Friday, July 23, 2021
There’s a story in a recent Atlantic memoir by a Uyghur refugee that lingers in the mind. The Chinese authorities in Xinjiang Province now regard the possession of any religious literature, including the Koran, as prima facie evidence of terroristic activities. Terrified Uyghurs in Urumqi, the regional capital, have learned these past few years to quickly dispose of any such items — some throwing out books into the streets overnight so they could not be traced to their households. But one old man in his seventies forgot about a Koran he had possessed, and, coming upon it late, was too scared to hand it over, so threw it into a river. Alas,
the authorities had installed wire mesh under all bridges, and when the mesh was cleaned, the Quran was found and turned over to the police. When officers opened it, they found a copy of the old man’s ID card: In Xinjiang, the elderly have a habit of keeping important documents in frequently read books, so that they are easily found when needed. The police tracked down the old man and detained him on charges of engaging in illegal religious activities. He was sentenced to seven years in prison.
The “prisons” this elderly, devout Muslim was shipped off to now have a capacity of around one million people. They have been built at breakneck speed. Buzzfeed News has found “more than 260 structures built since 2017 and bearing the hallmarks of fortified detention compounds.” The more recent building suggests they are going to become permanent parts of a bid to wipe Uyghur culture from the face of the earth.