Review of Minority Conditions in China

Review of Minority Conditions in China

Review of Minority Conditions in China

Religious Repression
Torture as a State Tool
Suppression of Cultural Identity
Reduced Access to Legal Representation for Minorities
Police Brutality
Organ Trade



While in recent decades China has been praised for opening up to the international community, the lack of democratic national elections remains a major criticism in international circles. The absence of political opposition to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) allows it to operate largely with no political accountancy, and little transparency by consequence it falls upon international organisations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, United Nations Commission for Human Rights and Human Rights in China to monitor that human rights are upheld for the national population. Additionally, different ethnic groups have their own human rights organizations designed to uphold human right for their own ethnic group such as the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy and the Uyghur Human Rights Project, or even the Tibetan Government-In-Exile. For all of the above organizations, their headquarters are based outside of China given the lack of political freedom that exists, they are led frequently by people in exile for standing up for their beliefs and the interests of their particular ethnic groups, for such reasons it is difficult to uncover the true nature and extent of any oppression that may take place against minorities. Particular attention needs to be paid to the condition of minority groups, the most vulnerable social groups lacking the voice of majority groups. Human Rights Watch (2006) notably highlights the aggressive repression of minority groups such as Tibetans, Uyghurs, and Mongolians. It is believed that similar patterns emerge among other ethnic and religious minorities such as the Hui, practicing Chinese Muslims. Such views are counter to the ideal of ethnic unity portrayed by state publications such as the China Daily, the most circulated English-language daily newspaper incidentally centrally controlled by the CCP. It discloses that:

‘The People’s Republic of China is a united multi-ethnic country. So far, 56 ethnic groups have been identified and recognised by the central government. The population of various ethnic groups differs greatly. While the Han ethnic group has the largest population, that of the other 55 ethnic groups is relatively small, so they are customarily referred to as “ethnic minorities’ (China Daily, 2005).

However the rapid national economic emergence has increased national tensions and arisen alongside rising wealth disparities. The relaxation of migrant worker controls has created a migrant labour population of an estimated 150 million people (Radio Free Asia, 2006). This migration is said to be causing problems for minority groups:

‘Indigenous groups are increasingly being marginalised by Han migration. This is especially the case in areas such as Tibet and Xinjiang, where religious and racial tensions are highest and Chinese troops guard constantly against separatist activities. Minorities are obliged to learn Chinese if they want better jobs, and are invariably shut out of positions of real power. The central government’s biggest fear is that these restive regions could tear away at the country’s edges, much as the former Soviet Union was sundered apart, and as imperial China was divided in the past’ (BBC, 2004).

The status of minorities and individual freedoms is therefore the source of different perspectives and conflicting views. Overall the central government argues that ethnic minorities are awarded increasing autonomy to stabilise what they describe as a multiethnic society under centralised leadership, for example state policies give a degree of educational preference and population policies, such as the most famous one child policy, are not so tightly imposed on many minorities. However the imposition and central designation of the stated ethnic groupings is perhaps overly ambitious in reflecting the extent of cultural variations within such subgroups, for example the Islam practicing Utsuls are included within the ethnic Hui group, however they see themselves as distinct through separate cultural history, and origins and that the ethnic group they are included within does not reflect their ethnic reality. This creates dilemmas for policy decisions, silences a distinct group from discussing their particular cultural requirements, and also counters any recognition that such a group may seek.

Conversely, many international institutions disagree about the central discourse. Seeking to document the true conditions of ethnic minorities this report focuses around religious freedom, legal access and state policies including torture and executions to enlighten on the treatment of ethnic and religious minority groups, at the hands of the CCP regime, focusing on Muslims.

Religious Repression

There has been much criticism for the religious repression carried out by the CCP, supposedly designed to ensure and maintain social stability. Strict laws exist centering around the Regulations on Religious Affairs which were implemented in 2005. These laws stipulate that new religious centres may only be developed with state permission through a registration process. This process allows for the state to carry out strict monitoring on religious activities controlling what is being preached and financial accounts. Such state-led intervention is contradictory to an atmosphere of religious freedom. While the instability around Tibet is widely documented, less well known is the treatment of the Islamic group, the Uyghurs, residing in the north-west Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Accusations that the CCP was suppressing Islam in this region were documented by the BBC (2006), while the CCP denies claims, arguing it merely operates to contain anti-separatism and anti-extremism, it does not disclose how it carries out such operations, whether controls are legal and humane. A report published by Human Rights in China (2005) claims that the CCP exploited the terrible events of 9/11 with a view of clamping down on any perceived separatism. In the days following 9/11 it is claimed that they themselves declared a ‘war on terror’ on supposed Islamic separatists in Northwest China:

‘For the first time they asserted that opposition in Xinjiang was connected to international terrorism. They also asserted that in some cases the movement had connections to Osama bin Laden himself’ (Human Rights in China, 2005, p17).

This change in political stance represented a significant shift in ideology given what was only declared a few weeks earlier:

‘In early September 2001, the Xinjiang authorities had stressed that “by no means is Xinjiang a place where violence and terrorist accidents take place very often” and that the situation there was “better than ever in history”’ (Human Rights in China, 2005, p16).

The government as a response to any religious separatism not conforming to state ideals has been known to employ ‘Strike Hard’ policies where it seeks to take in thousands of criminals in a big sweep, often arresting innocent people.; Amnesty (2005) reports over 200 deaths sentences in the area between 1997 and 2003 directly resulting from such policies.

The exploitation of the global political situation saw China use the uncertainty during the immediate times following 9/11 to repress the Muslim minorities further. The prevailing Western Islamophobic feelings of the time allowed China to act largely with Western support. Authorities tried to claim that separatists were incorporated into ‘a network of international Islamic terror, with funding from the Middle East, training in Pakistan, and combat experience in Chechnya and Afghanistan’ (Foreign Affairs, 2002). The reality is quite different, with strict population controls, including rigid internet monitoring initiatives; the Uyghur population is allowed only limited links with outside neighbouring nations such as Kyrgyzstan, by consequence is self contained, such extensive networks as it stood accused of were not true.

The Western Islamophobic social and political undercurrent oversaw the international community’s ignorance towards serial abuses of ethnic minorities in China, choosing to turn a blind eye to unjustified repression. The state constructed its issues with Uyghurs to try and illustrate the plight in a similar light as the Americans portrayed Al-Qaeda. Human Rights Watch (2005) dedicates a section of its 2005 World Review to ‘Xinjiang and the War on Terror’ detailing that:

‘China used its support for the U.S.-led “war against terrorism” to leverage international support for (…) its own crackdown on Uyghurs’.

Moreover it is said that many passive citizens were unjustifiably discriminated against merely as they belonged to the Uyghur population:

‘Some Uyghur groups press peacefully for genuine political autonomy or for independence; others resort to violence. Chinese authorities do not distinguish between peaceful and violent dissent, or between separatism and international terrorism’ (Human Rights Watch, 2005).

While China links domestic separatists with the more global terrorism issue, the US administration has been reluctant to make such a connection in more recent times, perhaps in a response to China’s silence regarding the ‘War on Terror’ (Foreign Affairs, 2002). Nevertheless in light of 9/11, controls were tightened on the Islamic minority. Legislation was introduced that banned minors from entering mosques or receiving religious instruction. New policies concentrated on bringing local interpretations of the Qur’an in line with the ideals established under the CCP ideology.

This represents undeniable racial profiling of Uyghurs, where those belonging to the group have been deliberately targeted based on their belonging to the ethnic group. Those targeted meet criteria established at an international level and are consequently targeted in a local context based on primordial characteristics, and not based on their behaviour.

However it is not just Muslims who have been and are targeted for supposed religious separatism.

Christian bodies in China are treated with suspicion by authorities, worried that such institutions may represent a smokescreen for a western infiltration and subsequent erosion on Chinese ideals and state ideology. By consequence any non-registered people attending Christian training sessions are treated severely. Christians who avoid the state-controlled religious movements meet in unofficial buildings or homes, known as ‘house churches’, however if caught with such religious meetings being illegal penalties can range from fines, imprisonment, torture and death (Human Rights Watch, 2006).

The case of Rev. Peter Xu is widely documented, arrested in 1997 for praying without authorisation, he was imprisoned for eight years. He describes his treatment:

‘They hung me up across an iron gate, and then they yanked open the gate and my whole body lifted until my chest nearly split in two. I hung like that for four hours.’ (Xu, 2004).

While all religions have been subject to stringent controls, during the 1990s, several policies demonstrated distinctly anti-Islamic characteristics.

‘Mosque construction and renovation was severely curtailed, public broadcasting of sermons outside mosques was banned, religious education was proscribed, only religious material published by the state Religious Affairs Bureau was allowed, religious activists were purged from state positions and Haj pilgrimages were tightly controlled and limited to participants over 50 years of age’ (Uyghur Human Rights Project, 2004).

Torture as a State Tool

‘Although Chinese law explicitly prohibits “torture to extract confessions”, and China has been a party to the UN Convention against Torture since 1988, torture remains widespread in the PRC’ (Amnesty, 1999).

Allegations of torture against minorities in China are not rare, despite going against International law. Amnesty International’s recent report, Hidden Scandal, Secret Shame: Torture and Ill-Treatment of Children (2000), reveals that minority groups, including children are often subjected to torture. It describes as ‘endemic’ (Amnesty, 2000, p52) the torture of those displaying any perceived separatist behaviour, especially those who do not conform to the state policies. The Tibet Justice Center (2006) outlines that as a minority; Tibetans are especially vulnerable and subject to torture as the CCP employs torture as a tool of state control in Tibet.

‘Recent research conducted by the International Committee of Lawyers for Tibet (ICLT) indicates that China’s documented practice of torturing Tibetans suspected of political dissent or nationalist sentiment extends even to children as young as ten years old’ (Tibet Justice Center, 2006).

The increased political autonomy sought by the Tibetan people has led to many claims of torture in the wake of the 1987 peaceful demonstrations. A report by Ackerly and Kerr (1989) reported instances of graphical physical torture:

‘Prisoners were routinely denied medical care unless they were in danger of death. According to the report, there are credible accounts of Tibetans dying as a result of torture in prison. While political protesters in Tibet were often charged as common criminals, they could expect harsher treatment than other prisoners once arrested (…) Former prisoners told the authors that shock from electric cattle prods, hanging prisoners by the wrists, ankles, and thumbs for hours, or even days, and attacks by trained guard dogs, were among the forms of torture that they had personally undergone or directly witnessed.’ (Ackerly & Kerr, 1989).

In 2005, Manfred Nowak, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, also well known for being one of the five authors of a United Nations report on the detention of captives at Guantanamo Bay, led a team to the Xinjiang region to investigate torture conditions in the area. He argued that torture was widespread in the region leading to the creation of geographies of fear: ‘I observed a palpable level of fear and self-censorship of those detainees I interviewed’ (Nowak, 2005). China is not alone in flaunting international laws; its partnership with Kyrgyzstan has led to the latter forcibly deporting ethnic Uyghurs to China from beyond the border increasing the susceptibility of torture, even though some of these have been recognised as refugees. Nevertheless, in 2001, Kyrgyzstan re-affirmed its commitment to aiding China by signing another agreement of cooperation in extraditing criminals.

Similarly to the Tibetan experiences, protests held in Xianjing in 1997 led to waves of arrests and subsequently numerous allegations of torture under detention arose. There are reports on the case of many young Muslims who were supposedly subjected to torture, a prime example is Salam Kari, a young Uyghur who was reportedly arrested in May 1997 in connection with the February 1997 protests in Gulja. Amnesty states that:

‘According to unofficial sources, a few days after his arrest, he was dead. His body, which was given back to his family, reportedly showed marks of torture. The police reportedly claimed that he had committed suicide in prison. As far as Amnesty International is aware, there has been no independent enquiry into his death’ (Amnesty, 2001).

The Laogai Research Foundation (2006) estimates that several million people are kept in labor camps in China, known as Laogai. Those seeking recognition for an independent East Turkestan, a nation-state sought with complete autonomy given to the Uyghur population, report that most Muslims arrested by authorities are tortured when held, and subsequently sent to forced labor camps.

‘Former prisoners and other sources claim that torture and ill-treatment of prisoners is common across the XUAR. Some places of detention are particularly notorious for the extent of torture and harsh treatment inflicted on prisoners. This is notably reported to be the case at Liu Daowan jail in Urumqi, where many political prisoners are held’ (Amnesty, 1999, p45)

The report lists the cases of numerous political prisoners tortured; however one of the more disturbing cases was that of Abdulshukur Abliz Haji (also known as Abdushukur Haji), an Imam and Chair of the Islamic Society in Gulja. Arrested in early 1997, he alleges to have been injected involuntarily multiple times resulting in an inability to speak coherently. He was released on grounds of ill health following such injections and subsequently was unable to give sermons.

Some camps have a re-education theme; known as Laogai centres, designed for any non-conformist to state ideals, state propaganda through indoctrination is employed to achieve the desired conformation. Here prisoners are denied any independent religious or cultural identity and are forced to pledge allegiance to the CCP above all else, breaching the human right of individual freedom of belief, especially for Muslims who believe that Allah is the supreme authority. Oktar (2006) discusses how if Islamic prisoners secretly take water to wash themselves for prayer, they are subjected to torture. Forced labourers make a valuable economic contribution to national exports, Libération (1997) found that a third of all China’s tea exports are the direct product from forced labour, assisting China in becoming one of the worlds greatest tea producers.

Comparable cases of torture are recorded related to people from other minorities with numerous examples cited in the Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa) and Tibetan minorities (see for example Justice for Falun Gong, and the International Campaign for Tibet).

Suppression of Cultural Identity

Perhaps more seriously is the accusation of suppression of minority cultural identity by the state. Mackerras (2003) carried out twelve years of fieldwork in China, documenting the minority culture identities. Both the Uyghurs and Tibetans have expressed fears, with both minorities claiming that their homelands have historically not been part of China, and therefore they should be allowed their separate culture. However the state disagrees, arguing that Xinjiang and Tibet have been part of China for centuries. A fall in cultural freedom has been reported since 1989, when in the light of much international criticism following the Tiananmen Square massacre, nationalist policies were designed to reduce separatism from the dominant Han Chinese culture (the majority ethnic group).

‘China has become noticeably more nationalist since the early 1990s. The trend is both reactive and proactive. The reactive process has developed in response to outside pressures, especially from the United States. From the point of view of ethnic minorities, the most important source of this nationalism is the constant criticism over China’s human rights record, notably over Tibet and other minority areas’ (Mackerras, 2003, p37)

The construction of a unified nationalist ideal in the eyes of the state sees any people who do not meet the requirements and attributes of such a principle subjected to discrimination. In areas where large ethnic minorities reside in China, frequently religion is seen as being intertwined with cultural identity, such as in Xinjiang, where Islam is indistinguishable from local identity. This socially constructed view of ethnicity is not respected by the CCP. If there was such a respect for ethnic diversity then the Uyghur Human Rights Project (2004) would not have to report that ‘Mosques and religious schools in Xinjiang, which are regarded as hot-beds of anti-régime sentiment, have periodically been closed and religious activists arrested and harassed’ (UHRP, 2004). Other more subtle policies are also characteristic of a desire to erode minority culture in Xinjiang. The Diplomatic Observer (2002) reports that despite Uyghur being the dominant culture in the area, the main language in practice at the University of Xinjiang will soon no longer be Uyghur. The language, modified from Arabic is a cornerstone of the regional Islamic identity. The fallout from such an inflammatory policy may be hard felt given that it: ‘implicitly categorises the Uyghur language as disloyal. This repression may be successful in the short-term, but only risks increasing Uyghur dissatisfaction in the longer term’ (Diplomatic Observer, 2002).

The increasing numbers of Han migrants arriving in Xinjiang is eroding the use of Uyghur in everyday situations at the expense of Mandarin. The mobility of such migrants is creating environments where social mobility is dependent on the ability to use Mandarin, depreciating the importance of minority languages, instead young people may be encouraged to learn Mandarin languages for economic and social opportunities.

Within the Chinese Constitution, there exists the 1984 Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law which should entitle minorities to develop their own languages, however seemingly this is implemented with varying degrees of rigour based on varying experiences of different minority groups.

This experience of the Uyghurs is not mirrored in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, a separate autonomous region in Northern China. This area has been able to implement its own policies namely, the ‘Regulation on Spoken and Written Language Work in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region’. Such a regulation calls for the greater use of Mongolian in the public domain. This regulation has been met with less state resistance compared to in the Uyghur region where the state is aware that by encouraging Han migration to far western regions can lead to the erosion of minority identity and language use. The ability to educate in a minority language is considered vital to the clams of such a language to survive among future generations.

Within Tibet, authority is entailed for the teaching of programmes in Mandarin and Tibetan. Despite this, illiteracy is higher in this area than any other area (figure1 above: Illiteracy Rates for Chinese Ethnic Groups (Population Census, 2000 ).

The above figure demonstrates the different levels of literacy attainment rates for the different ethnic groups within China. It exposes the high levels of illiteracy for Uyghurs, but especially for Tibetans. The view exists that the failures of such minority groups is due to institutional failings propagated by the CCP. It would be wrong perhaps based on this visual evidence to accuse the state of being biased against one minority over others despite the clear discrimination against the use of the Uyghur language. Instead, consequences are felt among any minority group that is considered non-conformist to a state perceived national identity.

Reduced Access to Legal Representation for Minorities

Reports of the denial of legal representation are sadly common for minority groups in China. Rebiya Kadeer, the president of the World Uyghur Congress and nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for her continued struggle for the preservation of Uyghur culture, expressed doubt that her son received adequate legal representation upon his arrest in November 2006 on charges of tax-evasion. Her fears were echoed by Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch who stated that ‘We have great doubt about the fairness of the trial and they have not been able to get meaningful legal representation’ (AsiaNews, 2006). The deliberate targeting of the family of Rebiya Kadeer has been grouped under the racial profiling section of Amesty International’s library (Amnesty International, 2006), and they elicit a call to cease the ‘targeting the family of Uyghur human rights activist Rebiya Kadeer’.

The case of Abdulghani Memetemin, a 40-year-old teacher and journalist, also demonstrates a limited access to legal representation for Muslims in China. Accused of providing information to the East Turkestan Information Centre (ETIC), an organisation perceived as being a terror group by the CCP partly given its ambitions for an independent East Turkestan, he was detained on 26 July 2002 in Xinjiang. In 2003 he was sentenced to nine years imprisonment on charges of “providing state secrets for an organisation outside the country” under Article 111 of the Chinese Criminal Law. While being held it is reported that he had ‘no access to lawyer or his family while in pre-trial detention, and had no legal representation at his trial’ (Amnesty, 2004).

A similar story emerges for the minority Tibetans. Their government-in-exile states that while China may have ratified the International Bill of Rights in 1998, it is far away from meeting its responsibilities; the system’s failings are exposed:

‘Those imprisoned are often denied legal representation and Chinese legal proceedings fail to meet international standards’ (Tibetan Government, 2006).

Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche, a Tibetan monk and a human rights, environmental and social rights activist, is serving a life sentence and for his alleged involvement in ‘splittist activities’ and taking part in ‘causing explosions’ (Free Tibet Campaign, 2006). Standing trial with a co-accused, Lobsang Dhondup, the latter being executed in 2003, the international community alleged that the trial was unfair for several reasons.

  • Firstly, the lack of effective, independent legal representation afforded to both men despite the Criminal Procedure Law which provides for detainees to have access to lawyers no later than one week before trial
  • Secondly, Tenzin Deleg Rinponche, one of the most prominent Tibetan monks, is alleged to have only become involved in the case only following a confession by the co-accused that was supposedly produced under conditions of torture, and the involvement of the Rinponche was subsequently denied by the co-accused prior to his execution.

These instances of legal representation failures are coupled with the reluctance of minority cultures to accept the legal framework offered by the state. While autonomy is afforded to some areas such as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, there is no reflection in legal constitutions, with legal alterations made at the national level exclusively with little regional or cultural discretion. The Congressional Executive Commission on China reports ‘that minorities often simply give up on litigation and handle matters privately, through customary minority practice because the courts ignore the existence of minority customs and lack financial and political independence’ (CECC, 2006).

Unlike in many other nations, there is no equal opportunity law in China, and as a result there is no guaranteed representation of minorities in the CCP. A sparse number of ethnic minorities occupy top level government jobs, rather than deny such accusations of under representation the state seeks to justify this lack of ethnic diversity within the state apparatus. It is argued that by placing people from the Han majority group in key positions maintains an ethnic unity that may be undermined through an ethnically diverse government.

‘The government contends that this is necessary to “lead” economic development in these areas and combat efforts to undermine ethnic unity (…) The policy has undermined minority autonomy and increased ethnic tensions, most dramatically in Xinjiang and Tibetan areas. Central and local directives emphasize that Han leadership is needed to spur development in autonomous areas due to the dearth of educated minorities’ (CCEC, 2006).

Despite this emphasis on lack of minorities who are educated, state directives do not suggest ways to overcome such educational failures that they accuse minority groups of. No desire is expressed to redress such lack of diversity among government or seek to adopt more multicultural policies.

Police Brutality

Police brutality like many other forms of maltreatment is sadly common in China. Research suggests that brutality occurs against several minority groups, and there is no single group that suffers alone. While some brutality is recorded against the Muslim minority, an overwhelming amount is noted against followers of the Falun Gong religion which is also subject to a national suppression movement due to the perception that is excessively non-conformist.

The abuse was exposed by Human Rights Watch (2005b) documenting that: ‘Since mid-1999, the Chinese security authorities also have used forced psychiatric detention as a means of intimidating and punishing Falungong practitioners’

Information of abuse at the Daqing prison has emerged. In 2004, police ordered that inmates should violently abuse detained Falun Gong practitioners. Falun Dafa in Europe (2004) describes incidents of abuse that took place:

‘They cruelly tortured them by tying them up, beating them, pouring cold water on them, and burning them with cigarettes (…) The persecutors stripped the practitioners naked and forced them to lie on their stomachs in the wind, then poured cold water over them (…) Guard Xue Zhixun brutally beat Zhao Yuan. The division chief, Li Fengjiang, said, “There is no such thing as ‘too much’ when it comes to dealing with Falun Gong”’

This record of this type of abuse is not uncommon. In the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, police brutality is frequent and has become so endemic that incidents of communal revenge attacks against the authorities have surfaced as a way of countering such abuses and victimisation.

‘On July 15, a furious court police officer dragged a taxi driver out of his car and beat him up ruthlessly after his police vehicle bumped into the cab. The beating provoked retaliation from a crowd of over 1,000 angry bystanders who witnessed the incident. The crowd was dispersed by the police on an hour later after the taxi driver was rushed to the hospital’ (China News Digest, 2001).

The police brutality is occasionally justified as being a response to the unrest produced by the rising inequality from the increasingly market orientated economy. Some drivers are named as being forced immigration, disputed layoffs, land seizure to rising anti-state feeling producing harsh authoritarian responses (China Brief, 2005). However such endemic brutality as has been noted is characteristic of higher up state policies seeking to quell any form of religious or political dissidence and act as a deterrent to any considering not following the state ideals. While the pains of economic transition may be accountable for the variance in urban and rural economic opportunities, they should not explain the varying policies employed against minority groups.

Similarly to cases of religious oppression, police brutality is thought to be employed by the CCP as one approach of preventing the snowballing of social unrest. Such feared instability is most tangible in ethnic minority areas such as Tibet and XUAR where the local ethnic populations have claims over the ownership of local territories. By consequence their perceived separatism has led to racial profiling by the police, where members of the public are targeted merely due to their belonging to Tibetan or Uyghur ethnic groups, who often portray physical differences compared to the dominant Han ethnic population.

As a response to victimisation, a small but concerted social movement arose protesting against the violent treatment by the authorities. However, typical of the state response to any civil movement that could be recognised as a form of protest of governance, earlier this year, four human rights activists disappeared following their campaign against police brutality (Guardian, 2006). There was no information given regarding their disappearance, and the media has been forbidden from reporting into the case. Such secrecy surrounding such cases means that any abuses that take place go unrecorded and there is no monitoring that human rights standards are upheld. Worryingly the increase in separatist movements, such as Tibetans and those seeking an East Turkistan has been met with a rise in abuses and ill-treatment.

Organ Trade

China has the largest human organ trade of any country. According to the Laogai Research Foundation (2007), China executes between 3,500-10,000 people per year, more than the combined total of all the countries in the entire world. The authorities involved confirmed in 2005, that the activity was in actual fact widespread, and that organs of executed prisoners, of which many are held for religious beliefs as discussed above are sold to foreigners (The Times, 2005). Organs from non-executed citizens however are rarely donated given that within the Buddhist faith, a body with organs removed is considered an imperfect body. In 1995, Amnesty International reported that the percentage of transplanted kidneys in China estimated to come from executed prisoners was as high as 90 percent (East Turkistan Information Centre, 1998).

There have been repeated international calls for the Chinese authorities to clamp down on illegal organ harvesting activities, as it is seen to encourage a more liberal attitude to the execution of prisoners via significant financial reward, yet it still takes place. Many visitors come to China seeking to purchase an organ that is either unavailable domestically or inaccessible through cost, time or cultural reasons in other nations. The trade is thriving, with numerous visitors notably from South Korea, and Japan where there is a notable shortage of organ donation for transplants given the taboo surrounding Buddhist donation (The Independent, 2006). It is not only regional demand however that propagates the trade, dozens of visitors from Israel have also been recorded, one recipient was distinctly philosophical about the trade:

‘If I had never had my kidney transplant in China, I would already be dead (…) A Chinese sentenced to death saved my life’ (The Times, 2005).

With the rising business, increasing attention has been placed on the origins of the organs that are offered for transplant. The predominant source of organs bought in China is from victims of executions, often without the victims’ consent (Epoch Times, 2006). However the significance of prisoners’ consent is reduced given that it could frequently readily be attained via torture. As the nation with the highest number of executions in the world, and an international scarcity of organs for transplants in the Western world, the allegations are that the CCP has instigated the removal of live organs on mass scale at the moment of death to immediately meet the demand of domestic or international patients in the country, providing orders on demand. Organ transplants are considered as having a higher success chance if they are done almost immediately after removal. Despite the supposed illegality of the practice, allegations centre on the authorities’ inability to control it, or that they simply turn a blind eye to the flourishing black market. Availability of organs for sale is advertised via graffiti on hospital walls accompanied with a telephone number coupled with details advertised on internet message forums. It is surprising that this latter form of publicity prevails given the notoriety of the CCP’s great ‘firewall of China’ form of stringent internet censorship (Human Rights Watch, 2007).

There are many cases that practitioners of minority religions such as Falun Gong have been subjected to live organ removal without consent. Most frequently liver, kidneys, corneas are removed. A Falun Gong report claimed that ‘6,000 Falun Gong practitioners had been sent to a secret concentration camp in the Sujiatun district of Shenyang, Liaoning, and that ‘three-fourths had their hearts, kidneys, corneas and skin extracted before they died’ (ZonaEurope, 2006). While the validity of the report has been questioned and the figures may be uncertain given the notable lack of transparency within Chinese political circles, and in judicial courts, that receive most of their funding via local government (Human Rights Watch, 2007), what cannot be denied is that the Chinese organ trade is booming. While there exists a tangible link between execution and trading organs, it ensues that minority groups suffer disproportionately as they are frequently the subject of police brutality, and police targeting.


While this investigation has illustrated the largely negative conditions and social structures in place for the ethnic minority groups in China, it should not distract from the potential for social progress. Indeed it was not until 1949 that the government expressed a willingness to document all the ethnic minorities living in China. While the designation of what constitutes an ethnic minority is largely imposed by the state and not through self-recognition, the state invites groups to submit proposals for recognition as an ethnic minority group. This shows some respect for socially constructed notions of ‘ethnicity’.

This should not distract from the persecution that many Muslims and other minority groups are subjected to, as a result of their religious beliefs and moreover from their different culture. Such culture is perceived as not conforming to an imposed national culture that places the state above all other authorities. In the eyes of the state such cultural distinction is tangible evidence of separatism, while some do harbour desires for a separate nation-state, the vilification that is imposed on many Muslims is justified as a means to maintain social stability. State actions show evidence that non-conformity will not be tolerated, where manifestations of unrest and social dissatisfaction have been treated harshly, and frequently breaching international legislations. In the words of Human Rights Watch (2005) ‘cultural survival for Uyghurs, along with other ethnic groups on China’s borders, is a constant struggle’. There are fewer reports on abuse within Ningxia, the Hui Autonomous Region, where less prominent calls for separatism are heard. This may be as the region is smaller than that of the XUAR, by consequence the authorities may control all calls for further autonomy, and alternatively, the geographical centrality of the country means unlike Uyghurs, the Hui have not been able to develop relations to such an extent with national neighbours. However, the most likely explanation remains that the ethnic Hui have fewer cultural variations from the dominant Han ethnic group apart from their practice of Islam, manifested via diet and clothing distinctions. Uyghurs as discussed associate themselves more with Turkic people from neighbouring Central Asia.

Suggestions that the Chinese authorities exploited the events of 9/11, alleging terrorist connections between the ethnic Uyghurs and international terrorists were facilitated via an international atmosphere of Islamophobia. By falsely implying connections with foreign illegitimate groups, that tight state controls would not allow, the CCP sought to legitimise acts of repression, cultural suppression and human rights breaches in the midst of a climate of fear. While the state rhetoric claims a unified and harmonious ethnic co-existence, evidence suggests that this is empirically false.

Different minority groups have all been targeted by the state in an attempt to preserve a unified state identity. This report has documented repression that has disproportionately affected Tibetans, Falun Gong, and Christians amongst others. Legislation is expressly designed to allocate sufficient autonomy for those ethnic and religious minorities, attempting to negotiate the cessation of any perceived separatist ambitions. When this is seen to fail, rigid oppressive measures have been implemented including torture, and the institutionalisation of civil mechanisms through registration and strict monitoring processes.

While a degree of regional autonomy is afforded, national legislation is largely all encompassing ignoring local cultural considerations, and no protection is offered to either protect minority cultures, or better still to embrace them into a more multicultural state ideal. While such a benevolent landscape may seem unlikely under a regime that has been so internationally criticized for its human rights record, it may not be altogether improbably. The state controlled China Daily concludes that:

‘To build a well-off society in an all-round way in the new century, China has to make an effort to solve such issues as adherence to and improvement of regional ethnic autonomy, giving full play to the advantages of the system, and continuously raising the economic and social development level in ethnic minority areas’ (China Daily, 2005).

While such critical reflection is scarce considering a lack of political opposition in a one-party state, it is perhaps one of the few encouraging signs for the future, among realms of discouraging material. While China is undergoing such a period of intense transition alongside major economic and social reforms, hope persists that ethnic minority conditions may improve in line with the overall standard of living and increasing social mobility that is emerging in modern day China. Some of the most crucial reforms have to focus on giving ethnic minorities a greater voice in issues that affect their daily living, in the corridors of power, to represent them fairly and honestly and not to persecute them on their identities of difference. Constructing a society based on respect and tolerance of minorities by giving them more vocal influence through agency and ownership over decisions that influence their lives and engaging them will avoid such Islamophobia and racism that is created through the politicization of fear and the spread of prejudice that is currently to the detriment of minority conditions.


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Islamic Human Rights Commission
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