Omer Kanat, Director of Uyghur Human Rights Project @uyghurproject
Indonesia has earned the deep gratitude of Uyghurs around the world. I add my heartfelt thanks for the compassion that Indonesians have shown for the suffering of my people.
Indonesia is the first country where grassroots civil society has expressed widespread outrage about Beijing’s brutal treatment of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims. The Indonesian Ulema Council and Muhammadiyah are asking the government to take urgent action, and calling on the UN and the OIC to address the Uyghur crisis.
Statements from House Speaker Bambang Soesatyo and Deputy House Speaker Fadli Zon alike have called for more government action on the issue. It is heartening that representatives from both the ruling coalition and the opposition support raising Indonesia’s voice.
The Chinese government can no longer ignore the global outcry over the mass internment of one to two million Uyghurs and other Muslim groups in indefinite-detention camps. The Washington Post calls them “concentration camps” and has condemned China’s “massive campaign of cultural extermination against the Uighurs.”
The handful of survivors of the camps who have reached safety describe torture, food deprivation, being forced to take unknown medicines, and being forced to renounce Islam and praise the Communist Party.
Since demolishing at least 5,000 mosques in the Uyghur region in 2016, the government has continued to destroy mosques, while removing all Islamic symbols from others and turning them into centers for disseminating Party propaganda, according to local officials.
In October 2018, the government launched an “anti-halal” campaign. Government teams have been sent to villages to promote the eating of non-halal food, claiming that separating foods into the categories of halal and haram is a sign of “extremism.” Kashgar University has implemented a policy of “Removing Extremism From Eating,” announcing that all students and staff must swear an oath to “follow Chinese food culture,” a traditionally pork-heavy cuisine.
The government’s systematic separation of Uyghur children from their families is a massive crime against humanity. A February 2018 Kashgar government notice stated that children in the fourth grade and above with a parent in detention must be sent to boarding school immediately, even if one parent is still at home. Students must be instilled with socialist values, and be taught to “love the motherland,” it said.
A reporter interviewed a 29-year-old Uyghur mother left her children at home in the care of her mother-in-law when she went to Turkey to care for a relative. Then her mother-in-law was taken away to detention. Her children are now in a state orphanage. She wept while telling her story. “When I finally see them again, will they even recognize me?” she asked. “Will I recognize them?”
Uyghurs outside the camps must attend political indoctrination classes and submit to government searches of their homes, to confiscate Qurans and other “extremist” items. Their behavior is monitored by Communist Party officials who stay overnight with them, looking for signs of “religious extremism,” such as greeting one another by saying “asalamu alaykum,” praying after meals, or refusing alcohol or pork.
The Chinese government desperately wants to avoid being seen to be unjustly imprisoning and torturing Muslims. Facing criticism by the UN in August, officials first denied the existence of the camps and then began to call them “vocational training centers.” A few months later, it was credibly reported that some camps were removing the barbed wire from their walls and warning nearby residents not to say anything negative about the camps to the visitors.
Then in early January, the government orchestrated stage-managed tours for foreign diplomats and journalists. Among those invited were officials from Indonesia. The Indonesian government must not be taken in by this obvious cover-up attempt.
It is unsurprising that China is concerned about the opinion of Indonesians. As a thriving democracy, debate about policy takes place in the public square. When Indonesian citizens mobilize to protest Chinese policies designed to wipe out the practice of Islam by a vulnerable minority, the Chinese government cannot but be concerned.
But Indonesians are right to be appalled and outraged by the treatment of Uyghurs. I am confident that the citizens of Indonesia’s free and open society will not be fooled by the Chinese government’s propaganda.
And as the people of Indonesia make known their deep and sincere compassion for the suffering of the Uyghur people, the next step is for the government to take a leadership role in calling for China to cease its crimes against humanity against Muslims.
And as the world’s most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia should play an active role in mobilizing the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), as the collective voice of the Muslim world, to stand up for the basic human rights of the Uyghurs.
A strong stance by Indonesia will encourage other nations to follow suit. Indonesia’s leadership is vital to freeing millions of suffering Uyghur prisoners and reuniting separated families before it is too late.
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