When we hear the word ‘genocide’, we tend to think of history, past violence and past genocides that have happened in countries through war. Most people don’t realize a genocide is currently happening in 2019—the Uyghur and East Turkistan Muslims are being held in Chinese concentration camps, says Mehmet Tohti, a Uyghur human rights activist. 

To understand the current situation, you need to know some things about the history of who the Uyghurs are.

Who Are They?

Separate from China, Uyghurs are Turkic Muslims who are from Central Asia, known as East Turkistan. They had independence during the 20th century, but in 1949 China took control of the region, renaming it Xinjiang. Xinjiang (East Turkistan) is located in the northwest region of China. It carries rich natural resources, such as oil, gas, and gold. During the month of October, also known as Islamic Heritage Month, the Islamic Institute of Toronto held an event bringing awareness to the Uyghur community. Tohti mentions in his presentation that about 11.3 million people are living in Eastern Turkistan. Unlike China, Uyghurs speak the Turkic languages which originated from East Asia, to Western China, to Mongolia. There are about 35 documented languages spoken by Turkic people, some being Afshar, Chulym, Dolgan, Gagauz, Karaim, Nogai, Tatar, Turkish Turkmen, and Uzbek.

Law Student Stands Up for Uyghur Human Rights

Shawn Zhang is a law student who came home every night to pull up a satellite image about 10,000 km away from him which showed the ‘re-education centres’. When looking at the image, he saw barbed-wire-topped fences that surrounded the re-education centres. Zhang mentions that the re-education centres are “part of China’s plan to gain full control over Xinjiang.” As he pursues this personal project, he is using his education in law to help him get into his passion for human rights. Taking it to the internet, he stands up and speaks about issues like this current genocide, calling out oppressors who violate human rights.

(Map of Camps)

Concentration Camps

How Are You Sent to Them?

You can be sent for many reasons. For example, you can be sent for being under the age of 45 and wearing a hijab, having WhatsApp, listening to the Quran, reading the Quran, and abstaining from alcohol. 

Government’s Takeover

In his presentation about Uyghur Muslims at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Tohti mentions that in the concentration camps, Muslims are forced to follow China’s laws and are restricted to follow the Uyghur traditions. Uyghur Muslims are restricted to speak their language, practice Islam, or send and receive money to and from abroad. China’s government has oppressed the residents of East Turkistan for many years, yet the last 3 years have been more aggressive, turning “oppression into genocide.” China’s government is wiping the ethnic group of Uyghurs to assimilate them into China and their practices.

The ‘Belt and Road’

As Muslims are being locked up and tortured in concentration camps, the President of China, Xi Jinping, has announced the Belt and Road Initiative, also known as the “21st century silk road” which is a project that involves improving structures and facilities along land corridors in more than 60 countries. This ‘road’ is essentially a new form of globalization and is set to be used to improve trades and global economy by connecting countries with infrastructure, transportation, imports and exports.

Now what does the Belt and Road Initiative (BRT) have to do with the genocide?

Well, the BRT routes includes having to pass through East Turkistan and since the Uyghurs have been living in East Turkistan for the last 4,000 years, it shows how these routes are now possible,  given that the Uyghurs are no longer occupying the space. By forcing Uyghurs into concentration camps, the Chinese government is erasing their presence, enabling China to claim their land and add it to the BRT route as if Uyghurs were never there.

Overall, this genocide has been ongoing for years and to this day, continues to happen. The oppression started long before concentration camps appeared and the fear within the Uyghur communities all around the world is increasing. The Chinese government is violating the basic human rights we all live by, and it needs to stop.


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