American human rights activists recently criticized the forced detention of over a million people in re-education camps in the Uyghur Autonomous Region in Xinjiang, China. Uyghurs living in Japan also worry about the safety of their families back home.
International concern over the oppression of Muslim minorities, such as Uyghurs in China, is on the rise, particularly since a meeting of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination held in Geneva, Switzerland in August.
Examination on Cause of Death Not Allowed
“Some men came to get my younger brother. They said, ‘It’s just an educational facility. You’ll be home in a month,’ then took him away.”
Zaituna (not her real name) is a Uyghur woman in her 40s living in the Kanto area. In September 2017 she received news that her younger brother in Xinjiang had been taken away to a re-education camp. He did not come home after the month passed, and her mother’s inquiries with the police got nothing but “we don’t know” responses.
Then, after eight months, the police suddenly contacted her mother to inform her that her son had “died of heart disease.”
“My mother kept calling and calling the police, crying, ’Why did you take him away? What crime did he commit?’ But the police never answered,” said Zaituna with tears in her eyes.
The family was not allowed to claim her brother’s body nor was a medical examination to determine cause of death allowed.
According to Ilham Mahmut, 49, president of the Japan Uyghur Association, it is not just Uyghurs who are being detained, but also other Islamic minorities in Xinjiang, such as Kazaks and Huis.
Mahmut said that detainees include not only those suspected of harboring Islamic extremist ideologies or separatist ideologies. The Chinese also detain persons engaging in Islamic prayer practices, those who have traveled overseas and those with relatives living overseas.
Zaituna believes that her brother’s attendance at weekly Friday prayer services, considered very important for Muslims, was the reason for his detention.
Forced to Memorize Communist Ideology
In an interview with a former re-education camp detainee, the Washington Post reported that detainees are forced to memorize Chinese communist ideology. If they fail to do so, punishments include withholding of meals or being forbidden to sleep or even to sit down.
Daily lessons include singing songs that praise President Xi Jinping.
Those who break the rules suffer cruel treatment, such as water torture and being bound and forced to stand for long periods of time.
The quality of meals is very poor. Detainees are forced to consume pork and alcohol, both prohibited in Islam.
What Is the Purpose of This Crackdown?
Ilham points out that the Xi administration’s plan for a giant economic sphere, the “One Belt One Road” initiative, is a reason for this crackdown. Xinjiang is considered to be an important strongpoint for President Xi’s One Belt One Road initiative and stability in the region is crucial to its success.
However, frequent raids and disturbances carried out by Uyghur groups dissatisfied with the Chinese authorities have made that difficult. In 2009, riots between the Uyghurs and Hans broke out on a massive scale in the capital city of Urumqi.
According to the state-run Xinhua News Agency, on August 13, China denied the existence of re-education camps, saying reports were “completely untrue.” But prior to this statement, U.S. members of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination voiced criticism, citing numerous reports indicating the existence of large-scale secret detention facilities in Xinjiang.
A Uyghur exchange student in Japan reports that her parents, who had already reached retirement age and were enjoying a quiet life in their 60s, were taken away to a re-education camp.
“It’s because I’m studying in Japan,” she said. The exchange student has no idea what has become of her parents and prays that they will return home safe one day soon.
The nephew and female cousin of a Uyghur man, who has lived in Japan for last 17 years, were also taken away. This man claims that one reason for their detention involved his nephew’s overseas study experience. Another was that his cousin wore a veil, often worn by Muslim women to cover their heads according to religious protocol, for example, when attending a relative’s funeral.
‘I Can Never Go Back’
Not wanting to incur the displeasure of the authorities, Uyghurs in Xinjiang no longer want to keep in touch with relatives overseas. Meanwhile, Uyghurs living overseas have no way of knowing how their families are faring or if they are safe.
Zaituna has obtained Japanese nationality and has been told by relatives that she should “never come back to Xinjiang.” She has had to come to terms with the fact that she cannot see her mother nor visit her father’s grave.
Zaituna pleaded: “I was always proud of my homeland of China. I loved China. I no longer have a bit of that feeling now. The Chinese authorities’ actions against Uyghurs will not solve anything. They’ll only bring about hatred.”
Author: The Sankei Shimbun
(Click here to read the original article in Japanese.)