Madam Chair and honourable members of Parliament, thank you for inviting me to appear before this committee to discuss the current human rights situation of the Uighurs.
Last month, Human Rights Watch released a report entitled “Eradicating Ideological Viruses: China's Campaign of Repression Against Xinjiang's Muslims.” The report presents new evidence of the Chinese government's mass arbitrary detention, torture and mistreatment of Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang and details the increasingly pervasive controls on daily life.
As you know, China's abusive “strike hard” campaign began in Xinjiang in 2014, but the level of repression increased dramatically after Communist party secretary Chen Quanguo relocated from Tibet to assume leadership of Xinjiang in late 2016.
Since then, the authorities have stepped up mass arbitrary detention, including in pretrial detention centres and prisons, both of which are formal facilities, and in political education camps. Credible estimates indicate that one million people are being held in the camps, where Turkic Muslims are being forced to learn Mandarin Chinese and sing praises of the Chinese Communist Party. Those who resist or are deemed to have failed to learn are punished.
The detainees in political education camps are held without any due process rights, neither charged nor put on trial, and they have no access to lawyers or family. They are held for having links with foreign countries or using foreign communication tools such as WhatsApp, or even for peacefully expressing their identity and religion, none of which constitute crimes.
A former detainee described conditions in the political education camps to Human Rights Watch. He said:
I resisted their measures.... They put me in a small solitary confinement cell...in a space of about 2 x 2 metres. I was not given any food or drink, my hands were handcuffed in the back, and I had to stand for 24 hours without sleep.
Outside these detention facilities, the Chinese authorities subject Turkic Muslims to such extreme restrictions on personal life that in many ways their experiences resemble those of the people detained. A combination of administrative measures, checkpoints and passport controls restrict their movements. They are subjected to persistent political indoctrination, including compulsory flag-raising ceremonies, political meetings and Mandarin night schools.
The authorities have also subjected people in Xinjiang to pervasive and constant surveillance. They encourage neighbours to spy on each other. They employ high-tech mass surveillance systems that make use of QR codes, biometrics, artificial intelligence, phone spyware and big data. They have mobilized over a million officials and police officers to monitor people, including through intrusive programs in which monitors are assigned to live in Uighurs' homes.
The “Strike Hard” campaign has also had serious implications abroad. The Xinjiang authorities have made foreign ties a punishable offence. The government has barred Turkic Muslims from contacting people overseas. It has also pressured some ethnic Uighurs and Kazakhs living outside the country to return to China, while requiring others to provide detailed information about their lives abroad.
In recent years, the Chinese government has also stepped up pressure on other governments to forcibly return Uighurs in their countries back to China.
The Chinese government's religious restrictions are so severe that it has effectively outlawed Islam in Xinjiang. It has banned certain facial hair and religious clothing, prohibited children from learning religion, and confiscated prayer mats and the Quran. Officials closely monitor people's religious practices. The Chinese government even detained people for praying five times a day or circulating religious text among family members.
As one ethnic Uighur explained to Human Rights Watch:
What they [the Chinese authorities] want is to force us to assimilate, to identify with the country, such that, in the future, the idea of Uyghur will be in name only, but without its meaning.
An ethnic Uighur woman told us:
We have no rights in Xinjiang.... They scare us so much. Living there changes your way of being. You become afraid of [people in] uniforms, you're afraid of telling the truth, you're afraid of praying, you're afraid of being a Muslim.
The “strike hard” campaign has also divided families. Some members in Xinjiang and others abroad are caught unexpectedly by the tightening of passport controls and border crossings. Children have at times been trapped in one country without their parents. Reports of children of detained Turkic Muslims being placed in orphanages against their families' wishes are particularly alarming. By sending children in Xinjiang to state institutions, the Chinese government is only adding to the trauma of the “strike hard” campaign.
To be clear, the scale and scope of abuses in Xinjiang are unlike anything Human Rights Watch has seen in China in decades. Not just the numbers of people held, but the abuses—the systematic abuses region-wide—are unprecedented. In addition, the impact goes beyond China to Uighurs globally, including Uighur Canadians here at home. It's unlike anything we've seen before.
These rampant abuses violate fundamental rights of freedom of expression, freedom of religion and privacy, and protections from torture and unfair trials. More broadly, the Chinese authorities' controls over day-to-day life in Xinjiang primarily affect ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs and other minorities, in violation of international law prohibitions against discrimination.
Xinjiang's crisis is symptomatic of the deepening repression across China under President Xi Jinping. China's global power has largely protected it from international scrutiny. A failure of concerned governments to push back against this repression will only embolden Beijing both at home and abroad.
It's clear that China does not see a significant political cost to its widespread human rights violations in Xinjiang. This must change. We therefore ask this committee to urge the Government of Canada to take several concrete actions.
First, the Government of Canada should publicly and privately call on the Chinese government at the highest levels to end the “strike hard” campaign. Canada should impose targeted sanctions through the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act against party secretary Chen Quanguo and other senior officials linked to abuses in the strike hard campaign.
Canada should also impose appropriate export control mechanisms to deny China access to surveillance and other technologies used to violate basic rights in Xinjiang, and Canada should investigate the Chinese government's intimidation of Turkic Muslim diaspora communities across Canada.
Next, we also urge this committee to recommend that the Government of Canada not forcibly return Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Turkic Muslims to China without a full and fair individualized examination of the risk of being persecuted, tortured or ill-treated in China. This government should also expedite asylum claims of Turkic Muslims at risk of being forcibly returned to China.
To conclude, there is no question that China should be held to account for its mass, systematic violations in Xinjiang. Some governments have begun to speak out against these repressive policies and have taken steps to protect the Uighur diaspora at home and asylum-seekers from further harm. Canada should follow suit. It is clear that stronger, more concerted action is needed from this government to increase the political cost to China of its oppressive campaign against Xinjiang Muslims.
Thank you very much.