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Current Issues

Current Issues

Uyghurs living in East Turkistan (officially the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China) are continuously harassed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The CCP has extended its outright assault on basic human rights and fundamental freedoms guaranteed under international and Chinese law by effectively criminalizing even the most basic aspects of Uyghur life. 

On top of these severe systematic and comprehensive human rights violations, the Chinese authorities are committing crimes against humanity since late 2016, when the newly appointed CCP Secretary for the Uyghur Region, Chen Quanguo, introduced not only a system of total surveillance in both the public and the private sphere but also established different kinds of political indoctrination camps all over East Turkistan, numbering in the thousands. Numerous mysterious deaths and widespread reports of torture accompanied the inception of these so-called “vocational training facilities”.

Uyghurs have suffered from state sponsored discrimination for decades in terms of restrictions on religious freedom, language rights, cultural rights and freedom of movement. We witnessed the introduction and implementation of draconian laws that directly target Uyghurs and their way of life, ostensibly in the name of security and protection against terrorist threats. China’s Counter-Terror Law came into effect on 1 January 2016 and has already led to unparalleled abuse. Its drafting was widely condemned by the international community for its excessively broad and vague language.

Rather than scrutinizing the roots of resentment between ethnic groups, the government has largely chosen to lay the blame on Islam for violence committed by a tiny fraction of the population. Collective punishment is the net result, as the government has continued to push the idea that Uyghur cultural expression and religious practice naturally leads to instability, without recognizing that tolerance and genuine autonomy will act as a remedial force instead.

Political Indoctrination Camps

In 2019, an estimated 1-3 million Uyghurs are being held without charge in different kinds of political indoctrination camps. After the issue had been widely reported in the press and by academics, the Chinese authorities moved away from their initial denial of the existence of such camps reframing them in August 2018 as “vocational training facilities”, despite credible reports of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment by people who have been held in the camps. The Chinese government claims that the Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslim minorities indigenous to the region (such as Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and Tatars) are receiving vocational skills training to increase their chances to find employment, despite the fact that among the inmates are successful business people, Uyghur celebrities and academics.

The camps began to take shape in April 2017, when Uyghurs living outside China were starting to lose contact with family members. By 2019, virtually every family in the Uyghur diaspora has a missing relative or loved one presumably disappeared into the camps. There are various reasons why Uyghurs end up in the camps, including having contact with relatives abroad, returning from studies in Muslim majority countires, or using higher than average amounts of electricity.

The camp inmates are detained indefinitely and without charge and forced to undergo indoctrination classes aimed at eroding their unique religious, cultural and ethnic identities. They are provided very little food throughout the day, housed in overcrowded cells and are detained extra-legally, with no legal representation allowed throughout the process of arrest and incarceration. 

Despite very tight travel restrictions on anyone visiting or living in the region, reporting from Human Rights Watch, independent researchers as well as testimony of camp survivors who managed to flee their homeland, give a good indication of the extent to which the Uyghur population is being repressed and provide a glimpse into life inside the camps.

Reports of torture in the camps are widespread, and an increasing number of Uyghurs have died in the camps, including prominent Uyghur scholar and religious figure Muhammad Salih Hajim, who died in January 2018 at age 82, two young Uyghurs who died in custody under uncertain circumstances in December 2017, a teenager who died under mysterious circumstances in March 2018, another who was driven to suicide in February 2018, and Ayhan Memet, the mother of WUC President Dolkun Isa, who reportedly died in a camp in May 2018 at the age of 78. In June 2018, 26 people reportedly died in a camp in Hotan prefecture.

A number of prominent Uyghurs have been detained in the camps for unclear reasons, including Adil Mijit, a 55-year-old famous Uyghur comedian, who was disappeared in Urumqi in November 2018,  Abdulqadir Jalaleddin, a prominent Uyghur professor and poet, who was detained on January 29, 2018, Ablajan Ayup, a 34-year-old Uyghur pop singer who was detained on February 15, 2018, after he returned from Shanghai, and Obulkasim Haji, the 67-year-old owner of the Kasir Hotel in Kashgar, who was detained around December 5, 2017.

The camps also hold a large number of Uyghur writers and academics which represents a significant escalation of ethnic suppression. Those disappeared include Rahile Dawut, an internationally known folklorist, literature professors Abdukerim Rahman, Azat Sultan and Gheyretjan Osman, language professor Arslan Abdulla and poet Abdulqadir Jalaleddin. High ranking university administrators such as Kashgar University’s president Erkin Omer and vice president Muhter Abdughopur have been removed from their posts and their whereabouts are unknown, while others such as Halmurat Ghopur, former president of Xinjiang Medical University Hospital and former president of Xinjiang University Tashpolat Tiyip have received suspended death sentences.

Civil & Political Rights

Religious Freedom

Chinese policy has, for many years, aimed to curtail religious expression of non-Han groups throughout the country – these policies have affected the Uyghur population in particular more recently. Taken together, the myriad restrictions put the future of Islam as a basis for cultural identity under direct threat in China.

According to Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution, “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief.” The article goes on to explain that the state, “protects normal religious activities” and that, “No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order.” The latter two clauses can be seen as the basis for broad discretion in the state’s interpretation of the law. State protection is provided to ‘‘normal religious activities’’ without clarifying or qualifying the phrase.

In June 2017, China passed a revised version of its Regulations on Religious Affairs (RRA). The amendments give greater control to the government to monitor religious practice, control religious activities and contain restrictions designed to “curb extremism” and “resist infiltration”. A much greater focus on the role of religious practice, national security and online expression is included.

In March 2017, the regional government of East Turkistan passed a Regulation on ‘De-extremification’, which targets Islam in particular. Under the Regulation, signs of “extremification” include: wearing clothing with face coverings, growing “irregular beards”, bearing symbols of “extremification”, publishing or possessing information with “extremist content”. Parents have, moreover, been prohibited from choosing 28 baby names for their children under the legislation. Uyghurs under the age of 18 are not able to enter mosques to pray or take part in religious activities. Religious worship has been confined to “officially approved religious premises”. Imams are selected by the government and heavily scrutinized.

Also in 2017, local regulations were passed forcing restaurants to stay open during Ramadan, and teachers and civil servants were forbidden from taking part in the religious practice altogether. In October 2018, China began an organized effort with the goal to ban halal food products, allegedly fighting what it called the process of “pan-halalization”. The access to officially registered religious sites, such as mosques, is monitored by full-body scanners, which identify and transmit to the authorities the personal data of every visitor.

Large-scale mosques destructions began in late 2016 under the scope of a “Mosque Rectification” program, where Chinese authorities conducted a systematic campaign to demolish or desecrate places of worship. Radio Free Asia indicated that during the official campaign in the fall of 2016, around 5000 mosques were destroyed. The regional government cited “safety concerns” as a justification for the actions.

Judicial Rights

Basic judicial rights, including the right to legal representation, a fair and prompt trial and due process are virtually non-existent for Uyghurs in China. There is no evidence suggesting that the countless Uyghurs arrested each year on charges relating to illegal religious practice, separatism or extremism are provided any legal representation whatsoever.

On top of a total lack of basic rights of legal procedure, most persons who are being sent to an internment camp do not even receive an explanation, why they are being held in the camp. They remain in the camps indefinitely and without any charges being filed. The authorities also often refuse to issue information to relatives – especially to those living abroad – on the whereabouts of their loved ones.

Even in exceptional cases, like that of Ilham Tohti, his lawyers could not meet him for six months after his initial detention, the defense team was not provided with complete evidence by the prosecutor, nor were their requested witnesses allowed to testify.

The arrest and detention of suspects is often shrouded in secrecy with no legal requirement that authorities provide family members with information on cases. This becomes a particular problem in cases of enforced disappearances or when Uyghurs die in custody without investigation.

Legal aid is often denied in cases involving “leaking state secrets” or “endangering state security”. Article 37(3) of China’s amended Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) stipulates that, “Where a defense lawyer files a request during the period of criminal investigation for a meeting with a criminal suspect in custody who is suspected of compromising national security, terrorist activities, or extraordinarily significant bribery, the meeting shall be subject to the permission of the criminal investigation authority.” This effectively allows investigative authorities to deny lawyers access to their clients if they are accused of these broadly defined crimes.

During the investigative process, detainees are often forced to wait long periods of time until the People’s Procuratorate approves of the arrest. According to Article 89 CPL, detainees can be held up to seven days before approval or disapproval by the People’s Procuratorate of an official arrest, or up to an additional 30 days under special circumstances. Once the arrest has been officially approved, it can then take months, and even years, for authorities to conduct and conclude official investigations in preparation for trial.

Death Penalty

The use of the death penalty remains prevalent in China. Most troubling has been the absence of transparency or proper observance of internationally recognized legal procedures. In many cases in East Turkistan, the majority of decisions are implemented hastily with no effective chance for appeal. Many sentences have been delivered without transparency, and there is no evidence that suspects are provided any kind of legal representation or defense.

Also in 2018, China remains the world leader in the use of the death penalty, according to Amnesty International, suggesting that China continues to move against the overwhelming trend away from this practice. As China does not publish any figures on executions, Amnesty International estimates that thousands of prison inmates were executed in 2018.

Recent Cases:

Tashpolat Tiyip: The former president of Xinjiang University was sentenced to death with two-year reprieve on “separatism” charges. Professor Tashpolat was a geoscientist, enjoying a special allowance for experts by the State Council. He was dismissed on March 31, 2017, which is assumed to also be the time when he was arrested. In September 2019, Professor Tashpolat’s case resurfaced among fears that his execution might be imminent, leading to an appeal for urgent action by Amnesty International.

Halmurat Ghopur: The president of the Xinjiang Food and Drug Administration’s Department of Inspection and Supervision and former president of Xinjiang Medical University Hospital is an internationally recognized scientist whose work has been honored by the Chinese government. Ghopur has been detained in an undisclosed location since November 2017. On September 28, 2018, Radio Free Asia published an article stating that police alleged that messages received from an exiled Uyghur contained “nationalistic tendencies.” The article added that Ghopur had been handed a two-year suspended death sentence.

Abdughapar Abdurusul: The Uyghur businessman and philanthropist was reportedly sentenced to death for taking an unsanctioned pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. Radio Free Asia reported that Abdurusul, a resident of Ghulja City in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, was arrested in July or August 2018 and sentenced without legal representation during a group trial shortly afterwards. The information was corroborated by a number of people close to Abdurusul, including his brother, Abdusattar Abdurusul, his former neighbour who now resides in Turkey, as well as a former business associate who lives in exile.

Satar Sawut: The former director of the Xinjiang Education Supervision Bureau, Satar Sawut, was handed a two-year suspended death sentence. Very little further information exists on his case.


In judicial detention as well as in the internment camp system, Uyghurs are regularly subjected to torture and inhumane or degrading treatment. Camp survivors tell of psychological and physical abuse in order to be pressured to give false admissions of guilt or information on people they do not even know. There are accounts of sleep deprivation and physical assaults during questioning and reports of overcrowding and highly unsanitary conditions in the cells of detention centers. Cases of deaths in detention due to torture or the refusal of medical assistance are reportedly also common occurrences.

Mihrigul Tursun, camp survivor, received asylum in the U.S., where she relates the horrible atrocities committed against women in internment camps.

Furthermore, China has not amended its Criminal Procedure Law to conform to the Convention Against Torture to recognize a broader range of abuses that constitute torture under the Convention. Police are legally entitled to deny access to lawyers for suspects charged with terrorism and state security offenses, expanding opportunities for the use of torture without legal supervision. China continues to allow the use of evidence collected through forced confessions at trial.

Arbitrary Arrests

The arbitrary arrest and detention of Uyghurs in East Turkestan remains one of the sharpest tools employed by regional authorities. We now see that the mere threat of arrest in 2016 and 2017 continues to suppress Uyghurs in their daily lives. The list of punishable offences has grown to such an extent that Uyghur life has effectively been criminalized.

International legal standards are clear on the issue of arbitrary detention. The right to be free from arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of liberty is now an established principle of human rights and Customary International Law. The principle has been clearly set out in Article 9 of the ICCPR, stating that “Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention,” and has been picked up by nearly all states in domestic law as well.

Article 37 of China’s Constitution establishes that “Freedom of the person of citizens of the People’s Republic of China is inviolable,” and despite exceptions within international law regarding serious offences or convicted persons, China continues to act well beyond these reasonable limits with Uyghurs.

Recent Cases:

Ilham Tohti: The case of jailed Uyghur academic Ilham Tohti continues to remain contentious in the international community. Tohti is a Uyghur economist, writer, intellectual and former professor at Minzu University in Beijing. He is one of the most prominent scholars on Uyghur issues.

Tohti was initially arrested in January 2014 on charges of “inciting separatism”. During his detention, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) found his deprivation of liberty to be arbitrary in an opinion adopted between April 22 and May 1, 2014, and urged the government to “take the necessary steps to remedy the situation, which include the immediate release of Mr. Tohti and to grant him compensation for the harm he has suffered during the period of his arbitrary detention.” Nonetheless Tohti was convicted of “inciting separatism” and sentenced to life in prison.

Huseyin Celil: The case of Huseyin Celil also remains unresolved. Celil is a Canadian citizen who is now in prison in China despite condemnation from the Canadian and other governments along with a number of prominent human rights organizations.

Mr. Celil fled China back in 2001 following a short jail term for his support for religious and political rights for Uyghurs. After settling in Canada and gaining his Canadian citizenship, Mr. Celil was arrested while visiting family in Uzbekistan in 2006 and was subsequently deported to China in clear violation of international law.

Other Prominent Cases: 41 Uyghur religious leaders were arrested in March 2016 in Oymanbaytoqay village, Ghulja county including Imam Enver Hesen and Muezzin Ekber Nesirdin, for not attending the funeral of a prominent Communist Party member. Authorities acknowledged that the men were detained, but argued that the men were “religious extremists,” though local police cited a lack of loyalty to the CCP as evidence for their arrest.

24-year-old Rishat Haji was detained in mid-2016 in Atush, Kizilsu Kirghiz Autonomous Prefecture, in an effort to force the return of his older brother, Abduweli Haji from Turkey, whom the police reportedly suspected as a separatist. Rishat’s father Haji Ablimit and sister Melike Haji were also held and questioned, with his sister released after 15 days and his father held for 45 days during which time, his mother claimed he was tortured and threatened by police. Abduweli fled with other members of his family to Turkey in 2015.

Freedom of Movement

Uyghurs are ethnically profiled at checkpoints and are routinely stopped to have cell phones inspected. Chinese officials search the devices for unauthorized religious material or communication with anyone living abroad. In June 2017, all vehicles in the Bayingol Mongol Autonomous Prefecture were required to install GPS devices that allow officials to track movements.

The Chinese government has heavily restricted Uyghurs’ rights to travel. On October 19, 2016, the Shihezi Public Security Bureau announced that all Uyghurs living in the XUAR must hand in their passports to police or risk punishment. In 2017, these measures were applied to all Uyghurs living in China, and Uyghurs living abroad have since then been facing difficulties when trying to renew their passports at Chinese embassies.

In April and May of 2017, the Chinese government ordered all Uyghur students studying abroad to return. Many who voluntarily followed this request – and especially those returning from Muslim majority countries – were on arrival arrested and detained in re-education camps, with at least five dying in custody.

The Chinese government has also made use of the Interpol Red Notice system to limit the movements of dissidents and activists. WUC President Dolkun Isa was issued a Red Notice in the late 1990s which severely restricted his travel but was deleted in February 2018.

Right to Privacy

Ever since its inception, the People’s Republic of China has been systematically surveilling its people and has been unrestrainedly collecting their personal data. Video surveillance in public places, including facial recognition, has been used all over China since the early 2000s with “Intelligence-Led-Policing” measures in the wake of the governments “Golden Shield Project” (金盾工程).

In 2014, the Chinese government instituted the so-called “Strike Hard Campaign against violent activities and terrorism” (严厉打击暴力恐怖活动专项行动). Towards the end of 2016, the then newly appointed Communist Party Secretary for the Uyghur region, Chen Quanguo, implemented new measures previously used in Tibet to transform East Turkistan into a police state of total surveillance. His administration established around 7,500 “convenience police stations”, introduced systematic facial recognition technology in public places throughout the region, GPS tracking of vehicles and spyware on the smartphones of Uyghurs and tourists alike.

The China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC) devised so-called “three-dimensional portrait and integrated data doors”, which scan the faces of individuals and read information from their electronic devices. These scanning devices are being used for regular checks at many of the police checkpoints as well as at the entrances to residential gated communities and public institutions, such as schools and mosques.

CETC’s “three-dimensional portrait and integrated data doors” –  This device was placed at the entrance to the Aq Mosque in Urumqi, 2018. Credit: Joanne Smith Finley.

On top of this comprehensive surveillance scheme in the Uyghur region, Mainland Chinese provinces and regions have been investing, since 2018, in facial recognition systems for public surveillance which are claimed to be able to identify “Uyghur attributes”.

Police and other government officials use the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP) to communicate about their operations and exchange personal data of individuals. The central platform collects data, which is being used to chart the movement of people, from multiple sources, including CCTV cameras, police checkpoints, package delivery and access scanners at schools, residential areas or mosques etc.. Reversely, it sends out orders to police and other state agencies to follow up on individual cases within the same day.

Data collected through the IJOP police mobile phone application includes personal data but also car registration numbers, the individual’s relationship with the persons living in the same household, political and religious affiliations and convictions as well as their bank information and activities abroad. The app instructs officials to specifically investigate 36 “types” of persons; these include those released from detention or internment camps, those who do not socialize with neighbors, internal migrants, those who register with the authorities to travel abroad or are connected to persons abroad, those who live in a household that consumes “abnormal” amounts of electricity, etc.. Included in this list are furthermore, in most cases, the family members of persons fitting the profiles.

Between June and November 2017, the Chinese government collected DNA samples, fingerprints, iris scans and blood types of virtually the whole population of the Uyghur region with the help of a program called “Physicals for All”, which offered free-of-charge medical examinations to the residents of East Turkistan.

Although the participation in the program was designed to be voluntary, participants were coerced by officials to attend the physicals; when they requested that the results be shared with them, the authorities, however, told them they had no right to access the outcome of their physicals. This collection of data from 18.8 million people in East Turkistan adds to a database of 40 million persons nation-wide. The collected samples have no connection with criminality, with only 1.5 million samples being related to physical evidence in a criminal investigation.

In 2013, the Chinese government started a campaign abbreviated as “fanghuiju” (访惠聚), which stands for “researching people’s conditions, improving people’s lives, winning people’s hearts”. A team of six policemen or local officials, always including one Uyghur, conduct systematic and arbitrary home visits predominantly in rural areas, reporting on “extremist” behavior, such as not drinking alcohol, fasting during Ramadan or growing unusual beards.

Since early 2018, the so-called “Becoming Family” (结对认亲) campaign, which was instituted in October 2016, picked up pace, involving roughly one million CCP cadres. Under this program, every two months, a group of government officials visits the same Uyghur family for a period of between five and eight days. These officials are tasked to “rectify” any “problems” or “unusual situations” they find. Besides reporting on cleanliness or alcohol abuse, the cadres are also supposed to indoctrinate people with CCP ideology and discourage them from following Muslim traditions or explore their Turkic indentity. The hosting families appear to have no way of objecting to the visits.

Freedom of Expression 

Freedom of expression for Uyghurs is effectively non-existent. Many Uyghur websites have been shut down and their administrators imprisoned on charges of “harming ethnic unity” or “endangering state security.”

Ilham Tohti, Uyghur economist, writer and professor, founded the website “” to promote conciliation between Uyghurs and Chinese. Tohti was arrested in January 2014 and the OHCHR’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found his deprivation of liberty to be arbitrary in April 2014. He was tried from September 23-24, 2014, convicted of “inciting separatism” and sentenced to life in prison. Seven of Tohti’s students were sentenced to imprisonment of three to eight years in 2014 on separatism charges.

Internet access in the region is routinely shut down following violent incidents, as it was for six months following violence in Yarkand County. Reporters Without Borders found in October 2009 that more than 85% of surveyed sites focusing on Uyghur content were “blocked, censored or otherwise unreachable.”

Press Freedom

As in much of the rest of China, press freedom in East Turkistan is virtually non-existent. For 2019, Reporters Without Borders gave China a score that stood only above Eritrea, North Korea and Turkmenistan in terms of freedom of the press. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, China is one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists, with 30 of the, at least, 47 currently jailed journalists being of Uyghur origin, despite Uyghurs only making up 1-2% of China’s total population.

In December 2016, regional regulations were passed in East Turkistan, which impose heavy fines of up to 500,000 yuan (72,700 USD) on website operators who “create, compile, spread, release or copy information considered harmful or false.” What may be broadly considered “harmful to national security” or “destructive of religious harmony” falls within the ambit of the regulation and therefore open to censure.

International media outlets also keep facing huge obstacles when working in the region. Information is strictly controlled by the State, which makes accurate statistics or reports hard to come by. Chinese authorities are willing to issue distorted or false information in order to block issues pertaining to East Turkistan from becoming known on an international scale, as made evident in a secret document of the Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. The document, entitled “Defending the Stability of Xinjiang”, adopted on March 19, 1999, briefly states that, “[…] through disinformation, prevent by all means, the separatist forces from making the so-called East Turkistan problem international”.

Economic Social and Cultural Rights

Language Rights

One of the focuses of the Chinese government’s political re-education programs in the internment camps lies on Chinese-language education.These classes, along with courses on Chinese law and state doctrine, are aimed at re-educating Uyghurs according to the Chinese Communist Party’s ideology and to eliminate all loyalty except that to the state.

The right of children to receive an education in their native language is enshrined in international law, most explicitly in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Learning in one’s native language is very important in the formation of cultural identity. Article 37 of the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law of the PRC also explicitly guarantees language rights for ethnic minority students: “Schools (classes) and other educational organizations recruiting mostly ethnic minority students should, whenever possible, use textbooks in their own languages and use these languages as the media of instruction.”

However, the assimilatory policies of the Chinese government and efforts to stifle and discourage the use of Uyghur language in schools and universities are depriving Uyghur children of this basic right.

On July 28, 2017, the Uyghur language was banned at all education levels up to and including secondary school in Hotan prefecture. Although the policy only covers schools in one single prefecture, past experience has shown that China tends to first test their policies on a local level. After this test run, a decision is made to adopt the approach on a more comprehensive level. Up until now, there are indications that the Uyghur language ban has indeed been spreading to other parts of East Turkistan.

Hotan’s Education Department argued that eliminating the Uyghur language would actually “strengthen elementary and middle/high school bilingual education.” The statement is not, however, paradoxical given that for the regional government, ‘bilingual education’ has never meant to maintain both Mandarin and Uyghur at the same level in terms of teaching, but to transition Uyghur students at all levels from education in their mother tongue to education in Chinese.

Economic Discrimination

Rapidly developing industries including the energy service sector, construction, resource extraction and government positions are dominated by Han Chinese living in the region whereas Uyghurs are largely excluded from the benefits and employment opportunities on account of ethnicity and language. Uyghur-native-language teachers, for example, have lost their jobs in significant numbers as Han Chinese teachers from outside the region are preferred.

Uyghurs disproportionately reside in the rural and southern parts of the region while Chinese reside in the northern and more populated areas and cities. Uyghurs rely largely on agriculture for employment and have reported high rates of poverty and unemployment, with almost 80% living below the poverty line. Land degradation, lack of water and land grabs from Chinese settlers exacerbate their situation. Uyghur migration to the north has made the uyghur community prone to accepting low-paying and labor-intensive jobs. They are also paid significantly less than Han Chinese workers.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative has boasted the potential development advantages for the entire region, but many past development campaigns have actually exacerbated economic problems for Uyghurs and led to greater inequity.

Sinicization Policy

A fierce campaign is being conducted to weaken the Uyghur language and increase the level of Chinese spoken in the region. Prior to the Chinese occupation of East Turkistan, the literary language of the Uyghurs contained no Chinese loanwords. Now, a large number of Chinese words have been introduced into Uyghur vocabulary, and several thousand Uyghur words have been removed stating that they are “not favourable to the socialist construction” or inhibit “national unity”. Uyghur language schools have been banned or merged with Chinese language schools, and Chinese has been imposed as the language of instruction. Young Uyghur children are being sent to mainland China to learn Chinese. Throughout the country hundreds of thousands of books written in Uyghur language have been burned.


Health care for Uyghurs in East Turkistan is basic. In the majority of hospitals, there are no operating tables, gynaecological equipment or disinfectant. Almost all doctors working in hospitals in East Turkistan are Han Chinese and do not speak Uyghur, which means they cannot communicate with the Uyghur patients, who in turn have difficulties explaining their problems. In recent years, cholera, leprosy, hepatitis, and HIV have become common medical problems.

The Chinese nuclear testing in East Turkistan over the past three decades continues to produce ecological disasters that pollute drinking water and food supplies, affect livestock and endanger human life. According to various sources in East Turkistan, babies with horrible deformities continue to be born. Tragically, the polluted districts bordering the nuclear test site still do not even receive elementary medical aid. After the nuclear tests in East Turkistan, no medical investigations have been carried out until now.


The discourse of terror in China has been very much a recent development since the September 11 attacks in 2001. Although there was occasional mention of the threat of terrorism in the 1990s, Uyghur protests were not framed in such a way by the Chinese government. Language that reflected responses to “crime,” “hooligans” and “gangs” was consistently present in state media reports. The government hurriedly began drawing links between violence in the region and global terror networks after 9/11.

The government has been employing counter-terror measures as a justification for the suppression of Uyghur rights across the board. China’s ostensible campaign against the “three evil forces” (terrorism, religious extremism and separatism) has explicitly served to draw a direct line from fundamental aspects of Uyghur culture to terrorism. The result has been a broad criminalization of Uyghur life as the population itself becomes increasingly, and erroneously, synonymous with the international terror threat.

Counter-Terrorism Legislation

The Counter-Terrorism Law of the People’s Republic of China was passed on December 27, 2015 and includes an excessively broad definition of “terrorism” and “terrorist activities” in its Article 3, that may lead to restrictions on freedom of movement and the practice of religious beliefs. According to Article 3, terrorism refers to, “propositions and actions that create social panic, endanger public safety, violate person and property, or coerce national organs or international organizations, through methods such violence, destruction, intimidation, so as to achieve their political, ideological, or other objectives.” Such a lengthy and broadly defined term ensures the state is provided sweeping jurisdiction to apply the law.

The definition of “terrorist activities” goes even further to include a number of worrying clauses. Article 3(2) includes, “compelling others to wear or bear clothes or symbols that advocate terrorism in a public place” as terrorist activities, which causes great concern in terms of China’s continued conflation of religious extremism and terrorism. Uyghurs have already been jailed and convicted on charges related to public displays of Islam or Uyghur culture more generally and under this provision, the wearing of traditionally Uyghur dress or symbols may be conflated with terrorism and land the bearer in prison on terror charges.

Article 3(4) implicates those who offer “other support, assistance or facilitation for terrorist organizations,” which presents a vaguely worded phrase that may allow for generous interpretation. In September 2015, it was reported that during a counter-terror operation in Aksu prefecture’s Bay county, 11 of the 28 people killed by security forces during a raid were women and children. In contrast, the entire group was described as a “terrorist gang” by state media.

Regional Implementation Guidelines/Measures

Regional implementation guidelines for the Uyghur region were passed by the regional government on July 29, 2016. The guidelines refine the scope of the national legislation and make direct connections between what is broadly defined as “extremism” and “terrorism”.

The legislation makes a direct link between religious practice, extremism and terrorism in Article 7, which states that, “[extremism] is the ideological foundation of terrorism,” and that “preventing and punishing extremist activities is an important strategy for countering the roots of terrorism.” Drawing such a straight line from religion to terrorism is not only concerning for its imprecision, but for the fact that it fails to acknowledge the role of persistent state repression that may lead to violence.

Regulation On “De-Extremification”

The Regulation on “De-extremification” came into force on April 1, 2017 on the national level. Under the regulation, signs of “extremification” include: wearing clothing with face coverings; growing “irregular beards”; bearing symbols of “extremification”; publishing or possessing information with “extremist content”. The regulation further prohibits parents from choosing 28 baby names for their children. It was amended on October 8, 2018, in an attempt to further justify the use of political indoctrination camps in the region, as noted in Article 33 calling for “[occupational] skills education and training centers and other education and transformation bodies.”

A group of UN Experts and Working Groups, in an official Communication to the Chinese government in November 2018, called for the repeal of the regulation and expressed deep concern for the overbroad definition of “extremification”, noting that “the homogenization of society and the aim to make ‘religion more Chinese’ are not considered legitimate aims under international human rights law.”

The Urumqi Massacre

Urumqi, July 5, 2009

On July 10, nearly a week after the violence in Urumqi, the Chinese Government publicly announced the death toll of the violence. They said that out of the 184 that were killed, 46 were Uyghur and the rest were Han Chinese. The WUC refutes these figures based on reports of several Uyghur witnesses who have contacted WUC representatives in the USA, Germany and Turkey. These eye-witnesses reported that on July 5 the Chinese police were present on the People’s Square in Urumqi before the Uyghur protesters arrived and that they started kicking, beating and arresting the protesters at their arrival. A well-prepared and initially peaceful protest turned violent within a few hours.

The fact that the Uyghur demonstrators carried Chinese flags shows that they did not intend for the protest to turn violent. Chinese authorities knew about the upcoming protest from its announcement on the Internet. They had the opportunity to make arrangements on how to deal with it. The protest started as reported around 5:00pm local time (7:00pm Beijing time). The police’s beating, chasing and arrests started immediately and lasted for many hours. By 8:30pm local time, the police chased Uyghur protesters into three alleyways (Old Malbazar alleyway near Sanshihangzi, Haba alleyway near No. 28 Elementary School, and the one near the Border Hotel) and cut off the electricity of the city of Urumqi for 90 minutes. In these 90 minutes, the police, fully armed with armored vehicles and machine guns, surrounded the crowds and fired with full military power. The sound of gunshots can be heard in many YouTube videos made that night. Adam Grode, an English teacher living in the neighborhood where the crackdown took place, said that by midnight, when some of the armored vehicles had already left, the gunfire could still be heard. According to witness reports, an estimated 1,000 or more people, most of them ethnic Uyghurs, were shot dead during that one and a half hour period of time. The Turkish Prime Minister later compared this violence to a genocide.

After electricity in Urumqi was returned at 10:00pm local time, the police searched the homes in the three alleyways where the killings took place and arrested all the males of 14 years and older. The police forced Uyghurs to undress completely except their underwear and loaded them into trucks. With China’s history of brutal crackdown and mass arrest of Uyghurs in past demonstrations in mind, we strongly believe that Chinese authorities arrested an estimated 5,000 or more Uyghur males that night. For this reason, the Uyghur protesters on July 7 and later were mostly women and children.


One of the reasons for the July 5 Uyghur peaceful protest in Urumqi was the government’s inaction after a number of Uyghur workers had been killed and several hundreds more injured in a Guangdong toy factory on June 25. In addition, the Chinese government announced that only two Uyghur workers had been killed and 118 injured in that ethnic clash and that the violence had started with an internet posting in which a former Han employee of the toy factory wrote that a number of Uyghur workers had raped two Han Chinese girls. The WUC believes that this is an incorrect representation of what happened. It is unlikely that one accusation posted on the internet can mobilize several thousands of Han workers to take up iron pipes and other weapons, to come to the factory campus, and to start beating any Uyghur worker, in most cases until they died.

The author of an article published on on July 10 wrote the following: “A local man said he took part in the assault because he was furious that the rapes had gone unpunished. ‘I just wanted to beat them. I hate Xinjiang people,’ he said. ‘Seven or eight of us beat a person together. Some Xinjiang people hid under their beds. We used iron bars to batter them to death and then dragged them out and put the bodies together.’ Squatting on his haunches in the shadows of a half-constructed apartment block, the Han man – who gave no name – said the government was lying about the death toll. He claims he helped to kill seven or eight Uyghurs, battering them until they stopped screaming. He thinks the death toll is more than 30, including a few Han.”

According to witness reports received by WUC representatives in several countries, at least 30 Uyghurs were killed and more than 300 were injured in this clash. It took police authorities about two days to clean up blood stains in the streets and dormitories of the factory campus. Many of the victims’ families who live in villages in the Kashgar District of East Turkistan, have received the bodies of their loved ones with a threat from the police saying that they were not allowed to talk to anyone about this incident. If they did, they would lose their homes and their farming land and they would go to jail.

After the riots in Urumqi

On July 6, mobs of several thousand Han Chinese, carrying meat cleavers, machetes, axes, clubs and shovels, went onto Urumqi’s streets to injure and kill any Uyghur they could find. They destroyed shops and restaurants owned by Uyghurs and demolished two mosques. Some Uyghur witnesses reported that those Han Chinese mobs are likely to have been military personnel in civilian clothes, because they acted like well-trained professionals when they were beating and killing Uyghurs.

Unlike in the case of the peaceful Uyghur protesters, the police made no attempts to stop or arrest anyone from the armed Han Chinese mobs on July 6, 2009. To our knowledge, all of those arrested on July 6 were Uyghurs.

Urumqi’s CCP chief, Li Zhi, said that those who had used “cruel means” during the rioting would be executed. In saying this, he referred to the several thousand Uyghurs who have been detained, since the Han mobs who used “cruel means” to injure and kill Uyghurs and damage Uyghur properties were not arrested.

Media report that an unknown number of Han Chinese residents in Urumqi are looking for missing family members. Possibly, some of the 1,000 or more people that were shot dead in the night of July 5 were Han Chinese and have already been buried by the Chinese authorities along with other bodies.