The Xinjiang autonomous region in China’s far west has had a long history of discord between the authorities and the indigenous ethnic Uighur population. Most Uighurs are Muslim and Islam is an important part of their life and identity. Their language is related to Turkish, and they regard themselves as culturally and ethnically close to Central Asian nations.
Persecution of Uighurs Muslims
The Chinese government has destroyed tens of thousands of mosques and graveyards in the Xinjiang province. One million Muslims are being held right now in Chinese internment camps, according to estimates cited by the UN and U.S. officials. Former inmates—most of whom are Uighurs, a largely Muslim ethnic minority—have told reporters that over the course of an indoctrination process lasting several months, they were forced to renounce Islam, criticize their own Islamic beliefs and those of fellow inmates, and recite Communist Party propaganda songs for hours each day.
There are media reports of inmates being forced to eat pork and drink alcohol, which are forbidden to Muslims, as well as reports of torture and death. Tahir Imin, a U.S.-based Uighur academic from Xinjiang who said he has several family members in internment camps, was not surprised to hear his religion being characterized as if it’s a disease. In his view, it’s part of China’s attempt to eradicate Muslim ethnic minorities and forcefully assimilate them into the Han Chinese majority. “If they have any ‘illness,’ it is being Uighur,” he said. In addition to Uighurs, The Washington Post has reported that Muslim members of other ethnic groups, like the Kazakhs and the Kyrgyz, have also been sent to the camps.
While some religious sites in Xinjiang have been razed, some have been turned into official tourist attractions. Last month, Radio Free Asia had reported a public washroom being constructed on the site of a demolished mosque in Atush of Xinjiang province.