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China is using members of its Muslim minority as forced labor


The Chinese government wants to make sure that Muslims are loyal to the Communist Party

Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

The New York Times reports that China has been using members of an ethnic Muslim minority as forced labor.

Who are the Uighurs?

The Uighurs are a mostly Muslim ethnic minority group that lives in the Xinjiang region on the western edge of China. The Chinese government has been arresting Uighurs under the guise that it's combating terrorism, but it has been reportedly designating any behavior that it sees as being noncompliant with the Communist government as a warning sign for terrorism.

In August, a United Nations Human Rights panel announced that it had "many numerous and credible reports" that 1 million Uighurs were being held in what appeared to be a "massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy."

In September, Human Rights Watch reported that a man had been sent to a prison camp for setting his watch to a pre-Mao local time zone instead of the unified time zone mandated by the government for the entire country.

The U.S. State Department estimated that the number could actually be as high as 2 million.

The Chinese government has denied that there has been any government-sanctioned torture or re-education of the Uighur people, but it did admit in October that Uighur "trainees" were being sent to "vocational education" centers in order to prevent them from becoming terrorists.

What happened now?

The New York Times reported that the Uighurs, as well as Kazakhs and members of other minority groups, are being used as forced labor for little or no pay. Many of these minorities had worked as farmers or shopkeepers in their own cities and villages. The Times cited multiple sources who had told to families of people sent to these factories, and forced to manufacture textiles.

It's difficult to get firsthand accounts of these camps or the forced labor, because the Chinese government restricts the ability of journalists to travel to Xinjiang. However, satellite images seem to confirm that production lines have been built inside internment camps in China.

Chinese state television also broadcast a picture of a clothing factory staffed by "trainees" who had "graduated" from what it insists are re-education camps. The New York Times also reported that multiple businesses, including "a printing factory, a noodle factory and at least two clothing and textile manufacturers," and a clothing and bedding manufacturer all have registered addresses inside training camps.

The clothes produced at these camps are sold throughout China, but the New York Times also warned that some of the clothes made by the Uighurs in forced labor camps could end up in the United States.

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