OIC praises Xi for progress in Xinjiang, but is silent on persecution
China’s leader visited the region over the weekend extolling its "hard-won social stability”. He called on local officials to “more deeply promote the Sinicisation of Islam”. Meanwhile, people continue to be arrested for their faith or reading the Qurʾān. A delegation from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) praised China’s policies during a visit to the region. Tomorrow the pope will fly over it on his way to Mongolia.
Beijing (AsiaNews) – Chinese President Xi Jinping has made a rare visit to Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang, on his way back from the BRICS summit in South Africa. During his stopover, he urged local officials to preserve the region’s “hard-won social stability”.
Such remarks are a clear indication that the authorities are still cracking down on the population, especially local Muslim Uyghurs who have been repeatedly subjected to harsh repression.
As the iron fist continues, more and more stories emerge about recent mysterious arrests and people going missing because of their religion.
Xi’s visit last week came amid a renewed push in Beijing’s campaign against what it calls "terrorism" and "extremism", namely the demand by Xinjiang’s Uyghur minority for freedom and respect for their rights.
The United Nations has backed Uyghur claims on violence and repression in China’s northwestern region. In a report released in September 2022, it found that Chinese actions may constitute “crimes against humanity”.
The world agency also renewed its appeal to the Chinese government to immediate release “all individuals arbitrarily deprived of their liberty" as well as clarify their status. Some Western countries, like France, have labelled China’s policy vis-à-vis the Uyghurs as a "genocide".
In his speech, Xi Jinping stressed the need for a government strategy in the region that provides social stability and development as part of its national security policy.
It is “necessary to… combine the development of the anti-terrorism and anti-separatism struggle with the push for normalising social stability work and rule of law,” Xi is quoted as saying.
The president reportedly also told officials to “more deeply promote the Sinicisation of Islam and effectively control illegal religious activities”.
As part of this, Beijing recently announced a 100-day “strike hard” campaign in Xinjiang, with police raids on Uyghur households, tighter restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on their culture and language.
Several people have been arrested. One man, an ethnic Kazakh, was guilty of performing hymns and songs inspired by the Qurʾān during a Muslim wedding.
Another one, 56-year-old Kusman Rehim, ended up in jail in mid-July after police found “a Qurʾān in his home,” Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.
Unauthorised recitations of Islam’s holy book have been banned since 2017, when China began locking up Uyghurs and members of other ethnic groups en masse, shipping them to "re-education" camps across Xinjiang.
A Uyghur design director who worked for a Chinese locomotive manufacturer in Turkey for over a decade was also arrested. Qahar Eli, 39, was taken into custody in March, but his arrest was reported only recently.
Police picked him up a few days after he returned home for a family visit. Since then, nothing is known about his fate.
An elderly Uyghur, 71-year-old Abdurusul Memet, died in prison from hypertension, according to the official version. He was arrested in 2017 and sentenced to 13 years and 11 months for studying the Qurʾān as a child (from November 1964 to March 1965) and for committing other religious “offences”.
Such cases are but a few examples of the impact of China’s repression and abuse of religious freedom and human rights in one of its most sensitive regions, along with Tibet.
Tomorrow, Pope Francis will fly over Xinjiang on his way to Mongolia on the 43rd apostolic trip of his pontificate, until 4 September.
As is customary, the pontiff will send a telegram to all the heads of state of the territories he crosses, in this case, Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Meanwhile, Muslims elsewhere are careful not to speak out against China’s abuses and violations, including some of their most important institutions.
In particular, the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the most important Islamic grouping in the world, seems to have embraced the Chinese narrative that Uyghurs are a happy bunch.
An OIC delegation recently visited Xinjiang, stopping in Urumqi, Kashgar, Changi and the Kizilsu Kyrgyz Autonomous Prefecture, where they were shown an exhibit on counterterrorism and deradicalisation, as well as met religious figures and prayed with local Muslims.
Dya-Eddine Bamakhrama, head of the delegation and Djibouti’s permanent OIC representative, praised “the prosperity and development of China’s Xinjiang under [Beijing’s] good governance”.
For a Pakistani delegate, Syed Mohammad Fawad Sher, the visit showed Xinjiang’s "remarkable transformation”.
Pro-Uyghur activist groups, including the World Uyghur Congress and the Campaign for Uyghurs, reacted immediately, slamming the visit; they urged the OIC to support moral values and principles, as well as jointly denounce the ongoing persecution of Uyghurs.
“Unfortunately, many countries in the Muslim world, especially in the Middle East, are very willing and ready to believe in China's lies about this tragedy, this human rights crisis, because they see China as an anti-Western power,” said Mustafa Akyol, senior fellow at the Cato’s Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.