On the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, I invited several Christian leaders to speak about persecution through personal testimonies, professional reports and observations. These stories highlighted abuse and triumph. On my previous blog, you can watch that service at Every Nation Church NYC.
The extraordinary panel spoke broadly of the perilous situation, as 245 million believers are living in areas that hurt, harass and harness believers. However, our speakers also spent significant time on the topic of religious freedom and the right to worship for all faiths.
Bill Clark, on the panel, is a scholar and activist for the Uyghur people group in the province of Xinjiang, in Northwest China. I admit, I was not acutely aware of the horrifying human rights violations this People Group is currently experiencing. As Bill shared his heart for the Uyghurs, I knew he cared about religious freedom, not just for Christians, but for everyone. I was appalled that this people group of 11 million is facing what can only be described as a present-day genocide.
On the eve of our event for the Persecuted Church, Bill and several of his Uyghur friends, came to Manhattan to discuss the realities in Xinjiang, where this atrocity is happening. What they shared has been a topic covered by the New York Times and others. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, described the suffering of the Uyghurs as, “one of the worst human rights crises of our time.”
Uyghurs are indigenous to East Turkistan, which China occupied in 1949 and transformed into what they now call the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The Chinese government has systematically oppressed these people because they are Sunni Muslims and speak a language related to Turkish. As a result of uprisings in response to the increasing oppression of the government, they have been unjustly labeled as terrorists or religious extremists. In 2017 persecution towards this people group was ramped up by the Communist Party of China through a massive round-up of ordinary citizens into newly built reeducation camps.
“Everything that makes us unique has been treated as an abnormality,” said Dr. Rishat Abbas, one of our guests. Rishat, an Ohio State graduate, has been based in the U.S. for decades and works as a pharmacist. His father, a prominent Uyghur intellectual was Bill Clark’s mentor when he was in Xinjiang doing his Ph.D. research. Rishat’s sister, Dr. Gulshan Abbas is one of the many individuals detained in a facility which the Communist Party is touting as reeducation centers.
The stories I heard that night broke my heart.
According to Rishat and backed up by numerous documents and accounts from Uyghur eyewitnesses, these camps hold an estimated 1.8 million Uyghurs, approximately 10% to 20% of the Uyghur populace. Detainees are made to divest anything that makes them culturally and religiously unique.
They are tortured and forced to live a life that will align them with Chinese culture. They are forced to eat pork and act incompatible to their faith. They are made to learn the official standard language of China, Mandarin, and internalize Chinese propaganda by reciting songs and slogans. “Cultural genocide,” is how our Uyghur guests described it.
The Communist Party has rationalized the imprisonment of countless Uyghurs in these facilities, falsely claiming they are endangered by “harmful influence in religious extremism and violent terrorist thoughts.” But in fact, their only crime is being a Uyghur.
Our guests, who for the past two years have not talked to their loved ones for fear that the Chinese government will harm their families, exposed horrific policies forced on their people.
Making our hearts sink, even more, was finding out about “Chinese pairing” where Communist Party cadres stay at the homes of Uyghur families. Often, these “volunteers” sleep in the bedrooms of the families, where the man of the house—father and husband—are absent, detained in one of the camps.
These are horrifying issues that demand action, especially from those of us who declare the gospel and worship a God whose very Name is the definition of love.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed. The suffering of the Uyghurs is as significant, relevant and urgent as the problems in our very own communities.
“We are very upfront about being followers of Jesus,” Bill told us that night. “Jesus told us to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and then love your neighbor as yourself.”
At this very moment, millions of our neighbors need our help and we have a God-given mandate to stand with them both in prayer and action.
The Uyghur Humans Rights Policy Act of 2019 is a bill that directs various U.S. government bodies to prepare reports on China’s treatment of the Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim Turkic ethnic group. I encourage you to call the representative in your district to take action and support this critical legislation that will mandate transparency and create accountability from the Chinese government on how they treat the Uyghurs. Click here for the contact information of your congressman or congresswoman.
WHERE TO PLACE: Lindsay Maizland, with Council on Foreign Relations, wrote a great summary article on the Uyghurs. Reading this gives a good background.
FOR More information visit the Uyghur Human Rights Project website.