By Bob Fu & Rushan Abbas
March 17, 2022
Recently, many around the world acknowledged International Women’s Day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. In China, it is an official holiday where women enjoy a half-day off from work. Chinese retailers have leveraged it into a major shopping event called “Queen’s Day.” The irony of a day encouraging women to buy clothing is that many of these clothes are being made on the backs of various ethnic and religious groups of women in China. While the holiday may have passed, the atrocities the Chinese government is committing against women and Uyghurs in China have not.
The Uyghur people in Xinjiang, a western province of China also known as East Turkistan, are experiencing a brutal government campaign of genocide designed to destroy their core religious and cultural identity. Chinese authorities have implemented a repressive military-police state where Uyghurs and other largely Muslim Turkic groups face intrusive technological surveillance and imprisonment in so-called “reeducation” camps.
Since 2017, the communist regime of Xi Jinping has detained over a million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Turkic peoples in these internment camps. Firsthand accounts from inside paint a brutal picture of torture and political indoctrination.
The Chinese government has created a profitable pipeline, sending these prisoners to work as slaves in factories. Under the guise of “vocational training,” detainees who have “graduated” are transferred to factories within and outside East Turkistan. According to the Coalition to End Uyghur Forced Labor, 1 in 5 cotton garments in the global apparel market are now tainted by forced labor from the Uyghur Region.
Women are victims of the extremes the Chinese communists use to maintain control. Camp survivors have recounted horrific stories of systematic rape and sexual abuse. Women across the Uyghur region are subjected to pregnancy tests, forced intrauterine devices, forced sterilizations, and forced abortions.
The Chinese government is assaulting Uyghur women and the future of the Uyghur people by reducing Uyghur birthrates. The police-state and mass detention has displaced and disappeared entire families and communities. Due to these and other atrocities, the United States in January 2021 designated China’s coordinated campaign against Uyghur Muslims as genocide.
Gulmira Imin is one of the women lost in this system of torture and secrecy. A highly educated former government employee, she became the moderator of Salkin, a Uyghur language culture and news website. As a moderator, many of her online writings criticized the Beijing government.
She was accused of organizing a protest against the government, ethnic separatism, and leaking “state secrets” to her husband in Norway. She was sentenced to life in prison in 2010 after being tortured and forced to sign a confession. Her family was not notified of her arrest and was unaware of her location for months until China Central Television aired a documentary showing her in prison garb.
Information and updates on her location and condition are difficult to obtain, given the current restrictions placed on the region where Uyghurs live. We do know the Chinese authorities rejected her appeal for release. After she signed a statement of remorse in 2017, likely under duress, her life sentence was reduced to 19 years and eight months.
Terribly, Chinese authorities videotaped Gulmira’s 2017 statement and later deployed this video in prisons and internment camps along with other propaganda materials.
Gulmira’s story is sadly not unique. There are hundreds of thousands of other Uyghur women trapped in an extensive network of abuse. And there are many other brave women prisoners of conscience like Gulmira around the world. As global religious freedom advocates, we join together to call on the Chinese government to end its genocide against the Uyghur people and immediately release Gulmira and others unjustly imprisoned for their ethnic and religious identity.
Bob Fu is president and founder of the China Aid Association, and Rushan Abbas is the executive director and founder of Campaign for Uyghurs and an advocate for the human rights of the Uyghur people since the 1990s.