The Uyghur Lie

Rajath Prabhakar, Head of Layout

If you were to search for news on China within the last 2 years, chances are you would see some combination of Uyghurs, concentration camps, and condemnation from Western Europe and the United States. It has become an accepted narrative in the West that Chinese authorities, for unnamed diabolical reasons, are detaining the entire Uyghur population, a population of 10 million, in camps just outside the province of Xinjiang, where they are subjected to, depending on the news outlet, a combination of rape, beatings, sterilizations, and murders.

The allegations of these would-be human rights violations are derived from two studies, one from researcher Adrian Zenz, and the other from the NGO Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, both of which employ faulty research methods.

History of Xinjiang and Uyghurs

Since the 1970s and -80s, the United States has funded, armed, and trained radical Islamic extremists in Afghanistan in order to “fight communism”. The Uyghurs were not exempt from this. After the fall of the Soviet Union in the 90s, these fighters divided and formed various terrorist organizations, from the mujahideen to al-Qaeda to the Taliban to ISIL.

Xinjiang, being the largest province in China, is home to the dominant ethnicity of Uyghur Muslims, who consist of about 45% of the population. Because of the spread of radical Islam in the region mostly due to American intervention in addition to the Uyghur separatist movement, China had seen several terrorist attacks in the last few decades. These extremists even travelled to Syria to fight alongside ISIS.

As they returned home, chances were very high that they had undergone radicalization, and were thus dangerous to the safety and stability of the region. Instead of bombing entire Muslim-majority countries or torturing detainees in black sites, the Chinese government took a different approach: the establishment of reeducation facilities designed to reintegrate radical jihadists and other Islamic extremists back into society. In addition, the centers would also be used to snuff out radical jihadist tendencies from potential terrorists before they could do damage and potentially harm or kill other people. The approach taken was proactive rather than reactive.

Study from Adrian Zenz

Adrian Zenz is a member of the right-wing Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, derived from groups founded to resist attempts to ease tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States in the 1980s. The Victims of Communism Foundation contributed to the founding of the World Anticommunist League, which hosts neo-Nazis, fascists, and other right-wing extremists from 24 countries. Today, the Foundation advocates destabilizing regime-change in countries ranging from Venezuela to China, and more disturbingly, equates socialism with Nazism.

As for his research methods, his only study is from a media network that regularly hosts leaders from the East Turkistan Independence Movement (ETIM), considering its ties to al-Qaeda, it is designated a terrorist organization by the United States government and the United Nations.

Zenz himself has claimed that homosexuality, the banning of child beatings, and gender equality are “threats to Christianity”.  More importantly, he himself has no experience in Chinese matters, or for that matter, research and academia. He neither speaks nor reads Chinese and has never been to China, skills vital in understanding Chinese governmental documents.

Before his 2018 allegations, Zenz showed no previous indication that he is concerned about the rise in Islamophobia in the West, or indeed any pushback against American human rights violations against Muslims. Here, he denies that there is a double standard about how the media covers attacks by non-Muslims and the same attacks by Muslims. (Adrian Zenz)

CHRD Study

The conclusions about the alleged plight of the 10 million Uyghurs is drawn from interviews with 8 ethnic Uyghurs. Yes, eight. Not 80, or 800. Eight.

The allegations against Beijing are nothing but an excuse to go to war with China. They are nothing more than the “Saddam Hussein weapons of mass destruction” accusations of our time. (Chinese Human Rights’ Defenders)

Needless to say, this is a ridiculously small sample size, and as any statistician could attest, this makes it highly unlikely that any meaningful conclusion could be reached. The eight interviewees are uncorroborated, unverifiable, and anonymous, making the data even more spurious.

In addition, it receives a significant amount of funding from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a branch of the CIA that has played and continues to play a large role in American regime-change policies abroad. Interestingly, their website makes no mention of it, mysteriously citing “generous support from donors”.

As for the CHRD, the vast majority of its operations involve supporting and campaigning for right-wing ideologues who spew colonialist and imperialist apologia as well as calling for the “Westernization of China”.

In summary, the CHRD, funded by the US government, uses a ludicrously small sample size to make generalizations about the alleged “plight” of a group of over 10 million people. In addition, all additional sources that are supposed to substantiate these allegations are linked to the US government. If this were any other context, it is safe to say that this kind of “research” would be laughed out of the building.

Over 99% of the funding for the CHRD came from government sources, including NED, the primary arm of regime change for the US government. (Chinese Human Rights’ Defenders, Graphics Credit: Rajath Prabhakar)


Conspiracy Theories (Forced Labor, Sterilizations, Beatings/Torture)

Allegations of forced labor first in a study published by the aforementioned Adrian Zenz. Zenz claims that forced labor is being instituted in the camps “under the heading and guise of ‘poverty alleviation’”. However he later admits that this allegedly nefarious scheme does in fact “achieve national poverty reduction goals”. Note that no reputable academic journal picked this report up; it was a publication run by officials of the US government.

Regarding the allegations of forced sterilizations, this appears to have originated with a woman named Tursunay Ziyawundun. However, 6 months before making these allegations, she stated that she was neither “beaten nor abused”. Presumably, journalists would have asked for bodily evidence that she did not have. Fast forward 6 months and there is no way to disprove claims of abuse. In addition, the vast majority of the forced sterilizations allegedly occurred through injection. The reports describe one injection per victim, not even regular injections. It is impossible to permanently sterilize someone in one sitting. The method described requires repeated injections every 2 months as the chemicals do not stay in the body forever.

On beatings and torture: Originating with a woman named Rushan Abbas, this so-called activist claims that she and her friends were imprisoned in the concentration camps. What she failed to mention, however, is that she was complicit in the torture of Muslims at Guantanamo Bay. Gitmo remains open to this day.

International Response and Motivations

In light of the conflicts of interest, lies, and other shady methodology, it is perhaps unsurprising that the majority of the international actors do not buy the allegations against Beijing, most notably among Muslim-majority nations. In March of 2019, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation passed a resolution in favor of China’s deradicalization efforts, saying that it “commends the efforts of the People’s Republic of China in providing care to its Muslim citizens”. In October 2019, 23 countries, led by the UK, condemned China for its alleged mistreatment of the Uyghur Muslims. None were Muslim-majority countries. 54 countries supported China, including Iran, Iraq, and Palestine.

On November 11, 2019, the World Bank said this about the camps:

“When allegations are made, the World Bank takes them seriously and reviews them thoroughly. In line with standard practice, immediately after receiving a series of serious allegations in August 2019 in connection with the Xinjiang Technical and Vocational Education and Training Project, the Bank launched a fact-finding review, and World Bank senior managers traveled to Xinjiang to gather information directly…

The team conducted a thorough review of project documents, engaged in discussions with project staff, and visited schools directly financed by the project, as well as their partner schools that were the subject of allegations. The review did not substantiate the allegations.”

The World Bank was the entity providing funding to China to build and maintain these reeducation facilities.

So why does the West continue to push this lie? It is no accident that these allegations originated in a time where US sanctions were shown to not slow down Chinese growth, where hundreds of people are being lifted out of poverty, and Xinjiang has not seen a terrorist attack since 2016. China, in short, is the sole threat to US hegemony and “honest” methods of containing China were shown to have failed. By pushing these baseless allegations, the US and the imperial West hope to put pressure on China, ultimately destabilizing the burgeoning power. Despite claims that the Chinese government obfuscates evidence, especially with regard to these allegations, government documents are readily available online.

I cannot prove that China is not committing human rights violations in these reeducation facilities any more than I can prove that there is not a teapot orbiting the sun at this very moment; it is impossible to prove a negative. However, in bringing forth these allegations, the burden of proof is on the West to provide evidence that their allegations have substance. And thus far, the evidence against China does not hold water. This is especially true for a country that bans anti-Islamic words on Chinese social media, grants Muslims and other ethnic minorities affirmative action on college entrance exams, and is home to more mosques per capita in the province of Xinjiang than many Middle Eastern countries, among other things. There is simply no evidence that China is doing anything out of line to deal with terrorism inside its borders.