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Forced Labour in Xinjiang and Uyghur #MeToo

The year 2019 has not brought any positive changes to the state of affairs in Xinjiang. Official state policy has repeatedly asserted that Muslim ‘reeducation camps’ assume a crucial role in China’s fight against terrorism and separatism in Xinjiang, as the Chinese authorities claim to have arrested over 13,000 ‘terrorists’. However, there is now mounting evidence to suggest that such camps are institutionalising a system of forced labour. Comprised of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other minority groups, detainees at these camps are reportedly being moved to factories where they provide forced labour for free or at a very low-cost. On 9 February Turkey issued a statement denouncing China for ‘violating the fundamental human rights’ of its Muslim communities, deeming the nation’s actions ‘a great embarrassment for humanity’ and singling out the case of Abdurehim Heyit, a Uyghur musician who disappeared in 2017 and was rumoured to be dead. In an attempt to dispel such criticisms, China released a video of the man, who was very much alive. However, such efforts backfired, as this video inspired other Uyghurs to take to social media to demand that the Chinese government disclose the conditions of their loved ones. To do so, they coopted the hashtag #MeToo. At the same time, a petition calling for the release Uyghur professor Ilham Tohti five years after his arrest in 2014 was circulated. In another setback for the Chinese authorities, in February ethical hacker Victor Gevers exposed a data breach, which revealed that China has been closely tracking the location and identities of almost 2.6 million people in Xinjiang. This is yet more proof that the region has become a significant testing ground for facial recognition and surveillance technologies that have the potential to drastically reshape China’s domestic security apparatus. All of this led to condemnation from several Western governments, while the Swedish authorities have decided to grant refugee status to all Uyghurs from Xinjiang. TS

(Sources: Financial Times; Forbes; The Diplomat; The Guardian 1; The Guardian 2; The New York Times; South China Morning Post)

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