Malaysia needs a clear position on Uyghur issue


THE leak of thousands of photos and official documents published by a consortium of media including the BBC offers new insights into China’s Uyghur detention camps. The leak showed the extent of suppression of religious freedom and human rights violations in Xinjiang.

While the Chinese government rejected the leak as “spreading lies and rumours”, it is hard to fake and falsify such an amount of image materials. The documents proved the arbitrary detention of the Muslims simply because they were just expressing their faith.

The recent leak should strike urgency in the world in demanding a transparent explanation.

It is high time for Malaysia and other Islamic countries to seek China’s explanation for the leaked image materials. The Muslims in Malaysia and globally can no longer accept the simplistic denial by the Chinese government and their unconvincing ‘re-education camp’ narrative.

Malaysia has been elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the 2022-2024 term. Thus, the government should utilise the forum to demand an explanation of the latest leak as it is no longer just an issue of systematic suppression of human rights, but also a glaring manifestation of Islamophobia.

Our representative should press for an official investigation by the UNHRC. A transparent investigation is crucial to keep China at arm’s length from continuing to manipulate narratives pertinent to the real situation in Xinjiang.

Malaysia needs a clear or defined position on the Uyghur issue. Publicly, Malaysia’s government has not expressed support or rejection of the Chinese government policies in Xinjiang.

Malaysia’s hedging strategy towards China means it is unlikely that Malaysia will directly challenge or confront China about what is happening in Xinjiang. But with mounting evidence of suppression of religion and the systematic manifestation of Islamophobia, silence is no longer an option.

A clearer position is mandated if Malaysia is to be regarded as accountable and effective in its role in the UNHRC. Human rights and countering Islamophobia should now be an essential part of Malaysia’s foreign policy strategy.

As a model Islamic country, Malaysia should have the courage to explain to China, using whatever channel possible, that its so-called “counter-terrorism strategy” is no longer acceptable.

International norms prescribe that countering terrorism must never be pursued at the expense of the right to express one’s faith. Muslims or any religious practitioners should be granted the ability to worship in peace and security as it is part of universal human rights.

Adherence to global standards and strategies in countering terrorism is very crucial and what is happening in Xinjiang certainly has deviated from the international norms in the strategy for countering terrorism.

As China’s ascension has propelled its status as the world’s biggest economy and one of the most successful developing countries, so does its responsibility to promote human rights. And the world is also expecting China to play a greater role and earnestly lead the way in issues affecting human rights, human dignity and human security globally.

Apart from modelling their economic success, many countries look upon China’s commitment to leading in other aspects too. This includes human rights governance and applying the spirit of the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to achieve all-round development of the people.

Its socialism with Chinese characteristics is best appreciated with stronger human rights and human security dimensions.

  • Dr Abdul Razak Ahmad is the founding director of Bait Al Amanah, an independent research institute that promotes policy and decision-making through sound, independent and multidisciplinary analysis in areas of governance and democracy, economics, security, and issues of national importance.