China’s Muslims Treated Like Lab Rats

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by Kristine Christlieb  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  December 17, 2019   

Vatican and Muslim-majority countries remain silent

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ÜRÜMQI, China (ChurchMilitant.com) - Using isolation, indoctrination and torture, the Chinese government is trying to change the religious, political and ethnic identities of more than a million Muslim Uyghurs [pronounced WEE-gurs], an ethnic minority indigenous to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China.  

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Muslims are surveilled, persecuted in Xinjiang Uygur

Xinjiang borders eight other countries and is located on the historic Silk Road trade route — an area beset by 5,000 years of power shifting. But the current crisis is rooted in the Ürümqi Riots of 2009, when the People's Republic of China's (PRC) longstanding discrimination against Uyghurs reached a crescendo.

In protest, riots broke out in the region's capital city, Ürümqi, and armed police were deployed. PRC officials reported 197 dead and 1,197 injured. In the days following the riots, Uyghurs began disappearing.  

Ten years later, experts estimate more than 1 million Uyghurs are in detention. There have been reports of organ harvesting, torture, forced abortions and executions in the facilities.

The Ürümqi riots are China's justification for the atrocities. The PRC claims Uyghurs pose a terrorist threat so they must be surveilled and re-educated.  

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Uyghurs in Chinese detention camp

Uyghurs might get arrested and sent to a detention camp for reeducation if they:

  • Post a photo on social media in which someone is wearing a veil
  • Make an online remark about Muhammad
  • Buy a religious book over the Internet
  • Make a dissenting remark about the government
  • Go into a mosque
  • Participate in a protest

Replace "Muhammad" with "Jesus" and "mosque" with "church," and it is easy to see why the global Catholic community, especially the Chinese Catholic community, might find the detention camps alarming.  

Technology Spurs Self-Detention

Perhaps the most troubling part of the Uyghur detention camps is technology's effect on individual freedom. China has become the world's leader in techno-security. Using a massive number of cameras, smartphones and facial recognition technology, China has been pilot testing the effectiveness of its equipment and software to collect data on the Uyghur population.  

In the tech magazine Logic, University of Washington Professor Darren Byler details the scale of China's surveillance effort. He says China's "technological armament is now so vast that it has become difficult for observers to fully inventory."

Byler explains how the collected data is used to refine and upgrade the system:

Other programs automate the identification of Uyghur voice signatures, transcribe, and translate Uyghur spoken language, and scan digital communications, looking for suspect patterns of social relations, and flagging religious speech or a lack of fervor in using Mandarin. Deep-learning systems search in real time through video feeds capturing millions of faces, building an archive which can help identify suspicious behavior in order to predict who will become an "unsafe" actor. The predictions ... are triggered by dozens of actions, from dressing in an Islamic fashion to failing to attend or fully participate in nationalistic flag raising ceremonies. All of these systems are brought together in the Integrated Joint Operation Platform, which is constantly learning from the behaviors of the Uygurs it watches.

Uyghurs, ever aware of the omnipresent technology, stay in their homes and avoid the street. In essence, China has put an entire population under house arrest by using techno-security measures to spur voluntary incarceration. 

China has put an entire population under house arrest by using techno-security measures.

There is an eager market for this technology. China has made its security systems available to other countries helping them pilot-test and perfect its systems for wider distribution.

Voices of Protest and Silence

Global media outlets and various democratic nations have successfully kept the Uyghurs' plight in the news. A google search of "Uyhgur detention camps" produces nearly a million results. Twenty-three nations protested the Uyghurs' treatment in a joint statement to the United Nations. 
 

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Protest outside U.N. headquarters
in Geneva, Switzerland, June 24, 2019
(photo: RFA Listener) 

The Wall Street Journal also reported last week that Mesut Özil, a native of Turkey, a German citizen and star player on a British soccer team, criticized Muslim countries for ignoring what is happening to Chinese Muslims. But not everyone is concerned.

According to Pew Research, there are 232 countries, 50 with a Muslim majority. Not a single Muslim-majority nation signed the joint statement to the United Nations. 

Islam expert and Jihad Watch founder Robert Spencer told Church Militant, "They're not speaking out because they don't care. Their concern for 'Islamophobia' in the West is simply a way to manipulate Western countries into accepting Sharia blasphemy laws and other elements of Sharia."

"China is not susceptible to such pressure, hence [the Muslims] say nothing," he added.

Muslims' silence may also be attributed to their economic ties to China. China Daily, a Communist-run publication, reported cheerily on the Saudi prince's March visit to China:

The recent visit by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to China represents a positive step forward for the entire Middle East, enhancing relationships and contributing toward stability and prosperity. This move complements a series of Chinese-Arab bilateral visits across both regions, including President Xi Jinping's successful visit to the [United Arab Emirates] in July last year. China and the Arab nations are both reaching a critical stage of development and share a positive attitude to open and free economies, which aid development for all parties.

The Vatican has joined Muslim countries in ignoring the Uyghur crisis. In the September 2018 issue of America magazine, the editors note that "the Vatican thus far has made no public comment on the Uyghurs' situation." Church Militant has been unable to uncover any recent comments from the Vatican on the topic. 

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