Amnesty chapter speakers discuss plight of Uyghurs

Nicole Morgret,  spoke about the oppression of Uyghurs Dec. 10 at the Amnesty International Cape May Chapter event at the Ocean City Free Public Library.  Kristen Kelleher/SENTINEL

Posted: Wednesday, December 19, 2018 10:22 am
By KRISTEN KELLEHER Sentinel staff

OCEAN CITY – Two speakers at an Amnesty International Cape May Chapter event, an organization whose members campaign against human rights abuses, described how more than one million Uyghurs are in detention camps.

Zubayra Shamseden, a specialist in human rights in East Turkestan, and Nicole Morgret, of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, spoke at the Ocean City Free Public Library on Monday, Dec. 10, as part of the chapter’s celebration of International Human Rights Day. East Turkestan is also known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China.

International Human Rights Day is held annually Dec. 10. According to the United Nations website, on Dec. 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The document outlines 30 inalienable rights and freedoms and has formed the basis for international human rights law.

Uyghurs live largely in northwestern China, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. An estimated 10 million Uyghurs live in China. An additional 300,000 live in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Shamseden, who is Uyghur, described the Uyghurs as Turkic-speaking people, and she said their food is a combination of central Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine.

Most Uyghurs are Muslim.

According to Shamseden, the Chinese government has long wanted the Uyghurs to give up cultural and religious rights. However, she said conditions worsened in 2016 when Xi Jinping, China’s current president, took office.

She said in the last few years more than one million Uyghur, and other minority Muslim groups, were placed in re-education camps. Almost no one has been released, Shamseden said.

“There is intense psychological pressure inside the detention camps,” she said. “It is forcing the Uyghurs to give up their religion, their language, and their identity.”

In the re-education camps, prisoners have to spend hours denouncing Islam, criticizing Muslim religious practices and their Uyghur identities, according to Shamseden.

“Detainees are forced to repeat phrases praising Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party and take Chinese language lessons, with threats of further punishment if they don’t succeed in speaking and reading it,” she said.

In November, Mihrigul Tursun, an Uyghur woman, spoke about the treatment of the Uyghur people in these camps before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China in Washington, D.C.

She described how, within three months of detention at this camp, she witnessed nine deaths, according to Shamseden. The deaths are a result of starvation, illness, torture and the poor condition of the camps, Shamseden said.

She said the camps hold 10 percent of the Uyghur population.

In addition to the detentions, Morgret described attempts from the Chinese government to force the Uyghurs to adopt mainstream Chinese culture.

In the last few years, the Uyghurs have been forced to participate in Chinese New Year, which is not traditionally celebrated by the Uyghurs. Several shrines to saints and historical figures important to the Uyghur culture have been shut down, locked up, or police have prevented people from going to them in the last five to 10 years, Morgret said.

She showed a picture of a mosque in 2011 and another picture of the same mosque today.

She said the domes and crescents were removed and a plaque that said, “there is no God but God” was replaced with “love the party, love the country.”

Morgret said there is also a program in which government officials go to people’s houses to spend up to a week to assess people’s political attitudes.

She also said there was an increase in the police force and a 316 percent increase in formal arrests in Xinjiang in five years.

Shamseden also quoted from a May opinion piece in The Washington Post that denounced China’s “repugnant campaign to destroy a minority people.”

“Not just the Muslim leaders, but the supporters of human rights everywhere ought to be outraged by China’s attempted extermination of an indigenous people’s culture and religion,” she said, quoting the article.