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Surveillance, Torture, and Death: China’s Mission to Eliminate Uighur Identity

“They wouldn't let me sleep, they would hang me up for hours and would beat me. They had thick wooden and rubber batons, whips made from twisted wire, needles to pierce the skin, pliers for pulling out the nails. All these tools were displayed on the table in front of me, ready to use at any time. And I could hear other people screaming as well."

Omir is just one of an estimated 1 million Uighurs detained in prisons, or essentially concentration camps, where they undergo so-called “re-education.” The Chinese government’s mission in the Xinjiang province, home to over 10 million Uighurs, is not simply re-education; it is a calculated effort to wipe out the Muslim culture and identity of millions of Uighurs in the name of counter-terrorism. Xi Jinping carefully cut media and internet access in Xinjiang so that the world fails to notice such atrocities; however, in light of recent news surrounding the Uighurs, the world has now willingly turned a blind eye to Uighur internment in favor of their economic ties to the region.

Ever since riots broke out in 2009 protesting murders of Uighurs in Southern China, the Chinese government has expanded surveillance and heightened security measures in order to crackdown on Uighurs in Xinjiang. The government currently operates on the belief that Uighur Muslims inherently possess a greater propensity for violence and terrorism simply due to the fact that they are Muslim. Consequently, the government has targeted this community through implementing “all-encompassing monitoring based on identity cards, checkpoints, facial recognition and the collection of DNA from millions of individuals. The authorities feed all this data into an artificial-intelligence machine that rates people’s loyalty to the Communist Party in order to control every aspect of their lives.”

Xinjiang itself is a strategic region for the Chinese; it is home to much of the oil and gas production in the country and serves as an integral location for the One Belt One Road Initiative connecting the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia with China in what is essentially a Silk Road revival. Currently, Xinjiang is autonomous and Uighurs have, up until recently, enjoyed their autonomy for nearly 70 years. The Chinese government’s attempts to control Xinjiang and incorporate it officially into China are similar to their attempts to control Tibet; ending these regions’ autonomy proves China’s political and military strength, while further orienting China as an economic powerhouse both in Asia and the world in general.

Due to China’s economic power, and the immense benefits that could result from the One Belt One Road Initiative for other countries involved in the deal, many nations have kept quiet on the issue of Uighur internment. While the United States and Pakistan have released statements nominally condemning China’s actions, China has faced little backlash other than verbal reprimand. The UN and its various human rights organizations have voiced concerns as well, but again, China is not facing any real consequences for their abhorrent actions. World leaders have clearly expressed their cowardice by either staying silent or refraining from taking formidable action against the Chinese. Unfortunately, China’s economic power and its initiative to revive the Silk Road has overshadowed the deaths, disappearances, and overall dehumanization of Uighur Muslims in China.

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