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  • Elliot Dixon-Williamson

Mass Internment of Uighur Muslims in China

What is the main issue?

This is the largest mass internment of an ethnic-religious minority since World War II. The Chinese Communist Party considers Uighur Muslims Islamic extremists and has actively detained an estimated 3 million into detention camps without trial in the past three years. Detainees in the camps are abused, face forced medical procedures and are forced into slave labour for the Chinese government. Chinese documents have been leaked by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists detailing the horrific procedures used to “cleanse” traditional Uighur Muslim beliefs and language forcing prisoners to conform to Chinese norms and language. Documents also revealed how the police are guided by a massive data collection and analysis system using artificial intelligence to identify and select residents for detention. Residents can be admitted into internment camps for simply having Muslim text in their cellular phones, speaking their Turkic language, practicing traditional ceremonies, or even decorating their homes with traditional pillows and furniture. The Chinese government claims that statistics and information regarding these camps have been largely exaggerated and that measures are put in place simply to battle terrorism, multiple terrorist attacks have taken place in Xinjiang since the early nineties. The Chinese government claims all terrorists confessed to Jihadist motives.

Who are the decision-makers? Where is the power? Who is powerless?

Most Uighurs live in Xinjiang, which is in northeastern China. As an ethnic minority only accounting for 11 million of the 1.4 billion where 92% are Han Chinese ethnicity, they are marginalized and politically discriminated against by the majority. They live mostly in poverty and have very little economic support from the rest of China. It is not surprising that Xinjiang became a violent area. In response, citizens began performing non-violent protests, and when those didn’t work, many citizens took it upon themselves to join extremist groups and perform terrorist attacks, to which the Chinese government responded swiftly and forcefully with a crackdown on the entire Uighur population. The Chinese government used the media within its own country to turn the majority against the Uighurs and used advanced surveillance technology to target the Muslim population. China is the power. The Uighurs are powerless. The rest of the world is fearful to confront a massive superpower like China: the western world relies on China’s cheap labour and utter disregard for human life for our inexpensive products.

What are the causes underlying this issue?

The largely accepted cause of this mass internment would be the terrorist attacks that took place in the impoverished Xinjiang province mentioned earlier. However, China’s historical marginalization of the Uighurs explains the extreme recklessness and lack of compassion during this massive crackdown on the population. In addition, since the Uighurs are in poverty and have conflicting beliefs with those of the communist party, the Chinese Government sees this as a way to simultaneously exterminate a nuisance and receive free labour from those in internment camps who craft government goods and function as human test subjects for drugs and medical procedures.

How does the system operate?

China relies largely on data collection and surveillance technology to specifically target members of the Uighur Muslim population. Here’s one scary example: Recently Muslims around the world began using a file-sharing application named Zapya; it allows users to download texts from the Quran and share religious information with family and friends. However, this was created by a Chinese tech company based in Beijing, and in newly leaked documents it has been revealed the Chinese government has been using this application to flag and locate Uighur Muslims. Disturbingly, the app was designed to function offline so it became very accessible and popular in poor regions like Xinjiang. Simply downloading religious texts is enough to be placed in a detention centre for a minimum of one year.

China also began using what it calls “predictive policing” the program is titled the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP). It collects individual information of Chinese citizens without their knowledge and flags certain individuals as suspicious and reports them to the government. The system even uses facial recognition on thousands of security cameras throughout the country. The Chinese are under fire by countless human rights groups for this invasive system.

What are the consequences?

An entire culture is being forcibly destroyed. Millions of lives are now spent in labour camps, families are torn apart and people are being killed and abused. Even after leaving camps, Uighurs are living in a surveillance state and must conform to Chinese norms and struggle with mental health problems and physical injuries received in camp. China simply calls these detention camps reeducation facilities and denies all human rights violations.

The Chinese government has the ability to treat Uighur Muslims however they choose with little backlash by the majority since they have control over the ideals and norms. And since the Muslims are a marginalized group pushed to the outskirts of Chinese society and presented as terrorists in the media combined with the regime's notoriety of violence against protesters, the Chinese have little opposition from their own people. Now the regime has millions in a system of modern slavery, accepted as a fair punishment for simply peacefully practicing one’s own religion.

How can I help?

Visit the following website:

This website provides a variety of educational sources, petitions to sign, and places to donate to.


Alecci, S. (2020, January 18). How China Targets Uighurs 'One by One' for Using a Mobile App. Retrieved from

Allen-Ebrahimian, B. (2019, November 25). Exposed: China's Operating Manuals for Mass Internment and Arrest by Algorithm. Retrieved from

Baker, S. (2020, January 13). China's latest move in its Uighur crackdown is forcing Muslims to redecorate their homes to make them look more Chinese. Retrieved from

COORDINATES. (2019, November 20). Retrieved from

Data leak reveals how China 'brainwashes' Uighurs in prison camps. (2019, November 24). Retrieved from

ZailiUses, L. (2018, October 24). Religious Belief is a Crime for Authorities. Retrieved from

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