Earlier this month the Chinese State Council Information Office, a propaganda organ aimed at overseas audiences, released a White Paper entitled “China’s Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief.”1The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China (2018, April 4) “China’s Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief” Retrieved from: http://english.scio.gov.cn/2018- 04/04/content_50811898.htm This comes as the authorities ramp up an official campaign to “Sinicize”（中国化） religion which is affecting believers nationwide. Religion must, the White Paper states, “explore religious thought which conforms to the reality in China;” the government retains the sole right to determine what that reality is. The Chinese government has long sought to control religion, but as the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) has documented, the Uyghurs have been a particular target of repressive policies which infringe upon their right to freedom of religious belief.2Uyghur Human Rights Project (2013, April 30) “Sacred Right Defiled: China’s Iron Fisted Repression of Uyghur Religious Freedom” Retrieved from: https://docs.uhrp.org/Sacred-Right-Defiled-Chinas-IronFisted-Repression-of-Uyghur-Religious-Freedom.pdf
UHRP believes that the Chinese government’s recent passage of numerous items of legislation passed by both the central government and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) government represent part of a new strategy aimed at bringing religion fully under government control and adding a new assimilative element aimed at adding “Chinese” cultural features to religious practice, especially to “foreign” religions such as Islam and Christianity. This will have a particularly negative effect on the Uyghurs because their traditional religious practices do not historically have Chinese influence. This means that Uyghurs’ rights to maintain their ethnic identity are being further infringed. Furthermore, the government’s targeting of the Uyghurs as a particular threat is directly related to their religious identity and is one of the primary motivations behind the establishment of re-education camps currently incarcerating tens of thousands of Uyghurs indefinitely and without charge.
I. Increasing Religious Legislation
This White Paper comes in the wake of new national level religious regulations which came into force in February, updating the 2004 regulations3中华人民共和国国务院令(2017, August 26) “中华人民共和国国务院令”宗教事务条列Retrieved from: http://www.gov.cn/zhengce/content/2017-09/07/content_5223282.htm (unofficial translation available at China Law Translate)4China Law Translate (2017, September 7) “Religious Affairs Regulations 2017” Retrieved from: https://www.chinalawtranslate.com/%E5%AE%97%E6%95%99%E4%BA%8B%E5%8A%A1%E6%9D% A1%E4%BE%8B-2017/?lang=en. The regulations maintain strict control by the government over religious life, and add language referring to the government’s role in “actively guiding” religion to adapt itself to socialist society and put core socialist values into practice (Article 4), despite not allowing party members to be believers. Religious regulations applying specifically to East Turkestan were passed in 2015, demonstrating the government’s particular focus on controlling the religious observance of the Uyghurs.5Famularo, Julia (2015, March 31) “Chinese Religious Regulations in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region: A Veiled Threat to Turkic Muslims?” Project 2049 Institute Retrieved from: http://www.project2049.net/documents/Famularo_PRC_Religious_Regulations_Xinjiang.pdf
The 2015 regional religious affairs regulations are not the only evidence of the authorities’ particular concerns about the Uyghurs. The White Paper states that “China takes measures against the propagation and spread of religious extremism, and at the same time, carefully avoids linking violent terrorism and religious extremism with any particular ethnic group or religion.”6The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China (2018, April 4) “China’s Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief” Retrieved from: http://english.scio.gov.cn/2018-04/04/content_50811898.htm However, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Uyghurs are being singled out when East Turkestan is still the only region to have its own implementation guidelines for the national level Counter-terrorism Law.7UHRP (2016, September 2016) “Briefing: The New Implementation Guidelines for the Counter-Terrorism Law in East Turkestan Will Reinforce Government’s Curbs on Human Rights” Retrieved from:
https://docs.uhrp.org/pdf/CounterTerrorBriefing.pdf The national level law identifies religion as the ideological basis of terrorism and the regional law further singles out Islam through regulations about “distorting the concept of halal.” The broad and vague guidelines have been put to use in the ongoing harsh repression in the region. East Turkestan was again targeted by the authorities with the “Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Regulations on De-extremification,” which set up small groups for eliminating “extremism” in government bureaus at all administrative levels, which appear to be involved in identifying Uyghurs to be sent into the system of reeducation camps.8UHRP (2017, April 6) “China’s Codification of Repression Continues with “De-Extremification Measures”” Retrieved from: https://uhrp.org/press-release/china%E2%80%99s-codification-repressioncontinues-%E2%80%9Cde-extremification-measures%E2%80%9D.html Religious believers are one the five categories of people targeted for imprisonment, along with people who do not use their cell phones, former prisoners, “blacklisted people” and people with relatives abroad.9Sulaiman, Eset (2017, September 11) “China Runs Region-wide Re-education Camps in Xinjiang for Uyghurs And Other Muslims” Radio Free Asia Retrieved from: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/training-camps-09112017154343.html
II. The Sinicization Campaign
The control of religion by the CCP is nothing new- it has been the status quo since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. However, the so called Sinicization campaign can be seen as part of the pattern of the Xi Jinping administration making efforts to re-extended control by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) into every facet of life. At a conference on religious work in 2016, Xi laid out the official line on what this “active guidance” consists of: to guide religious believers to love the motherland and people, to safeguard the unity of China, to obey and serve the interests of the Chinese nation, to support the leadership of the CCP and the socialist system, and stick to the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics; promote Chinese culture and integrate beliefs with Chinese culture, and contribute to the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,10人民日报（2016， April 24）“习近平：全面提高新形势下宗教工作水平”Retrieved from: http://cpc.people.com.cn/n1/2016/0424/c64094-28299870.html goals reiterated in the recent White Paper. This can be seen as the attempt to assimilate diverse religious traditions and transform them into a nationalist project subordinate to the state, with particularly troubling implications for the Uyghurs.
The emphasis on the “Sinicization” of religion is a new element of official control, and is related to the new official emphasis on “excellent Chinese culture,” including classical Chinese traditions, and “cultural self confidence.” At a conference held in Beijing in September of 2017, the leaders of the five officially recognized religions stated that they “truly endorsed that the assimilation into the Chinese cultural community and Chinese ethnic community (中华民族共同体)is the direction of religion’s Sinicization, and that it is the basic requirement of adapting religion to the society of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”11白瀛、周文其（2017， September 6） “我国五大宗教团体共话宗教中国化”新华社 Retrieved from: http://www.xinhuanet.com/politics/2017-09/06/c_1121618113.htm This means breaking with the foreign religions’ culture of origin and developing new methods of expounding their principles utilizing Chinese culture, in the words of the president of the Chinese Buddhist Association. It is Taoism and Buddhism that are singled out for praise for their contributions to traditional Chinese culture and promotion of it in the modern day, as in this 2015 interview with Wang Zuoan, head of the State Administration for Religious Affairs.12李玉梅, 兰文飞 (2015, May 11)“积极引导宗教与社会主义社会相适应”学习时报 Retrieved from: http://www.qstheory.cn/politics/2015-05/11/c_1115237297.htm
“Foreign” religions are praised for adopting elements of Chinese culture and classical Chinese thought. The head of the Chinese Islamic Association, Yang Faming, in a speech to the CPPCC in March of this year, laid out the official policy direction of “Sinicization” as it relates to Islam in China.13中国伊协（2018，March19） “杨发明：扎根中华文化沃土 坚持我国伊斯兰教中国化方向” Retrieved from: http://www.xjmuslim.com/xwzx/2018-03/19/content_625335.htm He praised Chinese Muslims’ adoption of Chinese language, clothing and surnames, as well as Chinese philosophy, stating that in the Qing Dynasty Muslim scholars taught that ““the correct Dao entails loyalty to Allah but even deeper loyalty to the monarch (忠于真主，更忠于君父，方为正道),” [and] their mastery of Islam and Confucianism reached unprecedented heights”(translation by Max Oidtmann).14Oidtmann, Max ” Rooted in the Fertile Soil of Chinese Civilization: Uphold the Chinafication of Our Country’s Islam – Yang Faming Speech to full session of the CPPCC March 11, 2018″ Retrieved from: https://www.academia.edu/36251227/Rooted_in_the_Fertile_Soil_of_Chinese_Civilization_Uphold_the Chinafication_of_Our_Countrys_Islam_ The overall message is one of nationalistic devotion and subordination to the PRC; Yang Faming’s speech stated that the Chinese Islamic Association advocates the following policies:
1) That education about the Socialist Core Values must enter the mosque; 2) That the outstanding traditional culture of China (中华优秀传统文化) enter the mosque; 3) That the “Lessons on Muslim Patriotism” enter the mosque; 4) That religious rituals, culture, and architecture must embody Chinese characteristics, Chinese styles, and Chinese manners; 5) That the Islamic community will make the refutation of and resistance to religious extremism the focus of all scriptural (Koranic) education, purge themselves of heterodoxy while holding fast to orthodoxy, and effect a thorough reform to recover the original.15Ibid.
Noticeably, it is the Hui and their comparative integration with Han society which are praised in this speech. The Uyghurs, with their distinctive language and culture, have not yet been “Sinicized.” The diversity of the practice of Islam within China is seen by the authorities as a problem. As one scholar from Xinjiang Normal University wrote in China Ethnic News, the Islam practiced in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is distinct from that practiced in the interior provinces and is not fully “Sinicized,” with little influence from Confucianism or “advanced socialist culture.”16彭无情（2015， September 15） “积极推进新疆伊斯兰教的中国化”中国民族报 Retrieved from: http://iwr.cass.cn/zjyzz/201512/t20151216_3109263.shtml Reflecting the official view, the scholar went on to say that “vigorous leadership is extremely needed to guide Xinjiang Islam’s development in the direction of Sinicization.”17Ibid. Praising historical Hui philosophers’ commentaries on the Confucian classics as an example of Sinicization, he suggests that lack of Chinese language and foreign infiltration attempting to “Arabize” and “Turkify” the region constitute an obstacle to “Sinicization” of “Xinjiang Islam”- not even mentioning the Uyghurs by name.
One increasingly prominent official preoccupation is the supposed “foreign” elements in mosque architecture, which the authorities fear constitutes “Arabization” or “Saudization,” leading to the official China Islamic Association to convene a discussion forum on strengthening ideological guidance and the standardization and management of mosque construction to ensure its “Sinicized” direction.18马劲（2017， October 24）“砥砺奋进五年的宗教工作系列之二 : 这五年，伊斯兰教工作做了这 些事！”微言宗教 Retrieved from: http://www.sara.gov.cn/ztzz2017/sjdztw/xxxzgc/575074.htm The removal of crosses from churches in Wenzhou and elsewhere beginning in 2014 has been in the news,19Johnson, Ian (2016, May 21) “Decapitated Churches in China’s Christian Heartland” New York Times Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/22/world/asia/china-christians-zhejiang.html but much the same thing is now happening to mosques, both Uyghur mosques in East Turkestan and elsewhere. Domes and crescent finials are being removed; furthermore large propaganda posters are being placed both inside and outside of the buildings, replacing Quranic passages. The crescents have even been removed from the historic Id Kah mosque in Kashgar. Small neighborhood mosques20Byler, Darren (@dtbyler) (2018, April 13) “Small neighborhood mosques throughout Kashgar city have been closed & their minarets removed. Here one is being used as a stage for tourists” Twitter Retrieved from: https://twitter.com/dtbyler/status/984735147328073728 and shrines21Thum, Rian (@RianThum) (2017, December 14) “At the shrine of Alp Ata (“Ghojam”), now protected by razor wire, where I was turned away by six men with clubs and shields yesterday. Surprising because most shrine closures have been at sites with large gatherings. Outside of Turpan, Xinjiang, PRC.” Twitter Retrieved from: https://twitter.com/RianThum/status/941503519772655617 appear closed as well, according to academics who have traveled there recently.
III. An Increased Role for the United Front Work Department
Control over the mosque by the government has long been the status quo in East Turkestan. Religious leaders must be officially registered and submit to official training. In a pattern that echoes other groups of Uyghurs being sent to inner China for education, the United Front Work Department (UFWD), and other offices are beginning to send Uyghur religious personnel on trips to indoctrinate them with the official view of Chinese history and modern society.22中央社会主义学院（2017， March 2） “多方协作 精心施训 新疆爱国宗教人士研修班成功举办” Retrieved from: http://www.zysy.org.cn/a1/a-XCVJ6X6ADE8884F230CA88 The State Administration for Religious Affairs was criticized in 2016 for not exercising enough control over religion,23UCAnews (2016, June 10) “Central government reins in China’s state religious body” Retrieved from: https://www.ucanews.com/news/central-government-reins-in-chinas-state-religious-body/76286 and this year it was absorbed by the United Front Work Department, giving the UFWD direct control over ethnic and religious affairs.24Ng, Teddy and Lau, Mimi (2018, March 21) “Fears about Chinese influence grow as more powers given to shadowy agency” South China Morning Post Retrieved from: http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2138279/bigger-overseas-liaison-agencyfuels-fears-about This is part of the campaign to consolidate Party control over government organs, allowing orders from the central leadership to be more directly implemented. Last year the UFWD opened a new bureau for XUAR, to “assist in coordinating and supervising the implementation of the central government’s decisions on the region.”25Global Times (2017, July 4) “Party sets up special bureau for Xinjiang” Retrieved from: http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1045401.shtml
The Uyghur imams are now being sent to inner China in larger groups for longer sessions to learn that they belong to the “5,000-year-old” culture which emerged from the central plains of China. The training centers emphasize the need to learn Chinese, saying that without studying the language they cannot understand government policy, serve their religious community, adapt with the times, comprehend science and technology and important information, or contribute to Xinjiang’s development, stability and ethnic unity.26“中央社院”微信公众号（2018， January 4) “在这个培训班上，一些新疆年轻人第一次弄清楚 了“大一统””观察者 Retrieved from: https://www.guancha.cn/culture/2018_01_04_441735.shtml They leave promising to study Xi Jinping’s important speeches, to help preserve Islam’s direction of Sinicization, and to be politically reliable. This campaign can be seen as an extension and expansion of the government’s efforts to assimilate the Uyghurs that have been ongoing for decades.27Human Rights Watch (2005) “Devastating Blows: Religious Repression of Uighurs in Xinjiang” Retrieved from: https://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/china0405/4.htm
This has led to increasing political content in mosques, with weekly flag raising ceremonies and patriotic songs like “No New China Without the Communist Party” replacing the call to prayer.28Niyaz, Kurban and Hoshur, Shoret (2017, August 3) “Xinjiang Authorities Convert Uyghur Mosques Into Propaganda Centers” Radio Free Asia Retrieved from: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/mosques-08032017153002.html Clergymen convey the instruction given to them in their official patriotism classes to worshippers, encourage the study of Chinese and hang propaganda banners inside and out.29王金梅（2017， July 18）“全国政协民宗委就“民族团结和交往交流交融”赴疆调研”中国网 Retrieved from: http://guoqing.china.com.cn/2017-07/18/content_41235774.htm This has reportedly led to lower attendance than in the past, even for major holidays.
IV. Eliminating Religion from the Public Square and Private Sphere
The government has been increasing its efforts to prevent any study of Islam outside of official channels, destroying any unofficial schools30Hoshur, Shoret (2015, April 1) “Chinese Authorities Demolish Home of Uyghur Supporting Quranic Studies” Radio Free Asia Retrieved from: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/demolition04012015151727.html and handing down harsh sentences to individuals caught worshipping outside of designated places.31Hoshur, Shoret (2016, March 16) “Uyghur Imam, Farmers Sentenced For Illegally Practicing Religion in China’s Xinjiang” Radio Free Asia Retrieved from: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/uyghurimam-farmers-sentenced-for-illegally-practicing-religion-in-chinas-xinjiang03162016112010.html?searchterm:utf8:ustring=mamut Laws against women, minors, Party members and government officials entering mosques means that a large portion of the population has been cut off from the supposed freedom to worship which the White Paper touts, particularly given the crackdown on religious expression outside of official mosques, including the confiscation of religious books.
This campaign has extended overseas as well; Uyghur students studying abroad beginning early last year were swept up in a campaign to assess their political attitudes, but students at al-Azhar University in Cairo were a particular target. They were held by Egyptian security forces and interrogated by the head of the Chinese Students and Scholars Administration and other Chinese officials about their knowledge of the Quran and religious practices.32Ayup, Abduwelli (2017, October 30) “Nearly 20 Uyghur Students Unaccounted For Four Months After Egypt Raids” Radio Free Asia Retrieved from: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/students10302017162612.html Those who returned home were taken into police custody and there are reports that several have died in custody under unclear circumstances,33Hoshur, Shoret (2017, December 21)“Two Uyghur Students Die in China’s Custody Following Voluntary Return From Egypt” Radio Free Asia Retrieved from: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/students-12212017141002.html while others such as Buzainafu Abudourexiti were given harsh sentences in secret trials.34Amnesty International (2017, September 28) “Urgent Action: Uighur Woman Incommunicado After Secret Trial” Retrieved from: https://www.amnestyusa.org/urgent-actions/urgent-action-uighur-womanincommunicado-after-secret-trial-china-ua-222-17/
The government seeks to purge religion from Uyghur life, both in public and from individual households. In late 2017 reports emerged of Uyghurs’ houses being searched for illegal religious items including prayer rugs, decorative items with Quranic inscriptions and any items with the star and crescent symbol, which were turned over to the authorities.36Kashgary. Jilil (2017, April 4) “Xinjiang Police Search Uyghur Homes For ‘Illegal Items’” Radio Free Asia Retrieved from: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/searches-04042017172301.html Special boxes to deposit the “three illegals and one material” (illegal religious publications, including books without a publication number, pictures and calendars, handwritten materials, clothing and jewelry, illegal audio and video from the internet, explosives and sharp objects beyond those needed for daily use) have appeared in the region, promising that those who place items in it will not be pursued by the authorities.37@sughurx (2018, April 26) “新疆和田“三非一品”投放点。“非法宗教出版物、非法宗教网络传播 音视频、非法宗教活动，制爆物品。” Twitter Retrieved from: https://twitter.com/sughurx/status/989378369010593792 The White Paper boasts that the Quran has been translated into Uyghur and other Turkic languages, but the reports say that Qurans and other religious texts were among the items confiscated from people’s homes.38Hoshur, Shoret (2017, May 25) “Xinjiang Authorities Confiscate ‘Extremist’ Qurans From Uyghur Muslims” Radio Free Asia Retrieved from: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/qurans05252017142212.html Furthermore, Muhammad Salih Hajim, the 82-year-old scholar who translated the Quran into Uyghur under official auspices, was taken into custody in late 2017 along with his family members, where he later died.39Hoshur, Shoret (2018, January 29) “Uyghur Muslim Scholar Dies in Chinese Police Custody” Radio Free Asia Retrieved from: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/scholar-death-01292018180427.html The authorities have still not announced his death to the public nor revealed the circumstances of it.
New technologies make the government’s control over religion easier and more intrusive than ever. The app that all residents are required to download onto their phones and mobile devices, called Jingwang, transmits all data to a central government server, where they are scanned for illegal content.40Lynn, Adam (2018, April 9) “App Targeting Uyghur Population Censors Content, Lacks Basic Security” Open Technology Fund Retrieved from: https://www.opentech.fund/article/app-targeting-uyghurpopulation-censors-content-lacks-basic-security Police stop citizens on the street to ensure it has been downloaded. There are reports that people have already been sent to prison for content on their phones. One Uyghur student who returned home to visit his family while studying in the US reported that he was sent to a detention center where one of his cellmates was a 60 year old man who had been sentenced to six years for sharing a religious teaching with his daughter via mobile phone.41Foreign Policy (2018, February 28) “A Summer Vacation in China’s Muslim Gulag” Retrieved from: http://foreignpolicy.com/2018/02/28/a-summer-vacation-in-chinas-muslim-gulag/
V. An Accelerating Assimilative Campaign Targets Uyghur Traditions
The Chinese government states that it wants to encourage religion in a local form, but this is belied by the treatment of Uyghur traditions. It would appear that when its says that it wants to encourage the localization of religion it does not mean allowing Uyghurs and others to practice their centuries old local traditions but rather to reinforce the state’s ability to define and control how religion is practiced. The White Paper states that “normal religious belief” is protected, but the ability to define what constitutes normal belief means that the government can arbitrarily prevent citizens from worshiping in their preferred manner.
The government has banned numerous distinctly local Uyghur religious practices, for example the shrine festivals that once took place across East Turkestan. Shrine festivals enjoyed a revival after the Cultural Revolution, but one by one were banned beginning in the late nineties, while experts on the subject report that as of 2013, all major festivals appear to no longer be taking place. These festivals featured music and other cultural performances, and were a moderate and indigenous form of Islamic worship. The authorities fear of large numbers of Uyghurs gathering together and of any religious observation taking place outside their control has meant that they are now illegal.42Levin, Ned (2015, May 25) “Writing China: Rian Thum, ‘The Sacred Routes of Uyghur History’” Wall Street Journal Retrieved from: https://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2015/05/25/writing-china-rian-thumthe-sacred-routes-of-uyghur-history/ The “localization,” of religion that the government is seeking to promote does not in fact represent truly local traditions but rather officially defined “Chinese” ones, including promotion of classical Chinese philosophy and “advanced socialist culture.” The government appears to be turning away from even nominal protection of minority ethnic identities and increasingly implementing assimilative policies. Characterizing traditional Chinese philosophy and cultural traditions as belonging to all citizens of the PRC, including ones who were never influenced by them, and imposing an invented homogenous identity from above suggests that Chinese government policy is taking a disturbing ethnonationalist turn, with dangerous consequences for its ethnic minorities.
Commonplace rituals like weddings and funerals are being interfered with by the authorities. The de-extremification measures refer to “interfering” in weddings and funerals as an illegal extremist activity, while not defining what the interference consists of. The authorities monitor Uyghur ceremonies for any behavior they regard as suspicious, such as not crying at funerals. A list of forbidden baby names was released in May of last year, including many common Muslim names such as Muhammad and Fatima.43UHRP (2017, May 4) “Ban on “Islamic” names an absurd intrusion into Uyghurs’ private lives” Retrieved from: https://uhrp.org/uaa-and-uhrp-reports-and-briefings-press-releases/briefing-ban- %E2%80%9Cislamic%E2%80%9D-names-absurd-intrusion Uyghur language newspapers now regularly publish lists of individuals who have changed their names.44Grose, Timothy @GroseTimothy (2018, April 26) “Xinjiang Daily 4/26/2018: Family changes son’s name from Imam to Imran. May Muslims still refer to imams and imams?” Twitter Retrieved from: https://twitter.com/GroseTimothy/status/989687436950364160 It is being reported that the authorities are extending their control over burial practices, setting up central burial centers in some villages to cremate remains, cutting out those who perform traditional burial rites.45Hoshur, Shoret (2018, April 19) “Xinjiang Authorities Use ‘Burial Management Centers’ to Subvert Uyghur Funeral Traditions” Radio Free Asia Retrieved from: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/burials-04192018141100.html The Chinese state is micromanaging every milestone in Uyghur lives from birth to death.
Unauthorized activities at weddings and funerals are among those listed in a list of 75 signs of extremism, which was published in 2014 and updated in 2017.46边疆反恐（2017， June 19）“识别宗教极端活动（75 种具体表现）基础知识” 新疆统一战线 Retrieved from: http://www.xjtzb.gov.cn/2017-06/19/c_1121167461.htm It asserts that the initial stage of extremism takes the form of rejecting official religious institutions and refusing to participate in “normal” religious practices, meaning that not entering official state-run mosques can also create suspicion. Closing restaurants during Ramadan, possessing anything with a star and crescent or Turkestan flag, teaching Arabic, Turkish or Urdu, not crying or wearing white at funerals, not singing, dancing, or drinking at weddings, and refusing government propaganda are all among the signs of extremism on the list. Displaying these signs is one of the ways government officials determine who will be sent to the re-education camps.47Dooley, Ben (2018, April 26) “’Eradicate the tumours’: Chinese civilians drive Xinjiang crackdown” AFP Retrieved from: https://www.yahoo.com/news/eradicate-tumours-chinese-civilians-drive-xinjiangcrackdown-051356550.html
Attempting to eradicate religious belief among the Uyghurs appears to be a key goal of these camps, according to the few who have experienced them and are in a position to speak out. One naturalized Kazakh citizen was imprisoned in the camps after he returned to China to sell his property. He was interrogated about his life in Kazakhstan and whether he performed daily prayer. Many prisoners in the camp he was imprisoned in were there because of their religious belief, and he said that lessons in the camps included being taught “not to be a Muslim.”48Pannier, Bruce (2018 April 26) “Kazakh Man Recounts ‘Reeducation’ In Western Chinese Camp” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Retrieved from: https://www.rferl.org/a/kazakh-recounts-reeducation-inwestern-chinese-camp/29194106.html Anyone suspected of practicing religion is targeted by the official work teams rounding people up for the camps.49Dooley, Ben (2018, April 26) “’Eradicate the tumours’: Chinese civilians drive Xinjiang crackdown” AFP Retrieved from: https://www.yahoo.com/news/eradicate-tumours-chinese-civilians-drive-xinjiangcrackdown-051356550.html
Even as the space for any expression of Muslim faith has been eliminated from public and hundreds of thousands of people are imprisoned for violating the government’s highly restrictive rules on religion, the campaign to assimilate Uyghurs seems to be accelerating. Children are encouraged to recite Confucian and Taoist classical texts in a ritualistic fashion in order to “promote traditional culture,” often while wearing “traditional” clothing.50Zhang Hui (2018, April 25) “10,000 Xinjiang students recite classics to promote traditional culture” Global Times Retrieved from: http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1099711.shtml Additionally, while the government works to prevent Uyghurs from observing the customs of Ramadan, it is increasingly seeking to promote the celebration of Chinese holidays like Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), this year sending Han Chinese work teams to Uyghur households to ensure that Chinese customs were being observed.51Byler, Darren (2018, February 23) “Images in Red: Han Culture, Uyghur Performers, Chinese New Year” the Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia Retrieved from: https://livingotherwise.com/2018/02/23/images-red-han-culture-uyghur-performers-chinese-new-year/
The central authorities have been signaling their approval of the current campaign. On a recent trip to East Turkestan, Wang Yang, currently chair of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, through which he is connected to the United Front Work Department, said that local authorities’ maintenance of high pressure towards the “three evil forces” has made society safer, decreased infiltration from extremists, and increased the security of cadres and masses of all ethnicities, saying that “the policies must continue to be experimented and perfected to study which methods can most effectively be normalized.”53新华网（2018， Apri 路， 14） “汪洋在新疆调研：进一步推进新疆社会稳定和长治久安” Retrieved from: http://www.xinhuanet.com/2018-04/14/c_1122682572.htm He advocated for taking a clear stand on expressing support for correct thinking, clearly criticizing the wrong thinking of the “double pan” (pan-Islamism and pan-Turkism), to enhance positive energy in society, and to firmly occupy the fronts of public opinion and culture. He demonstrated the center’s belief that “anti-poverty” campaigns will discourage extremism and emphasized the importance of Party control, including the continued “reform” of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, meaning its consolidation and expansion into southern East Turkestan.
The government appears determined to eradicate Uyghur religious belief to the greatest extent possible as part of its efforts to assimilate them into a state defined Chinese identity. The “Sinicization” campaign is affecting all believers in China but the Uyghurs are a particular target due to their distinct ethnic identity. The re-education camps are the most extreme form of this, and are an attempt to eliminate Uyghur religiosity by force, exceeding any other anti-religion policy the Chinese government is currently pursuing. The White Paper on religious freedom was released against the backdrop of the ongoing crackdown and does not attempt to argue that believers such as the Uyghurs truly have the right to practice their faith as they see fit, but says that they must “be subordinate to and serve the overall interests of the nation and the Chinese people…support the leadership of the CPC [Chinese Communist Party] and the socialist system” and “integrate religious teachings and rules with Chinese culture.”54State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China (2018, April 4) “China’s Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief” Guoxinwang Retrieved from: http://www.scio.gov.cn/zfbps/32832/Document/1626734/1626734.htm This assimilative campaign is being violently enforced in the form of the reeducation camps imprisoning hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs across East Turkestan.
The elimination of Uyghur religious freedom and its replacement with a narrow set of central government approved “Sinicized” religious observance is a violation of human rights that are guaranteed at both an international level and at the state level in China’ own constitution. China’s constitution guarantees freedom of religious belief (Article 36), prohibits “discrimination and oppression of any nationality” and protects their right to their own languages and customs (Article 4).55National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China (2004, March 14) “Constitution of the People’s Republic of China” Retrieved from: http://www.npc.gov.cn/englishnpc/Constitution/node_2825.htm Furthermore the religious regulations, assimilation campaign in the form of “Sinicization”, and the mass imprisonment of Uyghurs on the basis of their ethnic and religious identity are a abuse of their human and cultural rights, and are tied to the Chinese government’s violations of their freedoms of speech, assembly and movement. These rights are recognized at the international level in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The international community should strongly condemn the violations of these rights and consider taking action to pressure China to end its assimilative policies and adopt moderate policies which allow Uyghurs to maintain their traditional identity, including religion and language. The Chinese government’s current policies, particularly in their most extreme form, the re-education camps, are worsening the relationship between the Uyghurs and Han Chinese. The international community should be prepared for the possibility that the human rights situation in East Turkestan could deteriorate further in the coming months and years.
Uyghur Genocide Recognition Day
Watch the UHRP co-sponsored event marking the 2nd anniversary of the finding of genocide by the Uyghur Tribunal as well as the 75th anniversary of the Genocide Convention.