Uighurs forced to eat pork as China expands Xinjiang pig farms

Former detainees claim that the forcible feeding of pork is most rampant in re-education camps and detention centers.

[File: How Hwee Young/EPA] Source: Al Jazeera
An April 2020 report said that the Xinjiang government has signed a deal to open a hog farm for local consumption in Kashgar, an area that is 90-percent Muslim Uighur.

It has been more than two years since Sayragul Sautbay was released from a re-education camp in China’s westernmost region of Xinjiang. Yet the mother of two still suffers from nightmares and flashbacks from the “humiliation and violence” she endured while she was detained.

Sautbay, a medical doctor and educator who now lives in Sweden, recently published a book in which she detailed her ordeal, including witnessing beatings, alleged sexual abuse, and forced sterilisation.

In a recent interview with Al Jazeera, she shed more light on other indignities to which the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities were subjected, including the consumption of pork, a meat that is strictly prohibited in Islam.

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

Source: Al Jazeera

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

“I was feeling like I was a different person. All around me got dark. It was really difficult to accept,” she said.

Testimonies from Sautbay and others provide an indication of how China has sought to crack down in Xinjiang by taking aim at the cultural and religious beliefs of the mostly Muslim ethnic minority, implementing widespread surveillance and – from about 2017 – opening a network of camps it has justified as necessary to counter “extremism”.

Source: Al Jazeera

But documents 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”.

According to Zenz, the documents and state-approved news articles support talk within Uighur communities that there is an “active” effort to promote and expand pig farming in the region.

In November 2019, Xinjiang’s top administrator, Shohrat Zakir, that the autonomous region would be turned into a “pig-raising hub”; a move that Uighurs say is an affront to their way of life.

One 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.

The project is expected to occupy a 25,000-square-metre (82-square-foot) area in an industrial park in Kashgar’s Konaxahar county, renamed Shufu, according to the Chinese-language website, Sina.

Source: Al Jazeera
Ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang say that the government is deliberately trying to erase their cultural and religious traditions [File: Diego Azubel/EPA]

The deal was formally signed on April 23 this year, the first day of Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, and states that the pig farming is not meant for export purposes, but instead “to ensure the supply of pork” in Kashgar.

The Uighurs make up 90 percent of the population in the city and the surrounding area.

“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.

‘Three evils’

Beijing has defended its policies in the region, saying 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 saying it operates vocational centres that allow it to “retrain” the Uighur population and teach them new skills.

Like Sautbay, Uighur businesswoman Zumret Dawut has first-hand experience of detention. She was picked up in March 2018 in Urumqi, the city where she was born.

Source: Al Jazeera
According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in September, there are at least 380 re-education camps and detention centres in Xinjiang [File: Thomas Peter/Reuters]

For two months, Dawut said authorities demanded explanations about her links to Pakistan, her husband’s homeland. They questioned her as well about how many children she had, and whether or not they had studied religion and read the Quran.

She says she was humiliated repeatedly and on one occasion was slapped in the face with a rolled paper after displeasing her interrogator.