Opinion

China’s repression of Uighurs won’t stop until the international community intervenes

Mihrigul Tursun, left, testifies about her experiences as a Uighur in China before the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China in Washington on Nov. 28, 2018. Video screenshot

WASHINGTON (RNS) — Mihrigul Tursun is a 29-year-old woman of Uighur ethnicity with a story to tell the world.

“At age 12, I was sent to a school in inner China to deny my culture, identity and religious belief,” Turson told an audience at the National Press Club in Washington last week (Nov. 26). Her testimony, in which she told of the loss of her 4-month-old child, was a dramatic highlight of an event organized by an international group of scholars to call attention to China’s mass internment and psychological torture of innocent civilians.

In a statement, the Concerned Scholars on China’s Mass Detention of Turkic Minorities denounced the escalating atrocities facing Uighurs and called internment camps like the one Tursun was sent to a gross violation of human rights.

Tursun’s experience of family separation, threats, violence, re-education and torture at the hands of the Chinese government puts a human face on these abuses. More than that, it makes clear that the communist regime is not prepared for a woman like Turson. The repression, she said, “only made me more confident in my identity.”

Turson, who wore a headscarf tied at her neck, said she was forbidden in China from wearing the hijab. Most other forms of Muslim devotion are also proscribed.

After praying for death rather than endure more brutality, she said, she was “blessed to have miraculously escaped from the camps and have an opportunity to speak out.”

Uighurs and their supporters march to the United Nations to protest in New York, on March 15, 2018. Members of the Uighur Muslim ethnic group held demonstrations in cities around the world to protest a sweeping Chinese surveillance and security campaign that has sent thousands of their people into detention and political indoctrination centers. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The State Department brought her to the United States in hopes she will inspire Americans to combat faraway human-rights violations the international community has been trying to ignore.

It would be tempting to think of Turson as one of the lucky ones. But even in the relative safety of her new home in Virginia, Turson has suffered debilitating post-traumatic stress: nightmares, sudden bouts of anxiety that the Chinese police will knock on her door in the night and kill her.

There are also physical reminders. She has scars on her body and pain from the chains and beatings. Her two surviving children have extreme physical and psychological health issues.

Stories like Turson’s happen every day in China’s northwest Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Home to Kazakhs and Kyrgyz people as well as Uighurs, together known as the Turkic Minorities, the region has seen detentions, religious repression, invasive surveillance and psychological stress — all of which the world has known about for years, thanks mostly to investigative journalists who have documented the abuses.

So far, however, China has been given a free pass, largely because developing and advanced economies alike want to engage in lucrative trade and commerce with an economy that is the world’s second largest and still rising in its influence.

The U.K., looking to establish trade agreements with China after exiting the European Union, has a particular incentive to turn a blind eye. The United States, though it prides itself on defending international religious freedom, is hampered in its response by its own recent coldness toward refugees and asylum-seekers — as well as its concern for a domestic constituency focused on the persecution of Christians abroad.

To regain its credibility on the Uighur crisis, and on religious freedom and human rights in general, the Trump administration should boldly condemn China for its repression of Muslim minorities.

The Xinjiang province in western China where many Uighurs live. Map courtesy of Creative Commons

The world at large, too, needs to organize itself to address the crackdown. The scholar-advocates at last week’s news conference offered a list of policy proscriptions: States and institutions can demand that China’s dictator-president, Xi Jinping, and regional governor Chen Quanguo immediately abolish the “transformation through education” detention system and release all minority detainees.

Countries can go further and impose economic sanctions. Regulators and consumers can pressure technology companies backed by Western investors, whose concessions on internet surveillance in China implicate them in the repression taking place.

Trump boasted of his successful meeting with Xi at the recent G-20 summit in Argentina. Good (or even mediocre) world leaders can tout trade deals with China. It will take great leaders to confront China on human rights.

The U.S. Congress could pass the bipartisan Uyghur Human Rights Act of 2018, currently pending in both the House and the Senate, directing the executive branch to take action on behalf of China’s ethnic and religious minorities.

The Uighurs’ dire situation may seem far off, but in today’s intertwined world, we must realize that all people of good faith and goodwill can affect lives around the globe. Mihrigul Tursun’s plea may sound impractical, but it reminds us how humanly possible making a difference can be. “If you ever go to China,” she said, “ask about my parents and family. I pray I see them alive again someday.”

(Jacob Lupfer, a frequent commentator on religion and politics, is a writer and consultant in Baltimore. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)

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45 Comments

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  • Repression is necessary when a religion’s holy book calls for death of all non-believers.

  • Jacob Lupfer
    Share This!
    WASHINGTON (RNS) — Mihrigul Tursun is a 29-year-old woman of Uighur ethnicity with a story to tell the world.

    “At age 12, I was sent to a school in inner China to deny my culture, identity and religious belief,”

    Quite like the forced Christian boarding schools for Native American children in the US. I wonder if China’s version has sexual assault as part of the “assimilation?”

  • Better than repression, make sure that secular law applies to all and overrules all holy books if they conflict with the law.

  • No to repression! No matter how reprehensible you or I think their beliefs are. It’s actions that matter. You obviously do not believe in free speech obvious from your regular vehement anti-religion posts.

  • Xinjiang is China’s largest province by land size and China’s richest province in natural resources. If the International community is helpless in dealing with Israel’s human rights violations against Palestinians what can they do against China who is a Security Council member as well?

  • Don’t count on the international community. Christians are being persecuted in Egypt, Syria, Pakistan and Russia. Muslims in Myanmar. Bahai adherents in Iran. Outrage but little or no action.

  • Free speech? Not when said speech i.e. the book of terror aka the Koran demands my death and yours!!!

  • The book of terror? Overly dramatic, eh? Have you read the Old Testament? Fortunately modern day Jews don’t apply the barbaric elements. The New Testament states that I, as an atheist, am going to Hell when I die.

  • 1 – The “forced Christian boarding schools” existed in British Canada, India, and other places as well.

    2 – All of them went out of existence decades ago.

  • You brought up a decades old situation as though it had some current application.

    I merely pointed that out for readers who might not recognize your technique.

  • Perhaps the oil rich Muslim states since this involves the fellow religionists. they might refuse to sell oil to China, But I forgot, there is too much money involved for the rest of the world to do anything seriously.

  • Might want to upgrade your reviews of the governments of these countries. By the way, East Germany and the Soviet Union no longer exist.

  • Oh yeah, you talk all tough and brave now, don’t you? Bet’cha have a copy of that sicko poem “Invictus” in your pocket right now, don’t you? Gotta love these tuff-guy atheists. Got it all under control, even in the afterlife.

    But that ain’t true. No matter what hard times we’ve had in our lives, we AIN’T experienced Hell yet. Now Jim has read the Bible, he knows what Jesus said about the unquenchable eternal Hell fire, the undying worms, the horrific outer darkness. So we got no excuses. We know what our own sins have earned for us (Romans 6:23).

    Yet Somebody Else freely volunteered to have the full weight of our sins, our eternal punishment in Hell, our infinite separation from God, all the agony, totally dumped on HIMSELF on the Cross. (1 Pet. 3:18). Atheism done nothing to save you. Jesus done everything to save you. So dump atheism. Put your trust & faith in Jesus as your Savior & Ruler. Repent and ask His forgiveness; invite Him to come into your heart & life (Rev. 3:20).

  • And their basis for their doctrine was communism, not atheism.

    Religion is for the ignorant, the gullible, the co​wardly, and the stu​pid, and for those who would profit from them.

  • The Book of Revelation: Some observations-

    “Nineteenth-century agnostic Robert G. Ingersoll
    branded Revelation “the insanest of all books”.[30] Thomas Jefferson
    omitted it along with most of the Biblical canon, from the Jefferson Bible, and
    wrote that at one time, he “considered it as merely the ravings of a
    maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our
    own nightly dreams.” [31]

    Martin Luther once “found it an offensive piece of work” and John Calvin “had grave doubts about its
    value.”[32]

    And then the reality of Jesus via an upgrade to the Apostles’ Creed:

    The Apostles’ Creed 2012: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of
    historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a
    mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus’ story was embellished and “mythicized” by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen

    (references
    used are available upon request)

  • If I were the Chinese, I would note the following to Muslims within China and elsewhere instead of running roughshod over them:

    From the studies of Armstrong, Rushdie, Hirsi Ali,
    Richardson and Bayhaqi————–

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:
    (
    –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to
    bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using “The 77 Branches of Islamic “faith” a
    collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the
    essential virtues that reflect true “faith” (iman) through related
    Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings.” i.e. a nice summary of the Koran
    and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    “1. Belief in Allah”

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah,
    Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

    “2. To believe that everything
    other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these
    things and subsequently they came into existence.”

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the
    “Gib Gnab” (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible
    and the “akas” for Allah should be included if you continue to be a
    “creationist”.

    “3. To believe in the existence of angels.”

    A major item for neuron cleansing.
    Angels/devils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g.
    Hittites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big
    birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No
    “pretty/ugly wingy thingies” ever visited or talked to Mohammed,
    Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as fairies
    and “tinker bells”. Modern devils are classified as the demons of the
    demented.

    “4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore.”

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc.
    are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the uneducated masses in line. Today we call them fortune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invalidated by the natural gifts of Free Will and Future.

    “5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) alone.”

    Mohammed spent thirty days “fasting” (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a “pretty wingy thingy”. Common sense
    demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic
    violence i.e. turning Mohammed’s “fast, hunger-driven” hallucinations
    into horrible reality for unbelievers.

    Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism..

  • A much better solution:
    If I were the Chinese, I would note the following to Muslims within China and elsewhere instead of running roughshod over them:

    From the studies of Armstrong, Rushdie, Hirsi Ali,
    Richardson and Bayhaqi————–

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:
    (
    –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to
    bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using “The 77 Branches of Islamic “faith” a
    collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the
    essential virtues that reflect true “faith” (iman) through related
    Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings.” i.e. a nice summary of the Koran
    and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    “1. Belief in Allah”

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah,
    Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

    “2. To believe that everything
    other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these
    things and subsequently they came into existence.”

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the
    “Gib Gnab” (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible
    and the “akas” for Allah should be included if you continue to be a
    “creationist”.

    “3. To believe in the existence of angels.”

    A major item for neuron cleansing.
    Angels/devils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g.
    Hittites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big
    birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No
    “pretty/ugly wingy thingies” ever visited or talked to Mohammed,
    Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as fairies
    and “tinker bells”. Modern devils are classified as the demons of the
    demented.

    “4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore.”

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc.
    are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the uneducated masses in line. Today we call them fortune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invalidated by the natural gifts of Free Will and Future.

    “5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) alone.”

    Mohammed spent thirty days “fasting” (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a “pretty wingy thingy”. Common sense
    demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic
    violence i.e. turning Mohammed’s “fast, hunger-driven” hallucinations
    into horrible reality for unbelievers.

    Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism..

  • You are dodging the issue of the use of concentration camps when the people being deprogrammed don’t want to be deprogrammed and don’t agree with the deprogrammers, who were, in fact, peacefully living their lives until someone decided they needed deprogramming.

  • No dodge. The Chinese should fight religion with facts and rational NOT concentration camps.

  • China could perhaps learn from history and the failure of Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere to win the hearts and mind of the locals during WW2. China’s grand vision of Belt and Road global investment would not sit well with their cruel treatment of their Uighur citizens. Persecution of your people for their religious belief is as futile as your Great Wall in keeping out foreign intruders. As a super power in progress you cannot afford to ignore Human Rights and expect your rightful place among the enlightened nations. Trump’s America is hopefully a temporary aberration !

  • The ‘rights’ of religions should not exist unless and until they actually prove their gods; otherwise it is a right to lie and for charlatans.

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