We cannot let the persecution of Uighurs escalate

Uighur Protest

By Amber Kite

*Trigger Warning – this article contains mentions of sexual assault and violence*

“I would have done something.”

It is a drunken, slurred statement of bravado, and to his credit, one that the speaker probably believes. He refers, with an earnestness reserved only for those several pints in, to the concentration camps of 1940s Europe; the horrific internment, torture and systematic destruction of the Jewish population. According to him, no one with modern morals could have stood by, like those people back then. Who could go about their daily life, ignoring the steady disappearance of an entire group of people? Who could Keep Calm and Carry On when faced with such injustice?

As it turns out, in 2021, that is exactly what we are doing.

At the time of writing, the Chinese government has detained over three million Uighurs, a Turkic minority group that resides in the Xinjiang region of north-west China, in ‘re-education camps’. It is important to note that these camps are absolutely not concentration camps, because such institutions would represent substantial crimes against humanity, and China doesn’t do that. No, in a sinister attempt to redress the cries of concern surrounding their existence, they have been boldly marketed as “boarding schools, where the students eat and live for free,” which sounds positively delightful, and entirely unsuspicious.

These ‘schools’ employ several guards to keep their students safe and secure,  whilst also doling out fair and appropriate punishments for infractions such as looking staff in the eye, speaking to each other, or flinching when a fellow student is gang-raped in front of the class. Reportedly forced to rote-learn books on the history of China and the current president, the prisoners -ahem, students- are expected to recite entire passages from memory or face brutal punishment. Different coloured uniforms signal their academic prowess in this area, and in a fun twist, each colour corresponds to a degree of food restriction and starvation. Poor grades mean empty bellies. That would certainly solve the freshers 15, eh?

Perhaps you’re shocked to see this written in such a blasé fashion. Good. You should be. This is the attitude the international community seems to have taken. The lived experience of the Uighurs that have emerged from their ‘re-education’ is harrowing to read, yet I urge you to do so. Beatings, food restriction, torture via electrocution – all alleged crimes of a regime which uses the guise of antiterrorism to mask the alleged crimes of a regime which uses the guise of antiterrorism to mask the Chinese officials to dilute and destroy the bloodline.

Many women, some still in their teens, recall being handcuffed in dark rooms with masked men to be brutalized and assaulted. Multiple reports have surfaced of rape with electric cattle prods. Take a moment to let that sink in.

Here is the crux of the matter. The information is there. The world knows, and the world is waiting for someone else to act. At four thousand miles away, it is simply too far for many of us to care.

Would you have done something, on a cold, windy night in 1938, when your Jewish neighbour was dragged from their home and shoved in a truck? Would you have done something when your disabled friend disappeared in the night? What will it take for us to stand up and say enough? In this vile repetition of history, do they have to fire up the gas chambers before we draw the line in the sand?

Here’s what you can do:

Sign the petition – “China: Respect Uyghur Rights Before Hosting 2022 Olympics” asking the Olympic committee to stop Beijing hosting the Winter Olympics unless the camps are closed.

Write to your MP asking the government to act. Not sure what to write? Head to Amnesty International to find a free template.

Donate to help Uighurs fleeing to Turkey. Aid cannot be sent into China currently, but you can help the refugees that have left everything behind, many of whom have loved ones in the camps.

Use your voice, post about the issue on social media, spread the word, send the above actions to your friends and family.

“I would have done something.” This is an opportunity to prove it

This appeared in CG Issue 76