The recent outbreak of COVID-19 that originated in Wuhan, China and then spread globally has created an international public health crisis. As the number of cases continues to surge, a global emergency is on the horizon. Many countries have shut down their borders and restricted travel so as to contain the ‘pandemic’. One of the major reasons behind the unprecedented increase in the number of COVID-19 cases was Beijing’s purposeful concealment of the facts surrounding the gravity of the virus. Because of its strict censorship laws, Beijing was able to suppress crucial information about the severity of the coronavirus and stop information leading to the public. It is pertinent to note here that this is not the first time that the People’s Republic of China has used its censorship laws to hide important information from the world, the most significant example being Beijing’s attempt to censor any information about the state sponsored persecution of the Uighur Muslims community in Xinjiang province of China. The People’s Republic of China has adopted several elaborate policies to restrict Uighur’s Muslims ability to practice their religion, notably legalizing the detention of Uighur Muslims in internment camps and subjecting them to extreme state surveillance.
Though this crackdown on the Uighur Muslims began in 2014, it was only in 2017 that it started drawing global attention. China has often justified its stance by terming these internment camps as education and training centres for petty criminals. However, reports have made clear China’s ‘ideological education’ is a guise for torture, rape and indoctrination. One survivor described his experience being “locked in a cell with 10 others last year and told not to engage in religious activities like praying. They were forced to sit on plastic stools in rigid postures for hours at a time. Talk was forbidden, and two guards kept watch 24 hours a day…those who disobeyed were forced to squat or spend 24 hours in solitary confinement in a frigid room”. Due to China’s stringent censorship laws, initially there was a dearth of information about the conditions of these camps. However, some reports have surfaced that have shed light on their deplorable conditions. The testimonies of some of the survivors indicate that extremely unhygienic conditions prevail in these camps owing to a lack of adequate sanitation, overcrowded and closed spaces, and poor medical facilities. One thing has become clear – as the rest of the world practices social distancing in order to tackle the challenges created by COVID-19, these camps undoubtably have the potential to become breeding grounds for the Coronavirus.
If left unchecked, the impact of COVID-19 on Uighur Muslim community could be disastrous. So far, China has been successful in creating a media blackout in the Xinjiang province so as to ensure that the real figure of COVID-19 cases isn’t revealed. Despite this the international Uighur Muslim community has been trying to draw the world’s attention through social media platforms like twitter. They fear this outbreak will be used by China to justify the extermination of Uighur Muslims on an even large scale. The international Uighur Muslim community demanded that a delegation from the World Health Organization be sent to the internment camps to monitor the outbreak, control the spread of the virus, provide the medical help assistance and pressurise the People’s Republic of China to release the Uighur Muslims from the internment camps. However, these demands were not met and eventually coronavirus did break out in the camps. As a result, approximately one million Uighur Muslims are at a risk of contracting coronavirus. As per China’s official reports, Xinjiang, a region of 24.5 million, has seventy-six coronavirus cases and three deaths but there is no way to gauge the authenticity of these statistics and the number is likely much higher as the extreme infectiousness of the virus means it will likely have spread rapidly. Disturbingly, to address the related economic crisis, the Uighur Muslims are being forced into work by the People’s Republic of China to make up for the shortage of the laborers during this pandemic. That the Uighur Muslims are being forced to work as laborers while other citizens self-isolate from the virus is reflective of how the People’s Republic of China views them as nothing but disposable commodities.
This isn’t the first time that the People’s Republic of China has been at the centre of an Outbreak. In 2003, there was a similar, though less severe, SARS outbreak. Given China’s prior experience with such outbreaks, a manual outlining procedures for preventing epidemics in the detainment camps was drafted. China’s failure to adhere to its own guidelines regarding the running of its camps has become clear through its response to the virus in Xinjiang. It has focused mostly on combating the virus in Wuhan and has failed to give due consideration to the outbreak inside the internment camps.
Today, the People’s Republic of China claims to have successfully controlled the virus but suspicion regarding its claims continue to persist. Even if it has been able to contain the virus, the question remains – how many people were, in fact, infected within the internment camps and whether they were provided with the required medical assistance or not. It is a well-known fact that China has been hell bent on exterminating the Uighur Muslim Community for some time now. The COVID-19 pandemic has given them the perfect opportunity to rid themselves of them while the global community is distracted. When a Chinese official was questioned about the impact of Coronavirus on Uighur Muslims who were being held as prisoners, he brushed it off by saying that those inside the camps were there by choice and failed to address the issue of a potential coronavirus outbreak inside the internment camps. As the rest of the world struggles to contain the pandemic, the Uighur Muslim community in Xinjiang province has largely lost the attention that it had managed to garner from the rest of the world. Not only are millions of Uighur Muslims suffering in camps with deplorable living conditions, they are likely to be one of the communities worst hit by COVID-19 as they don’t have access to medical assistance or the ability to self-isolate. The People’s Republic of China has a history of using its economic power to quash any opposition against its human rights violations and the COVID-19 outbreak has once again reaffirmed how cruel it can be to those it seeks to eliminate.
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