The Uyghurs in China now live in a giant, open air prison camp

The Uyghurs in China now live in a giant open

There’s a cultural genocide taking place in China right now against the nation’s Uyghur minority. Aggressively monitored by Chinese authorities and faced with the constant threat of arrest or torture, this Turkish-speaking people in China’s Far West now exist in the world’s first, real-life, digital dictatorship.

It is no exaggeration to say the entire province of Xinjiang, an area only slightly smaller than Alaska, has been turned into a giant, open-air prison camp by the Chinese Communist Party. As author Nury Turkel explains in his new book, “No Escape: The True Story of China’s Genocide of the Uyghurs,” every neighborhood in Uyghur cities large and small now has its own hastily erected “convenience police station” manned by “low-level assistant police officers, who are more brute muscle than actual law enforcement officers.” The neighborhoods themselves are surrounded by manned check points, where those who want to leave are forced to squint into a camera for a retinal scan before departure.  

Each neighborhood is further broken down into small “grids” of 15 to 20 families, each with an assigned a “grid monitor.” As the author writes, each monitor is tasked with snooping on their neighbors, reporting any suspicious or forbidden activities — such as Islamic practices like refusing to eat pork or fasting during Ramadan — to the authorities.

Then there are the Monday-morning flag-raising ceremonies, at which attendance is obligatory.  As the red flag of communist China is raised, writes Turkel, who’s ethnic Uyghur, Party officials “lead chanted slogans about the greatness of the party and its secretary-general, Xi Jinping, and the need for Uyghurs to abandon their faith in anyone but him.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping is considered the architect of the current Uyghur crackdown, which has employed a range of high-tech surveillance methods to monitor their every move.
Getty Images


In his book, Turkel tells the story of a young woman named Zumrat, who recalled, with a shudder, the first time she was forced to renounce Islam.

“The party apparatchik leading the meeting shouted out to the assembled Uyghurs, “Is there a God?”

The shocked crowd paused, before answering, “No.”  They had to—members of the neighborhood watch were scrutinizing their reactions as they stood around the flagpole. Terrified, Zumrat moved her lips, but didn’t actually speak the words denouncing her faith that first time.

“Who is your new god?” the meeting leader called.

“Xi Jinping,” the crowd dutifully chanted back.

Later, when Zumrat got home, she prayed to Allah for forgiveness.

Uyghur men walk in front of the Id Kah Mosque, China's largest mosque.
Dating back to 1442, the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang is the largest mosque in China and a potent symbol of the Uyghur’s Islamic history and culture. Hundreds of other Uyghur mosques have been destroyed by Chinese authorities.
Getty Images

But these “old school” monitoring methods, most of which have been around in one fashion or another since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, are just the beginning. The tech explosion has given Xi Jinping ways of surveilling the population using artificial intelligence — AI — that the late Chairman Mao could only have fantasized about. 

The mechanics of how the surveillance works are absolutely chilling. Over the past few years, Turkel says, every adult Uyghur has been summoned to their local police station to undergo “a barrage of scans, tests and examinations … [including] retinal scans and fingerprints … blood or hair samples … for DNA profiling.” They also had to “read from a set text for forty-five minutes so their voices could be recorded and identified, so that the spies with listening devices parked outside people’s houses knew who was talking.” 

Finally, they are also forced to walk, talk, smile and frown in front of a bank of cameras. The point is to train the AI program to identify each and every Uyghur on surveillance video, which AI is now able to do even when a person’s face is turned away from the camera. Their very gait gives them away.  

Chinese policemen push Uighur women who are protesting at a street.
Chinese policemen push Uyghur women during a street protest in Xinjiang. Uyghurs may be detailed by Chinese police for practicing their Islamic faith, which is now forbidden.
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But this clever AI deployed by the China Communist Party (CCP) is not finished; it goes on to instantaneously determine whether a man’s beard is slightly too shaggy, or a woman’s dress slightly too long. These are signs that an Uyghur man or woman might be secretly practicing their faith; if identified, the AI surveillance systems send an arrest warrant to the printer in the local police station. The police take over from there, bringing the suspects in for questioning, binding them hand, foot, and neck in something called a “tiger chair,” and asking them, for example, whether they believe in the Communist Party or God.  The wrong answer — “I believe in God” — results in torture and a prison sentence.  

The Communist authorities have also enlisted smart phones into their surveillance network. As the author writes, all of the Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang have been required to download an app chillingly called “Clean Internet Security Soldier.” This allows the AI to play “I Spy” with your cellphone, monitoring every detail of your life for any signs of “suspicious activity.”

If you buy more groceries than usual, AI alerts the police that you may have unregistered guests and your home is raided. If you buy more gas than usual, the police will stop by to ask where you think you are going.  

The infamous "tiger chair" torture device, which binds its victims by their hands, feet and necks. The chair is often used by Chinese authorities during violent interrogation sessions.
The infamous “tiger chair” torture device, which binds its victims by their hands, feet and necks. The chair is often used by Chinese authorities during violent interrogation sessions.
Human Rights Watch

In Zumrat’s case, she made the mistake of texting the common Islamic expression, “peace be upon you” to a friend. “Shortly thereafter, a security official approached her and told her the Arabic phrase was now banned. She had to stick to the “national language” — the new official term for Mandarin … Next time, the official warned, things wouldn’t be so easy for her.”

Chinese “Big Brothers”

But Beijing is not satisfied with merely scanning Uyghur retinas before allowing them to cross the street, or tracking a Uyghur’s every move on their own cell phone.  Many Uyghur families have been forced to allow Communist agents to stay with them—and spy on them—in their own homes. According to Turkel, CCP documents show that hundreds of thousands of police, military, or security agents have been foisted on families in this way. 

Uyghur family outside their house, Minfeng, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China.
The destruction of the traditional Uyghur family has been at the center of China’s efforts to erase the Uyghurs. Some families have been forced to allow Chinese officials into their homes to live with, spy on and even abuse them.
Corbis via Getty Images

These Han Chinese ‘Big Brothers’ — they pretend that they are ‘relatives’ by using fictive kinship terms — forbid the use of the Uyghur language in the household, attempt to bribe the children into informing on their parents, and often sexually abuse mothers and their daughters.

Turkel tells of how a woman who “stabbed her ‘relative’ to death after the man sexually abused both her and her [12-year-old] daughter. She could not go to the police to report the sexual abuse, because the state was complicit. … The woman and her daughter disappeared without a trace.” 

This abuse goes on even when the Uyghur husbands are still living in the household, since the men are often afraid to intervene.  When one woman complained to her husband that their Chinese ‘relative’ was pressing her to give him oral sex, Turkel says, the man “was terrified and insisted that there was nothing they could do. The Chinese had broken the dignity of this Uyghur man, to the point where he was unwilling to protect his own wife, the mother of his child.”

Supporters of the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement rally in front of the British Embassy.
Across the globe, protests have been held to raise awareness of the Uyghur’s plight. While many Uyghurs have managed to escape China and find sanctuary in the West, neighboring Muslim nations have not been so welcoming.
Getty Images

While the Uyghurs are being held hostage in their own homes, their history, language, culture and religion are being systematically erased throughout their ancient homeland. As the author writes, the Uyghur language, closely related to Turkish, is no longer taught in local schools, and books on Uyghur history are now banned. Mosques and shrines that have stood for centuries are being razed by the hundreds, and it is a crime to possess a copy of the Koran. And even as ethnic Han Chinese women in Xinjiang and elsewhere are being encouraged by the Party to have more babies, Uyghur women are being told to have fewer — with contraception, sterilization and even abortion forced upon them. 

The Wrath of Han

As a long-time observer of China, it is clear to me that the Party’s goal is not just to turn the surviving Uyghurs into atheists and CCP-members. But to give them an entirely new identity as Han Chinese. The same CCP that tried to delete history during the Cultural Revolution is now hacking the brains of an entire people. This is far worse than forced assimilation: it is genocide in slow motion.

Thanks to Turkel, we know who gave the order for this CCP-version of Germany’s infamous “final solution”.  It came from none other than the biggest Big Brother of all, Xi Jinping himself.  Back in 2014, Xi visited Xinjiang and declared that the Uyghurs should be “shown no mercy.” The Party has been increasingly merciless ever since. 


It is not easy for Uyghurs to escape the giant prison that was once their homeland. Regional Muslim countries, instead of being sympathetic to the plight of their co-religionists, have proven all too willing to deport fleeing Uyghurs back to China, where they face imprisonment or even execution for daring to leave. Even oil-rich Sheikhdoms fear the wrath of potential Chinese retaliation.

The only place where the Uyghurs are truly protected is, paradoxically, in Western countries, especially the United States, which was founded by those committed to religious freedom and has declared that what is happening to the Uyghurs is “genocide.”  Which is why the author of “No Escape,” contemplating his own escape from China’s tyranny, decided that “America was the only safe place for me to go.”

Steven W. Mosher is the President of the Population Research Institute and the author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Pandemics.” 

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