FJA Shortlist 2021

Category: Outstanding Contribution to Peace

Author: Marga Zambrana (Spain)

Uyghur Refugees Speak Out Against Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity

Equal Times, Belgium - November 18, 2020

The original publication is available via the following link: 

If the Uyghurs had a Richard Gere to give voice to their suffering their cause would be as well-known as that of the Tibetans. But while the Uyghurs face genocide on an equal scale at the hands of the Communist Party of China (CPC), no international celebrity has followed in Gere’s footsteps to become a spokesperson for the Turkic minority group.

Tens of thousands of Uyghurs have fled China in recent years since President Xi Jinping initiated a two-pronged policy of subjugation and assimilation in which Uyghurs are detained in mass in re-education camps or uprooted and sent to work outside of what is known as China’s autonomous Xinjiang region, in the country’s north-west, where the majority of Uyghurs live. Research by international media such as The New York Times and academic documents indicate that up to one million Uyghurs are currently imprisoned in these indoctrination camps. The suppression of their culture, language and places of worship is evident in the autonomous region. According to Beijing, the aim of these policies is to combat separatism, radical Islamism and terrorism.

While a certain number of radicalised Uyghurs have crossed Turkey’s borders to join the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) in Syria, Chinese authorities have used this fact to place the entire ethnic group under suspicion using a nebulous concept of terrorism that is far from the United Nation’s definition.

The majority of the world’s estimated 20 million Uyghurs practice Sufism, a mystical or esoteric strand of Islam, and their way of life is essentially secular. They speak a Turkic language still written using the Arabic alphabet. Thought to be one of the earliest inhabitants of the Tarim Basin, China’s natural border with Central Asia, the declining Uyghur population there now comprises less than half of the 20 million residents of Xinjiang (East Turkestan to the Uyghurs). Other large communities of Uyghurs can be found in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, while the rest have recently migrated to Turkey, Europe and the Americas as refugees.

Unlike other Muslims in China, Uyghurs have a deeply rooted and unique cultural identity. After the fall of China’s last imperial dynasty, the Qing dynasty, they created an independent state that lasted from 1933 to 1949 and ended in occupation by Maoist China, which marked the beginning of their present ordeal. During the Cultural Revolution, Uyghurs were subject to economic neglect and repression and prevented from practicing their cultural traditions. In order to placate their pro-independence sentiments, Beijing came up with an economic development plan and facilitated the arrival of settlers of the Han Chinese ethnic majority.

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