The Stream

Is China losing control of the Uighur narrative?

On Thursday, March 11 at 19:30 GMT:
As China prepares to host the Winter Olympics in 2022, Beijing is facing renewed pressure to address its human rights record in Xinjiang. The northwestern province is home to more than 12 million Uighurs, an ethnic Muslim minority that rights groups say has faced years of persecution.

According to the United Nations, at least one million Uighurs have been detained in mass prison camps in Xinjiang in recent years. There, they have been subjected to torture, forced labour, and mass sterilisation, the US government has said. And a new independent report has found China to be in breach of all five acts of genocide, as defined by the UN.

Despite mounting evidence, China has denied any wrongdoing in Xinjiang. After initially denying the existence of hundreds of detention camps, officials now say they are working to root out what they call terrorism in the region through “re-education centres.” And the country’s foreign minister recently said Beijing’s treatment of Uighurs was a “shining example” of China’s human rights progress.

More nations, though, are starting to openly challenge that narrative. Top officials in at least three countries – the United States, Canada and the Netherlands – have recently condemned China’s treatment of the Uighur people as a genocide.

China has already spent billions of dollars to prepare for the Winter Olympics next February, so it’s unlikely that the games will be moved elsewhere.

But rights groups are hoping to leverage the international attention and prestige brought by the Olympics. They are lobbying politicians and athletes to boycott the games. Some are also pressing corporate sponsors including Coca Cola, Airbnb and Samsung to lean on Beijing to cease its human rights abuses.

“We call for a tougher stance on Beijing’s hosting of the winter games because a softened gesture exhibits a disguised support for an authoritarian regime,” said Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress.

In this episode we ask, is China losing control of its Uighur narrative? Join the conversation.

In this episode of The Stream, we are joined by:
Mamatjan Juma, @MamatjanJuma
Deputy Director of Uyghur Service, Radio Free Asia

Rayhan Asat, @RayhanAsat
Attorney and advocate

Sophie Richardson, @SophieHRW
China Director, Human Rights Watch