On October 21, a U.S. Court of Appeals moved to block the immediate release of 17 Chinese Muslims from Guantanamo Bay, overturning a federal judge’s order this June to set the men free after seven years in detention. The legal controversy surrounding their detention serves as an occasion to reflect on the status of China’s Muslim Uighur minority, which makes up an estimated 1 to 2 percent of the China’s population, and which remains little-understood in the West.
First and foremost, the Chinese government considers the country’s 8.5 million Uighurs a threat to national security. Earlier this week, for instance, Chinese authorities declared that most of its domestic Muslim terrorists – that is, the Uighur – have close ties with similar groups operating base camps in Pakistan, which borders China’s northwest Xinjiang province.
Also this week, the Chinese government issued mug shots of eight Uighurs suspected in attacks prior to this summer’s Beijing Olympics, when Uighur separatists struck Chinese targets over a dozen times.
Those attacks included a brazen assault on a police station that left sixteen officers dead. All the suspects are alleged members of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which the U.N. says is a terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda.