China’s Oppression of Uyghurs Continues as Hundreds Of Detention Camps are Still Active


Uyghur activists demand action in light of recent news surrounding hundreds of active detention centers housing Muslims in China. Photo provided by John Macdougall.

Written by Ryan Wilkinson and David Hamady

The Chinese Communist Party has built roughly 300 internment camps, all holding Uyghurs and other Muslims in fear of potential acts of terrorism. China claims that these facilities are intended for “re-education,” insisting the detainees are being treated humanely and denying anything that suggests otherwise.

Uyghurs are a Turkic-speaking minority, primarily residing in the Xinjiang province in China, with population estimates around 12 million. China has stated that the camps are actually benefiting these people, contradicting claims from former inmates. Over one million Muslims are thought to be currently held in these facilities.

Whether these camps were created under altruistic intentions or not, there is little information given on what happens inside. China’s claims have changed over time, with most claims differing from provided evidence. “The history of communist countries like this suggests that they like to isolate or separate those they feel could upset the balance of their system, so it is possible that these were designed to keep watch over those they are suspicious of,” said Psychology and History teacher Kent Staneart

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at one point also denied any existence of these camps. In early 2019, they dismissed claims that these concentration camps were real, and a spokesman even went as far as to tell the US to “stop interfering with Chinese domestic affairs.” Since this rejection, the CCP have admitted that the centers are indeed real but have defended their purpose. Although they have been described as safe, many occupants have explained that these centers are “prison-like,” with the goal of cultural genocide. 

China is forcing the Uyghurs to give up their heritage and culture through ‘re-education.’ This is very similar to what the United States did to the Native Americans. They were forced into boarding schools and forbidden to speak their languages. Russia has done the same with many of its ethnic minorities,” said German and International Relations Teacher Matthew Talboo.

Sayragul Sauytbay, a Muslim woman who experienced these camps firsthand, described them as being inhumane. “They would punish inmates for everything,” Sauytbay said. Crowding, lack of hygiene, and cruel punishment are only a few of the alleged conditions that inmates experience. “Anyone who didn’t follow the rules were punished,” she said. Alleged discipline within the confines of these prisons include sexual assault from the guards followed by forced abortions, removing fingernails, and starvation. There have also been accusations of medical experiments performed on prisoners. Some were forced to take pills while others received shots, without knowing what purpose they served. 

When the United States learned of these facilities, they imposed sanctions on Chinese officials involved with the persecution of Uyghurs. This angered the CCP, who shot back by levying sanctions on US officials, an example being Senator Marco Rubio, who has been one of the leaders in condemning these camps. But the US also hasn’t hesitated to put heavy restrictions on certain companies that have ties to forced Uyghur labor. The continuation of these back and forth actions are slowly deteriorating the relationship between the two global powerhouses. 

These sanctions will have little to no effect on the Chinese government. I’m certain the Chinese took sanctions into account when they enacted these policies. The sad part is that China exerts way too much economic power in the world for countries to endure the pain they would suffer as a result of sanctions,” said Talboo. “Sanctions work on countries like North Korea and Russia because those countries have very little economic leverage. China has economic leverage on every developed country.”

China has shown no signs of shutting down these “concentration camps.” The US and national media are increasing pressure on the CCP in hope that it will stop these facilities from confining Uyghurs any further, but since China seems to have all the leverage, there’s no telling when this repression of Muslims will stop.