Target: Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China
Goal: Stop discrimination against the Uighur people through restrictive measures that control language use, religious observance, and employment opportunities.
Imagine living in a state where your religion and ethnicity makes you suspicious to the authorities, who deny you the right to apply for jobs, attend religious services, and speak your own language. We usually think that a situation like that applies to foreigners unwelcome in a new country. However, in the case of China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region, such onerous restrictions apply to the Uighurs, the native Turkic people who have lived in the territory for centuries and currently make up 90% of its population.
Apprehensive about the rise of Islamic radicalism, the Chinese state views the Sunni Islam-practicing population as a potential hotbed of terrorism, regularly conducting military operations intended to root out radicals. But the state’s suspicion of the Uighurs verges on paranoia, as it won’t permit them to drive fuel tankers out of fear that these could be exploited in terrorist attacks. Aware that their Turkic language and Islamic faith makes the region’s population very different from the Han Chinese, the government is also fearful of separatism and has taken discriminatory measures to combat it. To encourage assimilation into the mainstream culture, schools conduct classes mostly in Mandarin. This creates an absurd situation where people rooted to the region for generations have to speak the language of a minority population that has recently trickled into their territory.
The effect of all this discrimination is devastating. Uighurs are deprived of the right to be represented in the leadership of their homeland, as civil service positions are given to Han Chinese. The result is that the Han Chinese, although only about 10% of the population, are allowed to virtually colonize the autonomous region, freezing the natives out of the elite. But it’s not only government jobs where the Han Chinese win out. Even in the private sector, the state directly recruits Han Chinese for work in Xinjiang, giving them preference over the natives who, in their minds, are potential terrorists.
Other than trying to rob them of their language, perhaps the Chinese state would like to wean them off Islam. Viewing Islam under the lens of radicalism, officials have banned those under 18 from entering mosques, have discouraged women from wearing headscarves and men from growing beards, and required students to eat lunch in school cafeterias during Ramadan to interfere with their fasting. Religious observance has been directly penalized through firings of civil servants for the supposed crime of attending Friday afternoon prayer services.
Uighurs are the native inhabitants of Xinjiang, and not invaders or immigrants who have to prove themselves in order to gain full rights. Sign this petition to tell China to stop treating them like unwelcome foreigners who aren’t trusted with important jobs, given the right to learn their language in school, or freely practice their religion.
Dear Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China
It is a tragedy to see an ethnic group deprived of many basic rights: fair consideration for employment, education in their native language, and freedom to practice their religion. The Chinese government has virtually relegated the Uighurs of Xinjiang Autonomous Region to colonial subject status, as Mandarin has been given priority over the native Turkic language in education and administration, with the effect that locals are robbed of their culture and denied the chance to be a part of the ruling class. Fearing separatism and Islam-inspired terrorism, the state has seen to it that the native Uighurs are passed over for jobs both in the public and private sectors.
The systemic discrimination of Uighurs must stop. Just like your average Chinese citizen, they deserve to lead normal lives with the right to study in their language, the opportunity to be fairly considered for all jobs, and the chance to practice their religion. We plead with you to remove these grossly unjust and inhumane restrictions on their rights, so that they don’t have to live with the sentiment of being unwelcome in their own country.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Lanzen via Flickr