Uighur Muslims “forced to eat pork meat” in detention camps as China expands Xinjiang pig farms

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The Chinese government has been forcing Uighur Muslims, an ethnic minority in the country, and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang to consume pork, a meat that is strictly prohibited in Islam, mostly in “re-education” camps and detention centers, reported Al Jazeera.

Sayragul Sautbay, who was released two years ago from a “re-education” camp in China’s westernmost region of Xinjiang, spoke to Al Jazeera about the humiliation that Uighurs and other Muslim minorities face, including the consumption of pork.

“Every Friday, we were forced to eat pork meat,” Sautbay told Al Jazeera in an interview. “They have intentionally chosen a day that is holy for the Muslims. And if you reject it, you would get a harsh punishment.”

The documents that were made available to Al Jazeera show that agricultural development has also become part of what German anthropologist and Uighur scholar, Adrian Zenz, says is a policy of “secularisation”. A news article published in May that Zenz recorded describes a new farm in the southern Kashgar area, which aims to produce 40,000 pigs every year.

“This is part of the attempt to completely eradicate the culture and religion of the people in Xinjiang,” Zenz told Al Jazeera.

“It is part of the strategy of secularisation, of turning the Uighurs secular and indoctrinating them to follow the communist party and become agnostic or atheist,” he added.

However, Beijing while defending its policies in the region, said that the approach is needed to fight the “three evils of extremism, separatism and terrorism”, following deadly riots in the regional capital Urumqi in 2009.

It has denied the existence of the re-education camps in which the United Nations has said more than one million people have been held, instead of saying it operates vocational centers that allow it to “retrain” the Uighur population and teach them new skills. 

Sautbay claimed that the policy was designed to “inflict shame and guilt on the Muslim detainees”. She added that it was difficult for her to explain the emotions in words that she had every time she ate pork.

Testimonies from Sautbay and others to Al Jazeera provide a glimpse of how China has clamped down on Xinjiang by concentrating on the cultural and religious values of the predominantly Muslim ethnic minority and imposing extensive surveillance, and – as of around 2017 – by opening up a network of camps that it has justified as necessary to fight “extremism.”

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