For Gulchehra Hoja, the Chinese government’s systematic repression of Uyghur Muslims is personal: her mother, father, brother, and more than 20 relatives are detained in “reeducation camps” in Xinjiang.
“Last week, I learned that one of my relatives … had died in Chinese prison. His body has not been returned to his family,” Hoja said May 11 at a virtual event hosted by the U.S. embassy to the Vatican.
He was a “59-year-old father of three children, taken to the camp in 2017, and later sentenced to 19 years in prison just for studying religion,” she said.
Hoja, originally from China’s northwest Xinjiang region, has been working as a journalist for Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service for nearly 20 years.
She shared what she has witnessed at the event, “Human Rights in China: Uyghurs and Religious Minorities,” hosted by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.
“The Chinese government has established a list of criteria by which the authorities would deem someone as extremist, just to name a few: growing a beard, wearing a headscarf or long dress, keeping religious books at home, naming your child with Islamic name, as Mohamed. Just having one of those criteria applied to you is enough to be sent to camps,” she said.
“Unfortunately, the Chinese government sees any religion as a threat to its rule,” she added.
The Chinese Communist Party government has detained more than a million predominantly Muslim Uyghurs in internment camps in Xinjiang, where detainees have faced torture, forced labor, and death, according to the U.S. Department of State.
A report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found that more than 15,000 mosques have been damaged or demolished in the region since 2018, and an AP investigation found a systematic campaign by the Chinese Communist Party of pregnancy checks and forced abortions, sterilizations, and implantations of IUDs on Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang.
Rachel Harris, a professor at the University of London whose research has focused on Uyghur culture and religious practice, said at the event that she was worried that this “vibrant religious culture” is being “systematically destroyed.”
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