A Modern Day Gulag

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Less than a century ago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote a novel about the Soviet Union’s hidden internment camps that lasted from 1918 to 1956, called The Gulag Archipelago. It is estimated that 14 million Russians were held in internment camps because they opposed the communist government that oppressed their society. Prisoners were interrogated, blackmailed, beaten, and killed within these camps all while most of the outside world was oblivious.

A modern day Gulag is taking place in the northwestern region of China called Xinjiang. Ethnic muslim minorities have been detained and admitted to these so called re-education camps that litter the Xinjiang region. The US state department suggests that up to 3 million muslims are being held in these internment camps. Around 500 camps have been located. The most common muslim groups that have been targeted are the Uighurs and Kazakh muslims. In a BBC report, survivers told journalists that they were beaten, chained to an iron chair for interrogation, forced to deny their muslim faith, banned from speaking their native language, and coerced to learn Mandarin and eat pork. One woman says that they made her cut her hair and didn’t let her go to the bathroom. If she went to the bathroom, she says that they only let her use it for two minutes. It was also disclosed that cameras were everywhere and that the facility was surrounded by guards and high walls.

According to NPR News, muslims have been transferred to formal prisons after serving their sentence at the camps. If released, they are under constant surveillance. The Chinese government denied all accusations that they were holding people against their will; however, they now claim that they are holding muslim people in facilities to “prevent terrorism,” according to a CBSN News story. Only recently has the world come to uncover the horrible reality for muslims in China. It is unclear when the Chinese government decided to place muslims in these re-education camps; however, the number of cases tried by the Xinjiang region rose substantially in 2017. This indicates that 2017 was most likely the year that these modern day Gulags were implemented.

Just as the events that occured in Soviet Russia were silenced, so have the events in China been silenced. The media has done little to cover the horrific treatment of ethnic muslims in Xinjiang. This crisis mimics that of the Holocaust and the Rwandan Genicide yet it is not being recognized as such. The social media platform, Tik Tok, is owned by a company called Bytedance located in Beijing, China. Recently a young activist posted a video to the social media platform talking about the internment camps in Xinjiang. The video was quickly removed by Tik Tok executives.

This modern day Gulag is an example of history repeating itself. Not much has been done to end this violation of basic human rights but, 23 nations have called on China to, ‘”uphold its national and international obligations and commitments to respect human rights,”’ at a United Nations Assembly. China’s response was that the re-education camps are only a counter terrorism program. Far more than a statement must be made in order for China to cease its unfair treatment of minority muslim groups.