State-Sponsored Persecution of Uyghurs in China Makes Mainstream News

On July 26, Last Week Tonight’s host John Oliver discussed a new trend that has been circulating on social media app TikTok: one user of the application uses the bait-and-switch technique, telling her viewers to continue watching to learn how to efficiently curl their eyelashes, and then requesting her viewers to “search up what’s happening in China, how they’re building concentration camps, throwing innocent Muslims in there, separating their families from each other….”

John Oliver confirms exactly what we all know to be true: “there is an ethnic group in China being systematically surveilled and imprisoned in an attempt to essentially wipe their culture off the map.” Not exclusively Uyghur Muslims, but also Kazakhs and Kyrgz minorities are monitored, arbitrarily detained, and imprisoned for lengthy periods of time not for committing a crime, but simply for being ethnic and religious minorities. The situation in the region referred to by the CCP as Xinjiang- though Uyghurs have indicated they prefer this area to be called East Turkistan- has been confirmed to be the largest mass internment of religious individuals since the Holocaust. Upwards of 1 million are currently languishing in detention centers to this day.

This systematic persecution has been confirmed, despite the CCP’s best efforts to keep it under close control and away from popular media: leaked state documents of instructions for detention center officials to prevent escapes and monitor prisoners 24/7; drone footage of Muslim men in Xinjiang kneeling on the ground, blindfolded, facial hair shaved, and being forced into trains to be transported to factories where they will be forced into labor; and independent fact-finding missions that reveal the realities of forced sterilization of Muslim women as well as the tens of American companies who capitalize on forced Uyghur labor supply chains. No longer can ignorance be an excuse for individuals and companies to remain inactive on holding China accountable for violations of both domestic legislation protecting ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities, as well as international human rights norms and obligations.

China does all this while simultaneously (1) preventing stories of persecution and discrimination from reaching popular Chinese media and thus the broader Chinese public, and (2) spewing hateful propaganda that falsely portrays Uyghurs and Muslim minorities as terrorists, separatists, and extremists. In one interview that John Oliver plays, a Han Chinese woman in Beijing claims [translated to English] “The people from Xinjiang are not very good. [They are] robbers and thieves.” John Oliver responds just as any logical individual would: “Wow. Robbers and thieves. That is not an acceptable way to describe an entire ethnic group.”

Oliver explains that the persecution and discrimination of Uyghur and Muslim minorities is state-sponsored; President Xi Jinping has repeatedly referred to these innocent individuals as religious terrorists and in 2015 launched the “Strike Hard Campaign Against Violent Terrorism” which ushered in a new era of mass predictive policing: hundreds of thousands of cameras across Xinjiang monitor each individual’s actions, and any person engaging in “suspicious” activity can be detained without committing any crime other than engaging in their religious beliefs.

And, as it turns out, we may all be playing a role in the system of coerced labor of these marginalized peoples. Chances are, the clothes we wear, the smartphones we use, and the cars we drive are made with forced labor. It is time that we stop pretending to not know better- we must hold China accountable by condemning American and international companies that profit form forced labor, we must raise the stories of Uyghur survivors and refugees that are all over the internet and easily accessible, we must stop playing into China’s economic power lest we reluctantly disillusion ourselves from the values of human rights, dignity, liberty, and justice which we hold to be true and inalienable.

Please, do not stop after watching John Oliver’s video. If you would like to learn more about religious persecution in China, please check out the informative links below:

Persecution of Uyghurs:

Persecution of Christians:

Persecution of Falun Gong practitioners:

Persecution of Tibetan Buddhists:

Photo by jodylehigh on Pixabay.