. None of their family members inside China can question the government or even ask the whereabouts of their family members. Thousands of people have given evidence internationally, and three websites, all managed by volunteers, have been set up to record missing people: www.izdeymiz.org; https://shait.boz/eng/ and the missing people reporting platform on www.uigurene.no. Nearly ten thousand people have approached those three sites and registered their missing family members and friends.
Fact 6: China’s weapons of mass surveillance.
China has spent 50 billion RMB (nearly $ 7,3 million) to complete its mass surveillance system inside East Turkestan, turning it into the most-watched region. They have been monitoring people via face recognition and by creating comprehensive DNA-based digital IDs. China has been using artificial intelligence technology to identify people by scanning their eyes and faces. Some of those data were found and leaked by Norwegian IT specialists. The surveillance system has covered the camps, detention centers, prisons, schools, streets, shopping centers, personal ID, and cars, too. Even in village-level neighborhoods, checkpoints and surveillance cameras are installed at the entrance to every household. Nothing can escape China’s unique and oppressive digital monitoring system. China also introduced a digital social credit system in 2017, but the majority of Uyghurs are not eligible or unable to get sufficient credit.
Fact 7: Collection of DNA of all Uyghurs.
Various media sources in 2017 reported that the government in East Turkestan had spent more than ten million dollars on the purchase of twelve DNA sequencers used to test and analyze DNA samples. Some of them are “next-generation” sequencers, which can be used to determine ancestry, eye color, and other physical characteristics from genetic samples. Several biologists have estimated that, if utilized at full capacity, the new equipment could be used to profile up to 10,000 DNA samples a day and several million a year.
Fact 8: Religious persecution of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims.
Basic features of Uyghur culture which carry an Islamic religious flavor are banned inside China. People no longer greet each other by saying “Assalamu alaykum” – peace be upon you. The local Chinese authorities have also sped up the demolition of mosques in East Turkestan: nearly half of the estimated 24 thousand mosques in different parts of the region have been demolished. Only very few were kept as functioning mosques for a showcase. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) is carrying out extensive research on and recording of demolished and destroyed mosques and religious sites, such as shrines in East Turkestan. The oldest mosque to be demolished so far is the 800-year old Keriya Aitika Mosque, destroyed in early 2018. It was built in 1237 and later categorized as Chinese Architectural Heritage in late 2017.
The Chinese authorities are convinced that the religious belief of the Uyghurs is one of the main obstacles to assimilating them, and have thus now openly launched an anti-religion campaign against the Uyghur people in East Turkestan. This campaign has reached the highest level seen since the Cultural Revolution.
Presently in East Turkestan:
- Inside China’s Nazi-style concentration camps, Uyghurs, and other Turkic Muslim communities are forced to give up their religious beliefs, other than those who are in the detention centers and attend neighborhood-based daily indoctrination activities.
- Uyghurs are not allowed to say some Islamic religious words such as “Allah” and “Assalamu alaykum” anymore in their everyday living.
- Most community mosques are being demolished or turned into entertainment facilities.
- Traditional customs like the naming of children, Islamic marriage ceremonies, and funerals are prohibited. Uyghur government employees are being forced to sign for cremation instead of Islamic burial when they die.
- Some Uyghur girls are forced to marry Han Chinese men by an arrangement of the Chinese authorities. It is seen as their loyalty to the CCP.
- Han Chinese men are installed in Uyghur homes whose male family members have been detained.
- Islamic outfit and beards are forbidden as a sign of extremism.
- The usage of “Halal” labeling for food products has been criminalized.
- The Uyghurs and other Muslim communities are forced to eat pork in order to show their loyalty to the Chinese government.
- Islamic books, including the Holy Quran as well as prayer mats, are confiscated and burned. Praying and fasting are banned.
- The Chinese national flag and portraits of Xi Jinping are placed in mosques and every Muslim household.
Fact 9: Cultural genocide against Uyghurs.
After the CCP invasion of East Turkestan in 1949, the CCP has launched a series of systematic cultural assimilation and genocide policies targeting the Uyghur population. The goal is to prevent the Uyghur people from rebelling against the CCP regime.
The implementation pace, scope, and strength of such brutal policies have peaked in recent years, and have wreaked the Uyghur culture and caused severe damages on following areas:
(1) The destruction of the Uyghur language: In the past 60 years, the CCP has modified the Uyghur alphabet three times and has completely banned it in schools and workplaces. The Uyghur language is to be removed from all public arenas, including names of schools and government departments. Uyghur businesses are no exception, and they have been ordered to stop using the Uyghur language in all forms of transaction and communication.
(2) The strict control of the Uyghur language publications is implemented the same as back in the Cultural Revolution period: burning Uyghur language books is another way the Chinese authorities are erasing Uyghur literary culture from every household. According to a report by ChinaAid on April 2, 2018, the Chinese government started confiscating and burning Uyghur-language books in various parts of East Turkestan. The regime ordered the Uyghur students and their parents to bring the Uyghur-language books from their houses and warned them that they would be arrested if any books found when their homes are searched.
(3) Sending Uyghur intellectuals to concentration camps and trying to make them loyal to the CCP: they even organize intellectuals to visit CCP’s revolutionary sites, ask them to write confessions of guilt for not praising the Communist Party enough, and order them to show their gratitude to the CCP.
(4) The banning of traditional Uyghur attire: the Chinese government has made it illegal for Uyghurs to wear their traditional dress in workplaces and schools. Uyghur children are encouraged to dress up in traditional Han Chinese costumes for school, especially for official performances. Furthermore, following the enforcement of China’s anti-terror law in 2016, the government came up with strict regulations regarding dress codes of Uyghur men and women, prohibiting long dresses and outfits.
(5) Halal foods are banned along with the Uyghur food culture. The Chinese government has criminalized the use of “halal” labeling in East Turkestan and prohibited the use of such differentiation in the food and drinks sector since 2017 in the name of the “war against terror.” They merged previously separate canteens and cafeterias in schools and workplaces to encourage Han Chinese and Uyghurs and other Muslim people to eat together. The Chinese authorities call this the “unification of their good citizens.” Shops and restaurants owned by Uyghurs, who previously did not sell alcohol and cigarettes, were forcefully closed or fined. Their owners were sent to re-education camps or sentenced to jail terms, even though they did not commit any crimes.
(6) Chinese government destruction of the cultures of Uyghurs and other Muslim communities have extended to the core of Uyghur social fabric – the family unit: they send their CCP and government official cadets to each Muslim family to establish “family unity.” This is called the “becoming a family” or “home-stay” campaign in the Uyghur populated areas. The aim of such campaign is described as ”helping Uyghurs to improve their lives and to improve understanding between the Han and Uyghurs.” Most importantly, Han officials have to keep a close eye on and make records of their “Uyghur relatives’” political views as well as all their activities inside their own homes.
(7) The demolishing of Uyghur historical buildings. The Chinese government has destroyed many thousand-year-old historical buildings in the Uyghur cities of Kashgar, Hotan, Kucha, and many more to erase the Uyghur history, and have tried to minimize their importance among the Uyghurs. Many Uyghur families were forced to move from urban centers to the villages with little or no compensation. In this way, many Uyghur communities have become scattered and disconnected from one another and their ancestors. Also, some traditional Chinese style tombs and buildings are being built in many cities intentionally to show tourists that these Uyghur areas have been integral parts of China for a very long time.
Fact 10: Forced intermarriage between Uyghur women and Han men.
It is a known fact that Uyghurs are encouraged to marry Han Chinese. The benefits of such intermarriage, including financial assistance to build homes for the couples, children’s education, and future job opportunities, are being widely publicized. It also became one of the Han migration police for local authorities for luring more single Han men to immigrate to East Turkestan. Therefore, forced intermarriage is also seen as one of the Chinese government’s assimilation policies toward Uyghurs.
Fact 11: Organ harvesting from Uyghur detainees.
Uyghurs make up 1.5% of the total population of China (China considers the Uyghur population to be 0.755% of the total population based on their 2010 census), yet 25% of all prisoners in China are Uyghurs, excluding those millions held in transformation through education camps.
The Uyghur people have been the victims of state-sponsored criminal policies carried out by the Chinese government for many decades. We have exposed some of the inhumane crimes of the Chinese government committed against the Uyghurs in East Turkestan in many ways, such as video evidence on Youtube, talking to the media and writing petitions to the Western governments. In one of those petitions, we are exposing one of the most heinous crimes of the Chinese government, namely, organ harvesting from the Uyghur people.
Popular Chinese site Sina predicted in December 2017 that China would become the world’s number one organ transplant country by 2020. When compared to the United States, which has a large number of organ donors, one can’t help but wonder how China, with such a low number of donors, can become the world’s top-ranking country for organ transplants in such a short time? Are they saying it with such confidence because they consider the latest estimated three million Uyghurs detained in China’s Nazi-style concentration camps in East Turkestan as the sources for their organ harvesting?
Many reports have been published on the Chinese government’s collection of biological samples such as blood from the whole Uyghur population without informed consent, and its mandatory “physical checkups” and taking samples for the entire Uyghur population between the ages of 12 and 65 since 2016. One can’t help but speculate about the connections between these events and the hidden truth behind them.
Fact 12: Economic destruction and mass arrest of Uyghur elites.
The socio-economic life of Uyghurs has faced further catastrophic destruction after the execution of the Chinese government’s plan to incarcerate millions of Uyghurs in Nazi-style concentration camps in April 2017. Now, making a financial transaction with China is impossible not only for Uyghur traders and businessmen overseas but also for Uyghur students abroad. Passports for all Uyghurs have been confiscated by the Chinese authorities and millions of Uyghur people, mostly from the private sectors, have been sent to camps. The Chinese government has also arrested every elite businessman, philanthropists, and persons with social influence. These individuals have used their own assets and were willing to invest in local economies as well as the communities. Some of them are openly given death sentences.
Numerous Uyghur entrepreneurs currently living abroad have claimed that the Chinese authorities had frozen their bank accounts and assets since 2017. They have also lost their business contacts and ownership of their assets inside China since then. The current estimate of economic capacity and living standards of Uyghur communities inside East Turkestan puts them at the same level as far back as the mid-1990s. Basically, the economic stepping stones for Uyghur entrepreneurs have been taken away and erased too.
Fact 13: Many international companies are tangled up in the webs of Chinese business evolved around free labors supplied by the detention and camps.
Reports show that international companies like Coca-Cola, Adidas, AG, Hennes & Mauritz AB, Kraft-Heinz, and Gap Inc. have supply chains in China, especially in East Turkestan. The Huafu Fashion Company near Aqsu is the largest cotton mill, and it supplies grey yarn to H&M Fashion.
Other than that, Chinese IT companies have taken a leading role, especially in the establishment of mass surveillance systems. These companies are Hikvision supplies of surveillance devices to Xinjiang, especially camps; Tencent supplies all surveillance apps and software; Dahua supplies surveillance devices to Xinjiang, especially camps; Dell has built a smart city in Shihezi. United Technologies, Cisco, Oracle (data management), Western Digital, Emersen and Intel are amongst those IT companies, who have gained generous profits from their engagement with the local authorities’ business of establishing mass surveillance system in both northern and southern of Xinjiang.
There is also speculation on funds flowing into East Turkestan. China had to borrow from international financial markets in order to build and sustain its sudden expansion of the camp facilities and the mass surveillance system inside and outside the camps. Online petition and alerts were sent out not long ago, asking everyone to check their superannuation. To make sure that it is not invested in the CCP’s oppressive regime and supported their heinous crimes, including the building of mega-size camps with the capacity large enough to hold 150,000 people.
Fact 14: Uyghurs are nothing but obstacles to the BRI, China’s Marshal Plan.
If China wants the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to succeed, it must remove the obstacle – Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples inhabiting East Turkestan. China needs to resolve this problem once and for all and has to create a secure pathway for themselves to gain access to Europe and the rest of the world. Three out of four BRI routes go through East Turkestan. China doesn’t want to see any disturbances, and the safety of those paths have to be guaranteed.
In conclusion, the establishment of large gulag-style camps and the mass detention of the Muslim population in East Turkestan should not be seen merely as ethnic and cultural genocide or cleansing. It is a systemic genocide. It has the features of being well-planned in advance, the theory is well researched, backed up with historical fact-based evidence, and it is well executed too. The Chinese government sees it as their final solution, whatever that means. Mass detention of millions of people is seen as the solution, based on their real-life practice. Therefore, China has established the largest camps in the world and had locked up more than three million people for “re-education.” Uyghurs are 1.5% of the total population of China, yet nearly 30% of this population are either in the camps or in prisons. This means that almost all working age adults are in the camps, detention centers, and prisons. On the micro level, this has destroyed the peacefulness of every household and caused psychological trauma on a mass scale, apart from the physical torture that people are going through. On a macro level, almost the entire population is exposed to indoctrination. Internationally, the waves of CCP’s mass detention and the psycho-social war against its Muslim population can be felt in the world economy, regional politics and the even geo-politics, safety and stability of South Sea and Pacific regions.
Nurgul Sawut is Director of the Board of the Oceania Region of the Campaign for Uyghurs and Director of Government Relations and Policy Outreach for Australian Uyghur Association. She is an Australian Uyghur who has been threatened by the Chinese government for her activism. At least 12 members of her family have been taken to camps in Xinjiang or disappeared. Ms. Sawut extensively works with governmental, no-for-profit, research organization as well as academics in Australia to raise awareness on the systemic genocide of Uyghurs and other Turkic ethnic groups in East Turkestan. In July 2017, she has kick-started #ClosetheCamps. Ms. Sawut is also a clinical social worker. She runs Uyghur community’s mental health and wellbeing program.