The Uyghurs in Xinjiang: China's Muslim minority

AFP , Friday 8 Sep 2023

China stands accused of incarcerating over one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a network of detention facilities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.

Uyghurs
This picture taken on July 15, 2023 shows a view of an alleged former detention centre, known as Yengisheher-2, in Shule County in Kashgar in China s northwestern Xinjiang region. AFP

 

Beijing insists the camps were voluntary facilities -- and that their occupants have now "graduated" to lead happy, productive lives.

Here is a rundown on the region and the people who live there:

Where is Xinjiang? 


The vast region of Xinjiang makes up around one-sixth of China's continental territory.

Its population of around 26 million includes Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other minority groups.

A resource-rich region of desert, grassland and mountain ranges, Xinjiang borders eight nations including Russia, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Lying on the ancient Silk Road, it holds valuable natural resources like coal, oil and gas, as well as precious metals and stones.

The region has swung in and out of Chinese rule over the centuries, but fell back into Beijing's orbit as the Communist Party launched a military-led settlement programme after taking control of the country in 1949.

Who are the Uyghurs? 


The Uyghurs are a mostly Muslim ethnic group who speak a Turkic language and are culturally closer to communities in Central Asia than Beijing.

Around 12 million of them live in Xinjiang -- making up around 45 percent of the population -- with their cultural heartlands lying primarily in the region's arid south.

In 1953, the Uyghur population was more than 75 percent of the region, according to a census cited in the UN report. The ethnic Han Chinese accounted for seven percent. That number now stands at around 42 percent.

Historically, some Uyghurs have opposed Chinese rule and favoured the establishment of an independent state referred to as East Turkestan.

They say Beijing has curbed Uyghur religious and cultural expression and primarily enriched its Han majority through development projects in Xinjiang.

Why has Beijing targeted the Uyghurs?

Beijing has stepped up security measures in Xinjiang in recent years in what it calls an effort to combat separatism and Islamic extremism.

Violent clashes involving both Uyghurs and Han killed around 200 people in the regional capital Urumqi in 2009.

A spate of violent incidents occurred over the following years, including a 2013 attack in Beijing's Tiananmen Square and a suicide bombing at Urumqi train station in 2014.

Authorities responded with a campaign to "strike hard" against alleged separatists, building security checkpoints in Xinjiang's cities while also conducting house raids and barring certain expressions of Islamic faith.

The crackdown has expanded dramatically since 2017 as Beijing has vowed to eradicate extremist thought once and for all.

What is China accused of? 

Beijing stands accused of incarcerating over one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a network of detention facilities across Xinjiang.

Campaigners and Uyghurs overseas have said an array of abuses take place inside the facilities, including torture, forced labour, forced sterilisation and political indoctrination.

A UN report last year detailed "credible" evidence of torture, forced medical treatment and sexual or gender-based violence -- as well as forced labour -- in the region.

But it stopped short of labelling Beijing's actions a "genocide", as the United States and some other Western lawmakers have done.

China has long denied the allegations, calling them the "lie of the century" and insisting its actions in Xinjiang have helped to combat extremism and enhance development.

It has also said that all detainees have "graduated" from the centres.

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