Former detainees say they were forced to eat pork in re-education camps and detention centres.
Muslim groups in the United States have pleaded for the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to speak out on China’s mass imprisonment of Uighurs, accusing the global body of abetting what some described as genocide.
The OIC consists of 57 Muslim-majority nations and frequently takes up cases in which it believes Muslims are mistreated, criticising Israel for its occupation of Palestinian territories and, at Pakistan’s behest, speaking on India’s Hindu nationalist government.
But the group headquartered in Saudi Arabia has not voiced alarm over China’s western region of Xinjiang, where rights groups say that more than a million Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking Muslims are being held in camps as part of an effort to stamp out Islamic customs and forcibly integrate the community.
In a March 2019 resolution, the OIC said it “commends the efforts of the People’s Republic of China in providing care to its Muslim citizens” after a delegation visited.
A coalition of US Muslim organisations, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, accused the OIC member-states of being cowed by China’s power.
“It’s very clear that China has an economic chokehold on the Muslim world and has been able to isolate every Muslim country into fear of even paying lip service to the Uighur cause,” Omar Sulieman, a Muslim American scholar and rights activist, told a virtual news conference on Thursday.
“Whereas some Muslim countries will pay lip service to causes like the Palestinian cause,” he said, on the Uighur issue they will “continue to aid in the oppression,” especially by turning back asylum seekers.
Uighur American campaigner Rushan Abbas warned that nations could see the export of policies targeting Muslims as China pursues its massive Belt and Road infrastructure-building initiative.
“China has a track record of buying and bullying. The genocide of the Uighurs is not China’s internal issue but is a humanity issue,” said Abbas, who said that her activism led China to detain her sister.
The US, which has a rising rivalry with China, has likened the treatment of the Uighurs to the actions of Nazi Germany and voiced disappointment that the OIC has not spoken up.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a rare leader from the Islamic world to have criticised China, while Malaysia has said it will not extradite Uighurs.
China describes the camps as vocational training centres and says that like Western nations, it is working to “reduce the allure of Islamic extremism”.