DOÇ. DR. ERKİN EMET / ANKARA UNIVERSITY, FACULTY OF LANGAUGE, HISTORY, AND GEOGRAPHY
In the East Turkestan, which has been turned into an open-air prison neither people out of it nor the insiders hear from each other. Not a single connection
exists and communication is impossible. The Chinese government commits crimes such as arbitrary arrest and extrajudicial executions or massacres in East Turkestan and hides these crimes from the public as a state secret.
The ‘question’ of Eastern Turkestan has been received as a threat since the early eighteenth century when its name was changed into Xinjiang but, especially after its occupation by the Manchu rule in 1884. The government in China has been approaching Eastern Turkestan as a strategic tool, primarily due to the events culminating in the economic rise of China. The Communist regime of China occupied Eastern Turkistan in 1949. In the following decades, the Cold War ended, and the Central Asian Republics declared independence. New economic alliances in the region necessitated reframing the domestic and foreign policies. The fall of the Soviets, ethnic conflict in the Balkans, changing international relations after 9/11 escalated tension and served to legitimise
increasing aggressive measures imposed by the Chinese government.
In the region, any ethnic, cultural, political request or appeal for human rights created tension and became a threat to the ruling power. The policy of ‘strike hard’ defined “three evil forces”, which are ‘separatism, terrorism, fundamentalism,’ legitimised state violence that waged war against voices from various thoughts, identities, and religious faith. The aggressive measures in the region generated a recession in the human rights of ethnic or religious
minorities. In 2008, the government in Beijing, claiming the security reasons for the Olympics, prohibited ‘twenty-three types of religious activities,’ including religious marriage, funeral processions, pilgrimage to the sacred sites, and praying in public spaces in Eastern Turkestan.
Civil servants working in the police forces, schools, labour-intensive works, and other public posts were fined, sentenced to imprisonment, or lose their jobs if they participate in any religious activity. From then on, the pilgrimage to Mecca, headscarf and beard for Uyghur women and men were banned. By March 2004, Uyghur Turkish as a language of instruction in primary, secondary, and high schools were banned. This was an unprecedented ban and resulted in
compulsory early retirement for the teachers who did not speak Chinese. Moreover, the retirement salaries for these teachers were paid only for two years.
By 2010, the transition to Chinese as the only language of instruction was completed in all education institutes from primary school to university in Eastern
Turkestan. The assimilation policies that targeted Eastern Turkestan raised public upheavals. However, they ended in bloodshed, as in the Ghulja Genocide on February 5, 1997, and Urumchi Genocide on July 5, 2009. For many Uyghur Turks, claiming access to fundamental human rights resulted in imprisonment and execution. In Eastern Turkestan, freedom of thought and speech is curtailed, silencing academics, writers, researchers, teachers, educators, intellectuals, politicians, and journalists.
After the July 5 massacres, Uyghur journalists who reported the violence and injustice committed by the Chinese government were detained and imprisoned. Some were sentenced to ten years, others to life long imprisonment. Journalists in Eastern Turkestan are still under state surveillance. No media coverage can be printed without the official approval of the Chinese communist regime. The journalists are not allowed to criticise the government or
the Community party. The news that includes any criticism has been heavily censored, and the reporters are being imprisoned.
None of the media in China is independent. Establishing independent press, newspapers, TV channels are banned. From prominent institutes to individual reporters, everyone is subject to constant scrutiny. No report can be printed without official approval. Moreover, the international community are not given access, banned from entering Eastern Turkestan, writing about Uyghurs or the region. The Chinese government is intimidated by any probability that its crimes against humanity in Eastern Turkestan will be exposed worldwide, and Eastern Turkestan will attract global attention. Thus, the news of the international press is heavily censored within the country, and opening new businesses in media, such as radio, TV, newspapers, journals, or internet news portals, are not allowed in the region.
As the international press is not given access to the region, the news on Eastern Turkestan or Uyghur Turks heavily relies on Xinhua, one of the mouthpiece papers of the Chinese government. Thus, the international news reflects a one-sided and censured state perspective. As a result of all, Eastern Turkestan became an open-air prison where the people inside has no connection with the outside world and vice versa. The state crimes in the region, however, is beyond creating an open space prison. The government continues whimsical imprisoning, sentencing, hanging people without due process or legal reason.
The journalists who report on state violence in Eastern Turkestan are either detained or imprisoned. The crimes are facilitated by censure and secrecy, and the secrecy is maintained by extreme and violent measures to ensure self-censoring and, if not, silencing defenders of human rights by any means. One can say that the state crimes in China present cases of textbook examples for genocide in international law and social science literatures.
Hundreds of local and international reporters and journalists who wrote and spoke about the July 5, 2009, Urumqi massacres have been imprisoned in Chinese prisons. Their names are not known and kept as a state secret. The international media and human rights organisations could reach only twenty-two names and their documents. One of them, Mehmed Abdullah, was the editor of the news service on Uyghurs at public radio in Beijing. Abdullah’s
crime was broadcasting about 2009 Urumqi massacres, and giving interviews to the international press. He was immediately detained and in 2010 was sentenced to life long imprisonment. The other names obtained by Amnesty International are as follows:
Abdulgani Mehmetemin – nine years, Dilşat Perhat – five years, Gayret Niyaz -fifteent years, Gülmire Emin ve Memet Abdullah -life long imprisonment, Mehbube Ablesh – three years, Nicat Azat ten years, Nureli Ubul – three years, Nurmuhammad Yasin – ten years, Tursuncan Hezim – seven years. (1)
Beyond all these atrocities, however, the most urgent issue that affects thousands of lives is that two million Uyghur Turks are held captive in internment or political inculcation camps. China opened “reeducation centres” in 2017. After a few initial titles, these camps were officially named Profession Education Schools in early 2017. (2) The internment camps will have multi-generational effects on Uyghur Turks.
Chinese government showed how it shifted from discourses requesting respect for the rights of the ethnic minorities to assimilation politics involving detention in internment camps, criminalising the ethnic and religious identities. Some researchers and observers even compared these practices with Soviet Gulags. (3) For instance, an article in the Washington Post wrote, “The ones who believe in “never again” philosophy after the Nazi camps and Stalin’s gulags, has to raise their voice against brainwashing, imprisonment, and torture in China.” (4) Another critical analysis was provided by the researcher Rian Thum who prepared a report about China and its Congress and Administrative bodies. In his report dated July 2, 2018, Thum warned that if legal preventive
measures and due processes not imposed in the camps, ‘We cannot prevent a potential massacre.’ (5) The politics of Uyghur youth and the educational system have been central in Chinese politics of ethnic cleansing. Initially, speaking in Uyghur Turkish was banned in schools and universities.
Uyghur students at the age of secondary school were dispatched to the majority Chinese speaking schools. Hiring Uyghur nationals were restricted. Entries to the mosques were recorded and for the Uyghurs banned Security search for Uyghur majority areas and around mosques were increased, and many people disappeared during these searches. At the top of these, the International Uyghur students were asked to return, and upon their return, they were
detained and taken into the incarceration camps without any due process or warning. One of the latest strategies of ethnic cleansing was opening new orphanages for the children whose parents were detained in the incarceration camps. The Uyghur children have no freedom to have a future under state surveillance and state violence where ethnic profiling, bullying, inculcated censure, and violence is endemic. New tactics of oppression are invented every day. A different report by Radio Free Asia highlighted inhumane and unsanitary conditions of the incarceration camps as the number of people is above the capacity of the camps. Despite this fact, more and more people are being imprisoned every day and adding up to the population density in the camps. (Shohret Hoshur,1, 2018). (6) We can expect the worse to come with layers of more aggressive policies. It can be deduced that human rights violations will increase and escalate, creating much harsher conditions.
The ethnic cleansing is not inclusive of only Uyghur Turks. Unfortunately, other ethnic minorities in Eastern Turkestan also suffer from violation of fundamental human rights. Alongside the Uyghurs, Kazak, Ozbek, and Tatar Turks are detained in the incarceration camps, or so-called “Educational Centres.” Some were exiled into prisons in the inner land of China and had been suffering from a myriad of losses in health, economic, and social aspects. Some lost their lives in the camps, some disappeared, and nothing heard about thousands.
Conclusion: Many intellectuals, students, academics, and writers have been detained, imprisoned, and tortured in the camps and prisons in China. These include the leading linguists, folklorists, poets, artists, and public intellectuals from different minorities, from Uyghurs to Kazak Turks. Ethnic cleansing might have begun with leaders of ethnic minorities as poets and linguists; however, it spread and turned the region into an open-air prison. The leaders are the light to enlighten their people, the bridges connecting them to their past and future. The intellectuals are the backbone, the soul, the spirit of a society. Targeting the freedom of speech and thought is the most considerable violence a community can face. Silencing the people of Eastern Turkestan means erasing their legacy, their past and future. Despite all the suppression, the international media has been reporting state violence in China.
1) Abdulehed ER, Doğu Türkistan’da Gazeteci Olmak, https://akademiye. org/tr/?p=1723, 29 Ağustos 2018.
2) Uygur İnsan Hakları Projesi Raporu 2017.
3) Nordlinger, J. (2018). China’s Uyghur Oppression: A New Gulag. [online] National Review.
4) Washington Post (2018). China’s repugnant campaign to destroy a minority people.
5) Congressional-Executive Commission on China (2018). Hearing on Surveillance, Suppression, and Mass Detention: Xinjiang’s Human Rights Crisis. [online] CECC.