The Uyghurs in China now live in a giant, open air prison camp

Steven Mosher
June 6, 2022
Reproduced with Permission
Population Research Institute

Two years of Covid lockdowns - along with the threat of even tighter controls if the pandemic returns - have left Americans with a basic understanding of what it's like for China's Uyghur minority to live under Beijing's rule. For this Turkish-speaking people in China's Far West is now existing in the world's first, real-life, digital dictatorship.

It is no exaggeration to say the entire province of Xinjiang, an area only slightly smaller than Alaska, has been turned into a giant, open-air prison camp by the Chinese Communist Party. As author Nury Turkel explains in his new book, "No Escape: The True Story of China's Genocide of the Uyghurs," every neighborhood in Uyghur cities large and small now has its own hastily erected " convenience police station " manned by "low-level assistant police officers, who are more brute muscle than actual law enforcement officers." The neighborhoods themselves are surrounded by manned check points, where those who want to leave are forced to squint into a camera for a retinal scan before departure.

Each neighborhood is further broken down into small "grids" of 15 to 20 families, each with an assigned a "grid monitor." As the author writes, each monitor is tasked with snooping on their neighbors, reporting any suspicious activity - such as Islamic rules like refusing to eat pork or fasting during Ramadan - to the authorities.

Then there are the Monday-morning flag-raising ceremonies, at which attendance is obligatory. As the red flag of communist China is raised, Turkel writes, Party officials "lead chanted slogans about the greatness of the party and its secretary-general, Xi Jinping, and the need for Uyghurs to abandon their faith in anyone but him."

Turkel tells the story of a young woman named Zumrat, who recalled, with a shudder, the first time she was forced to renounce Islam.

"The party apparatchik leading the meeting shouted out to the assembled Uyghurs, "Is there a God?"

The shocked crowd paused, before answering, "No." They had to - other members of the neighborhood watch were scrutinizing their reactions as they stood around the flagpole. Terrified, Zumrat moved her lips, but didn't actually say the words denouncing her faith that first time.

"Who is your new god?" the meeting leader called.

"Xi Jinping," the crowd dutifully chanted back.

Later, when Zumrat got home, she prayed to Allah for forgiveness.

But these "old school" monitoring methods, most of which have been around in one fashion or another since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949, are just the beginning. The tech explosion has given Xi Jinping ways of surveilling the population using artificial intelligence - AI - that the late Chairman Mao could only have fantasized about.

The mechanics of how the surveillance works are absolutely chilling. Over the past few years, Turkel says, every adult Uyghur has been summoned to their local convenience police station to undergo "a barrage of scans, tests and examinations ... [including] retinal scans and fingerprints ... blood or hair samples ... for DNA profiling." They also had to "read from a set text for forty-five minutes so their voices could be recorded and identified, so that the spies with listening devices parked outside people's houses knew who was talking."

Finally, they are also forced to walk, talk, smile and frown in front of a bank of cameras. The point is to train the AI program to identify each and every Uyghur on surveillance video, which AI is now able to do even when a person's face is turned away from the camera. Their very gait gives them away.

But this clever AI deployed by the China Communist Party (CCP) is not done. It goes on to instantaneously determine whether a man's beard is slightly too shaggy, or a woman's dress slightly too long. These are signs that an Uyghur man or woman might be secretly practicing their faith; if identified, the AI surveillance systems send an arrest warrant to the printer in the local police station. The police take over from there, bringing the suspects in for questioning, binding them hand, foot, and neck in something called a "tiger chair," and asking them, for example, whether they believe in the Communist Party or God. The wrong answer - "I believe in God" - results in torture and a prison sentence .

The Communist authorities have also enlisted smart phones into their surveillance network. As the author writes, all of the Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang have been required to download an app chillingly called "Clean Internet Security Soldier." This allows the AI to play "I Spy" with your cellphone, monitoring every detail of your life for any signs of "suspicious activity."

If you buy more groceries than usual, AI alerts the police that you may have unregistered guests and your home is raided. If you buy more gas than usual, the police will stop by to ask where you think you are going.

In Zumrat's case, she made the mistake of texting the common Islamic expression, "peace be upon you" to a friend. Shortly thereafter, a security official approached her and told her the Arabic phrase now was banned. She had to stick to the "national language" - the new official term for Mandarin ... Next time, the official warned, things wouldn't be so easy for her." And you can't evade the authorities by switching back to dumb phones, either. Those who tried this dodge, Turkel reports, found it made them suspect in the eyes of the police, and subject to an often painful interrogation.

But Beijing is not satisfied with merely scanning Uyghur retinas before allowing them to cross the street, or track Uyghur every move on their own cell phone. Many Uyghur families have been forced to allow Communist agents to stay with them - and spy on them-in their own homes. According to Turkel, CCP documents show that hundreds of thousands of police, military, or security agents have been foisted on families in this way.

These Han Chinese 'Big Brothers' - they pretend that they are 'relatives' by using fictive kinship terms - forbid the use of the Uyghur language in the household, seek to bribe the children into informing on their parents, and often sexually abuse mothers and their daughters.

Turkel tells of how a woman who "stabbed her 'relative' to death after the man sexually abused both her and her [12-year-old] daughter. She could not go to the police to report the sexual abuse, because the state was complicit. ... The woman and her daughter disappeared without a trace."

This abuse goes on even when the Uyghur husbands are still living in the household and not in prison, since the men are often afraid to intervene. When one woman complained to her husband that their Chinese 'relative' was pressing her to give him oral sex, Turkel says, the man "was terrified and insisted that there was nothing they could do. The Chinese had broken the dignity of this Uyghur man, to the point where he was unwilling to protect his own wife, the mother of his child."

While the Uyghurs are being held hostage in their own homes, their history, language, culture and religion are being systematically erased throughout their ancient homeland. As the author writes, the Uyghur language, closely related to Turkish, is no longer taught in local schools, and books on Uyghur history are now banned. Mosques and shrines that have stood for centuries are being razed by the hundreds, and it is a crime to possess a copy of the Koran. And even as ethnic Han Chinese women in Xinjiang and elsewhere are being encouraged by the Party to have more babies, Uyghur women are being told to have fewer - with contraception, sterilization and even abortion forced upon them.

As a long-time observer of China, it is clear to me that the Party's goal is not just to turn the surviving Uyghurs into atheists and CCP. But to give them an entirely new identity as Han Chinese . The same CCP that invented brainwashing "Cultural Revolution" back in the 1930s is now hacking the brains of an entire people. This is far worse than forced assimilation: it is genocide in slow motion. OK?

Thanks to Turkel, we know who gave the order for this CCP-version of Germany's infamous "final solution". It came from none other than the biggest Big Brother of all, Xi Jinping himself. Back in 2014, Xi visited Xinjiang and declared that the Uyghurs should be "shown no mercy." The Party has been increasingly merciless ever since.

It is not easy for Uyghurs to escape the giant prison that was once their homeland. Regional Muslim countries, instead of being sympathetic to the plight of their co-religionists, have proven all too willing to deport fleeing Uyghurs back to China, where they face imprisonment or even execution for daring to leave.

The only place where the Uyghurs are truly protected is, paradoxically, in Western countries, especially the United States, which was founded by those committed to religious freedom and has declared that what is happening to the Uyghurs is "genocide." Which is why the author of "No Escape," contemplating his own escape from China's tyranny, decided that "America was the only safe place for me to go."