The Chinese government insists its detention and re-education of Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities are part of legitimate counterterrorism operations.
Chinese authorities have interned more than 1 million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other Muslims in camps where prisoners are forced to renounce their religious and ethnic identities and swear allegiance to the Communist Party. Prisoners are often tortured and forced to work in labor camps. The main targets of oppression are Uighur intellectuals whose writings and teaching promotes Uighur culture.
The Chinese government has also bulldozed Uighur cemeteries to prevent families from observing Uighur tradition and Islamic burial rites, banned parents from giving their children Islamic names, and forced Muslims to eat pork or drink alcohol — both forbidden in Islam — thereby preventing Muslim families from practicing their faith.
“China’s repressive campaign in Xinjiang is not about terrorism,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at a meeting of Central Asian states during the United Nations General Assembly in September. It’s “about China’s attempt to erase its own citizens’ Muslim faith and culture.”
That same week, the Chinese ambassador claimed that the camps constitute useful experiments in preventive counterterrorism.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan flatly rejected China’s claims, saying the idea that the Chinese government is carrying out counterterrorism is a “false narrative.” Uighur Muslims “can be detained for simply possessing books on religion and Uighur culture, reciting the Quran at a funeral, or even wearing clothing with the Muslim crescent,” he said.
“What China is doing is not counterterrorism,” Sam Brownback, ambassador at large for international religious freedom at the U.S. State Department, and U.S. State Department Counterterrorism Coordinator Nathan Sales said in an essay in May. “It is ugly repression, on a mass scale.”