The news cycle is loud, but we need to hear those who can’t shout
This week, a social media post that pointed out discrimination toward ethnic minorities in China went viral before it was censored. The author, a 23-year-old recent university graduate who is ethnically Mongolian, also received angry death threats from online readers.
The author recounted how she was rebuffed at a youth hostel in Beijing when the clerk saw her ID card (she grew up in Inner Mongolia but does not speak Mongolian). “We can’t accept people like you,” the clerk said, explaining that the local police had regulations against ethnic minorities like Inner Mongolians, Uighurs, and Tibetans.
“How ridiculous is this country?” wrote the woman in her post, which collected 2 million views. “It asks you for your love on the one hand, and stabs you with the other. It says you are family and labels you as the lowest-class citizen at the same time.”
Currently Muslim Uighurs, a Turkic ethnic group in the western region of Xinjiang, face the strongest oppression from the Chinese government. Authorities point to past terrorist attacks by Uighur separatists, yet many believe Beijing exaggerates the Uighur threat as an excuse to clamp down on the region.
An estimated 120,000 Uighurs are being held in Chinese political reeducation camps in Kashgar prefecture alone, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA). Guards force detainees to sing patriotic songs, bombard them with propaganda, and require them to study “Xi Jinping Thought.” Beijing does not publicly acknowledge the existence of these camps, yet Uighur activists estimate 1 million Uighurs have been detained since April 2017. Uighurs often are held without charge for being too religious, for accessing banned sites on their phones, or for having family members studying abroad.
An estimated 120,000 Uighurs are being held in Chinese political reeducation camps in Kashgar prefecture alone.
The camps, usually located in converted government buildings and schools, are overcrowded. Officials routinely send detainees to different locations (including prisons) without telling their family members, RFA reported. In one camp, cells that once held eight people now hold 14, and detainees need to sleep on their sides in order to fit. Some have reportedly been seen walking in the camps without shoes despite below-freezing temperatures.
The Washington, D.C.-based RFA has reported extensively on the Uighur repression. Its reporter, Shohret Hoshur, escaped from Xinjiang himself and relies on a network of contacts and persistent reporting to gather information on the sensitive topic. His family in Xinjiang faces threats for his work with RFA, and three of his brothers are in prison.
Nearby Pakistan is also concerned, since at least 50 Uighur women married to Pakistani men have been taken into the camps. Several Pakistani merchants living in Xinjiang return to Pakistan during the winter to run businesses or for visa reasons, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP). But last year they found that they could no longer contact their wives or kids: The government had rounded up the women and children and detained them.
One Pakistani businessman tried to return to China to find them, but was turned away at the border, AFP reported. Authorities told him that his wife was in “training” and that the government was taking care of his children. Pakistani lawmakers passed a resolution protesting the illegal detentions, and insisted the men should at least be able to visit their families.
“Unjustly detaining and forcibly indoctrinating people will only increase resentment toward the government, not engender loyalty,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement. “China should instead allow greater freedoms so people in Xinjiang can express their criticisms and ethnic and religious identities peacefully and without fear.”
Censored movies in China: One aspect of China’s censorship may find some support from evangelicals: Its move to cut sex scenes, profanity, and violence from Hollywood films. Such censorship comes partly because China does not have its own age-based rating system for films, meaning children can watch lightly edited R-rated films in movie theaters without parental supervision. In the recent film The Shape of Water, censors added shadows to cover nudity and cut several sex scenes. This week, the Beijing International Film Festival withdrew the award-winning gay romance movie Call Me By Your Name. Homosexuality is included in the government’s blacklist of banned online content.