By Anna Garnsey
Standard dinnertime conversation for the average Australian schoolgirl is not likely to drift towards current affairs on a good day. After a taste of our own relative hardship during COVID-19, an oversupply of both local and international news centred around the pandemic has flooded most columns and segments. It has become increasingly difficult to sift through these stories and uncover those lying a little beyond our Western shores – stories that are a reminder of the social justice issues which remain at large but are largely forgotten.
One such case is that of the Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang, a province in remote Northern China. Research at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has revealed using satellite imagery the existence of more than 380 internment camps in Xinjiang, updating and expanding as recently as 2020. Labelled ‘re-education centres’ by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), these camps have been witness to a course of human rights abuses so extensive the operation is now defined as the ‘Uighur genocide’. Reports obtained have detailed the use of sleep deprivation, sexual abuse, waterboarding and other torture methods, as well as forced labour, on Uighurs in order to meet the CCP’s requirement of “months or years of indoctrination and interrogation aimed at transforming them into secular and loyal supporters of the party.”
These measures stem from a series of anti-Chinese uprisings in Xinjiang protesting CCP authority between 2007 and 2014, with the most violent being deemed acts of Islamic extremism. This has been enough justification to legislate the forced transportation of more than one million Uighur Muslims to internment camps over the past three years, with the children of imprisoned parents advised of nothing but the fact their relatives are ‘infected’ with the ‘virus’ of Islamic radicalism and need to be ‘quarantined and cured’, all according to leaked sources from an ex-Party official. This alleged ‘treatment’ has reached devastating new definitions, as has been reported by Adrian Zenz, a leading expert of China’s ethnic policies. Between 2015 and 2018, the forced sterilisation and abortions inflicted upon Uighur women sparked an 84% decrease in natural population growth in the two largest Uighur prefectures.
From a cultural genocide to a literal one, it would seem the CCP has searched for a place for Islamic adherents in their state and come up empty handed.
It may well be the largest incarceration of a racial or religious group since the Holocaust, but that does not mean it frequents the front page or comprises a significant portion of political dialogue. A decline in humanitarian journalism has meant that awareness of such events is more difficult to raise. But the fact that I uncovered enough sources to write this very article suggests to me there are people, daring and anonymous, who have tiptoed around the extensive and ruthless censorship methods of the CCP to confront and expose injustices even when mainstream media will not. Historical example reminds us of the urgency with which action must be taken when we notice warning signs that an authoritative, single-party state is beginning to test the boundaries of the international community’s tolerance of human rights abuses. Let us seek to remind them that where genocide is concerned, we have learned our lesson.