EU must stand up against Chinese oppression of ethnic and religious minorities

Written by Madi Sharma on 4 June 2018

Photo credit: Fotolia

EU must stand up against Chinese oppression of ethnic and religious minorities, writes Madi Sharma.

The European Parliament’s subcommittee on human rights chose to focused its attention on the human rights situation in China last month, taking particular interest in the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region. Over the last three decades, China has been implementing a strict policy of oppression of religious and ethnic minorities. 

According to the US Commission of Religious freedom, Muslim parents have been prohibited from including their children in any religious activity, and citizens are encouraged to report to official authorities any unauthorised religious activity. 

In 2016, reports indicated that Chinese authorities had closed multiple buildings used for religious activities and prayers. Other reports have lamented the technologies employed for mass surveillance of the Uyghur population, including face recognition software. 

Furthermore, there have been Chinese efforts to silence human rights defenders through harassment, detention and even imprisonment of their family members (including US nationals). 

Journalists have been routinely and severely punished for reporting on the abuse of Chinese officials. The Vice-Chair of US Human Rights Committee compared the violations of the Uyghur’s most fundamental rights with those of the Tibetans - rather than respecting religious and ethnic minorities, the Chinese government is crushing these communities in order to forcefully cultivate a single ‘Chinese identity’.

Sophie Richardson, China Director for Human Rights Watch, said, “Since the beginning of 2018, China continues to violate human rights nationally. In this period, we have also seen Chinese hostility outwards. 

“In January, several foreign important figures disappeared in China. The Chinese government aspires and is succeeding in its quest to eradicate civil society rights by cutting funding and giving police authorities the prerogative to deny NGO’s work. Through their counter-terrorism policy the authorities have given themselves the powers to use force. In addition, foreign companies in China are complicit of these activities.”

Dolkun Isa, President of the World Uyghur Congress, shared that “in the last five years there has been a mass crackdown on the Uyghur identity. Freedom of expression and assembly is completely vetoed. Peaceful demonstrations are met with violent force and result in massacres.” 

Cultural assimilation is coerced through mass surveillance, coupled with the imposing police and military presence in the region, ensuring absolute control of the Uyghur population. Last year, 90,000 police jobs were advertised for the Xinjiang region alone. 

Isa shared that his family had been taken to detention camps, where he has been unable to contact them for several years. His freedom of speech has been limited in several European countries, and the United Nations, because of China’s pressure. He pleaded for the support of the international community, and more specially of the EU, to help human rights defenders stop the violations happening in China. 

Ironically, on the same day, Gap Inc, a US-based clothing manufacturer, was forced to destroy thousands of t-shirts showing a map of China without including Taiwan, the autonomous island which Beijing claims to be an integral part of Chinese territory. 

This is yet another example of China’s disrespect for the principle of a nation’s right to self-determination. China’s success in forcing an American company to recall a product is an indication of the country’s strength at manipulation on the international stage. 

When will the EU and international community acknowledge this manipulation? The EU needs to speak out and use its leverage to prevent Chinese policy objectives from violating the most fundamental rights of people living within its territory. 


About the author

Madi Sharma is an entrepreneur and a member of the European Economic and Social Committee

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