Future Perfect reporter Sigal Samuel has spent the past year investigating the humanitarian crisis in western China.
Date: Apr 30, 2019
By: Lautaro Grinspan
Over the past year, Vox Future Perfect reporter Sigal Samuel has been investigating China’s campaign of repression against Uighur Muslims, 1 million of whom are being held in internment camps in the northwestern Xinjiang region. On April 26, Sigal did a Reddit Ask Me Anything session, discussing everything from the actions civilians in the US can take to help the Uighurs to the international community’s response to the crisis. Here’s a roundup of some of the most interesting questions and answers, lightly edited for clarity.
1) Why are Uighurs targeted in the first place?
Stanislav1: Can you give us a quick history lesson on how this started in China?
Sigal: China has been worried for a long time that the Uighurs will want to split off from China and make Xinjiang an independent homeland (a lot of Uighurs refer to Xinjiang as East Turkestan). The Chinese paint the Uighurs as a separatist threat as well as a terrorist threat. So they claim “de-extremification” in camps is necessary for national security. There’s more background in this link, which you might find useful.
Capitalist_Model: Why are they targeting a fringe and such a specific religion?
Sigal: For China, it’s not fringe. The Uighurs are concentrated in Xinjiang, a very important region, both because it’s oil- and resource-rich and because it’s geographically central to China’s huge new infrastructure project, the Belt and Road initiative. China feels it needs to have tight control over Xinjiang; otherwise, that project could be jeopardized. And China has long feared that separatist Uighurs will try to create an independent homeland in Xinjiang.
2) What exactly goes on in the internment camps?
NYLaw: Is there any evidence of violence used in these camps in order to “re-educate” the Uighur folks who are unfortunately subjected to internment? How badly are they being treated?
Sigal: Unfortunately, all the evidence suggests that violence is being used and that the conditions in the camps are very bad. There have been reports of torture and death. We know this from detainees who’ve made it out of the camps, and from former guards there. You can also get a sense of what goes on in the camps by examining the lists of equipment that the Chinese government agencies order for the camps — in one case, that included 2,768 police batons, 550 electric cattle prods, 1,367 pairs of handcuffs, and 2,792 cans of pepper spray. [FULL STORY]