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US Muslim leaders call on China to end persecution of Uighurs

(RNS) – The letter called for the release of detainees from the internment camps and for U.S. consumers to boycott imports produced by detainees’ forced labor.

Uighurs and their supporters march to the United Nations to protest in New York, on March 15, 2018. Members of the Uighur Muslim ethnic group held demonstrations in cities around the world to protest a sweeping Chinese surveillance and security campaign that has sent thousands of their people into detention and political indoctrination centers. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

(RNS) – More than 130 American Muslim leaders and scholars have signed an open letter condemning the Chinese government’s continued persecution and detention of the mostly Muslim Uighur minority.

The letter, initiated by the Sound Vision Foundation and signed by prominent Muslim leaders, called for the release of detainees from internment camps in Xinjiang, where Uighurs have reportedly been forced to attend indoctrination sessions.

The leaders also called for U.S. consumers to boycott imports produced by the detainees’ forced labor and to join a planned rally on behalf of Uighur people on Apr. 6 in Washington, D.C.

“We call upon fellow citizens to stop buying products produced through slave labor from these camps,” the statement says. “We thank the U.S. government for raising the issue of human rights abuses and detainment in the concentration camps and ask the rest of the world to do the same.”

Signers include prominent civil rights activist Imam Omar Suleiman, who heads the Yaqeen Institute in Texas; Imam Yasir Qadhi of Al-Maghrib Institute and the Islamic Seminary of America; Imam Mohamed Magid, who leads Virginia’s All Dulles Area Muslim Society; as well as several representatives from the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Suleiman said the Uighur crisis, which he called “the world’s most blatant violation of any sense of religious freedom and human rights,” has not received the attention it deserves from world leaders.

“If this was any other religious group, the world would be up in arms,” Suleiman told Religion News Service. “The reality is that Muslims have been so dehumanized that even those who are usually credited as being champions for human rights can turn away without being called out on their double standards.”

Members of the United Nations Committee say there are credible reports that the Chinese government had “turned the Uighur autonomous region into something that resembles a massive internment camp,” detaining as many as 1 million Muslims — nearly 10 percent of their regional population — without charge, in order to strip them of their beliefs and religious practices.

The Xinjiang province in western China where many Uighurs live. Map courtesy of Creative Commons

Human rights advocates say reports of torture, forced labor and indoctrination are widespread. A massive surveillance program includes streets lined with facial recognition devices and closed-circuit television cameras and government spies living in suspected Muslims’ homes. The crackdown has made many Uighurs too frightened to pray or call family abroad. Avoiding alcohol and pork, both banned in Islamic teaching, is thought to be cause for suspicion.

The signed statement begins a broader effort to call attention to the Uighurs’ cause, said Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, founding chairman of Sound Vision Foundation. A number of mosques across the country will read the letter to congregants during Friday prayers today (Feb. 6).

“These imams have a far larger following in social media as well as in mosques than all national Muslim organizations together,” he explained. “I am sure the list and the movement will grow.”

The Sound Vision Foundation, based in Chicago, organized the Bosnia Task Force in 1992 to help declare rape a war crime. More recently, it launched the Burma Task Force and the SaveUighur project to advocate for Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims and China’s Uighur Muslims.

On Thursday (Feb. 7), SaveUighur launched a national campaign to urge Muslims to call their representatives in Congress and demand their support for bills condemning human rights violations against Uighurs.

Uighur activists say they are frustrated by the lack of international condemnation, particularly from the global Muslim community.

“The Muslim-majority countries, every one of them has remained silent,” Aydin Anwar, a young student activist working with the Uighur independence movement East Turkistan National Awakening, told Religion News Service last year. “They all have deals with China. It’s really frustrating (for) Uighurs to witness what we see as a betrayal. How are you not standing up to this genocide of your brothers and sisters?”

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