Last October, a senior editor from Foreign Policy, James Palmer, was interviewed about his work and about human rights in Xinjiang. It was a heart-wrenching watch. He said:
“All of my Uyghur sources are gone”,
and then apologised as he broke down in tears. He continued:
“I can’t talk to people because they’re gone. I cannot reach them.”
Even his Han Chinese sources had been arrested for talking about what is happening to the Uyghur people. They are disappearing from the streets and being put into camps. The Government appear to be trying to erase the memory that they even existed. Mr Palmer made it clear that he is no longer trying to contact Uyghur people because his attempts could put them in danger.
In October, in response to a question from me, the Minister stated that according to credible reports an estimated 1 million people—at least—were being held, including Uyghurs and other minority ethnic Chinese. As has been said, Chinese officials describe the camps as,
“vocational education and employment training centres”
“criminals involved in minor offenses”,
but Human Rights Watch has gathered evidence that points chillingly to something else.
Basically, there are reports of beatings, solitary confinement, psychological abuse and even inmates being forcibly given psychotic drugs in the camps. We are told that people with serious mental and physical health conditions receive no special treatment; nor do heavily pregnant women. There are reports of deaths inside the camps. Survivors have described to Human Rights Watch how they were chained to a bed or to an iron chair for days, or even hung from the ceiling, as they were interrogated. They eventually confessed to whatever they were charged with, whether that was owning a religious book or having a friend who had been abroad.
Apparently, that is what the Chinese Communist party is calling its “Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Terrorism”. Under that regime, as we have heard, Turkic Muslims are identified as belonging to one of three categories: trustworthy, average or untrustworthy. Muslim citizens have to not only keep out of trouble, but actively display their loyalty. From a place such as this, it is hard to imagine what it must feel like to live with such suspicion and in constant fear of saying the wrong thing, being with the wrong person or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Chinese artist and defender of human rights, Ai Weiwei, spent 16 years of his childhood in exile in Xinjiang province because his father, a poet, had fallen out of favour with the authorities. His international fame as a dissident artist is evidence that that kind of repression is eventually ineffective as well as cruel. He has said about the current situation that we have to think about human rights and human dignity as one, and that if anyone’s rights are violated—whatever minority, whatever religion they are—we have to think of it as our rights being violated. I could not agree more.
The Government have been asked several times about the steps we can take to improve the human rights situation through our trade with China. Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said:
“China is an important strategic partner, and it is because of the strength of our partnership that we are consistently able to raise these issues”.
Although I agree that raising issues bilaterally is important, the level of abuse documented calls for something stronger. Given what is going on in the Chamber at the moment, I worry that human rights might be viewed as an inconvenience or a threat to our trading relationship.
I hope that the Minister will commit to concrete steps today. Statements of concern are simply not enough. We need economic sanctions against those responsible and we need to follow Germany and Sweden in offering expedited asylum processes for Turkic minorities from the province.