China has been accused of oppressing and breaching the human rights of the Uyghur people in its western Xinjiang province.
There have been widespread reports of Uyghur people being held against their will in “re-education” centres, undergoing forced contraception and being subjected to a range of other restrictions.
China says the claims are “baseless” and have repeatedly denied any mistreatment of Uyghurs, saying they live in “peace and harmony”.
But who are the Uyghurs – pronounced “wee-gers” – and why might the Chinese state allegedly be targeting them?
Who are the Uyghur people?
The Uyghurs are a group of people who live mostly in the Xinjiang area of China.
They have been living there for at least several hundred years and there is good evidence that they may have lived there in some form for several thousand years.
They are generally regarded as a Turkic people, which means they speak a language related to Turkish and have ancestors who came from the traditional homeland of the Turks – north of central Asia.
But studies of their genetic make-up suggest that they also have ancestors who came from other parts of the world, with European DNA mixed with Chinese, south Asian, Siberian, and central Asian.
What have the Chinese been accused of?
China has been accused of interning one million Uyghurs in “re-education” centres in Xinjiang.
In 2019, leaked documents emerged that contradicted Chinese government claims that the detention camps were voluntary job training centres.
The classified papers appeared to confirm what former detainees had been saying, that the camps were centres for forced ideological and behavioural re-education, or brainwashing.
The Chinese government has been accused of forcing Uyghur women and member of other minorities to take part in birth control as part of a campaign to curb its Muslim population.
Footage has emerged over the last few years purporting to show hundreds of blindfolded and shackled prisoners – who were thought to be from the Uyghur population – being marched by guards in the Xinjiang city of Korla.
Sky News has also found evidence of children of exiled Uyghurs going missing in Xinjiang.
Why might the Chinese oppress the Uyghurs?
Xinjiang, where an estimated 80% of China’s Uyghurs are said to live, is China’s most western province.
It is a politically sensitive region – surrounded by eight other countries.
As the home of a significant proportion of the Silk Road, it has long been used as a thoroughfare along which goods from China have travelled.
Some, possibly most, Uyghurs do not accept that Xinjiang is part of China, citing the evidence that Uyghur people lived in the area before Chinese Han and Tang dynasties set up protectorates.
Xinjiang, as it is now, came under Chinese Qing dynasty rule in the 18th century, but there have been many times in its history when it was not under Chinese control.
In modern times, China has been increasing the number of non-Uyghurs in Xinjiang, so the proportion of Uyghurs in the region is declining.
Some Uyghurs resent that they are becoming, in their view, increasingly marginalised in the land where they have lived for centuries.
What unites the Uyghur people?
The Uyghurs are predominantly Muslim and have been for at least several hundred years.
But they have a rich and complex cultural history, stretching back millennia, with archaeological sites in Xinjiang showing that many in the past adhered to Buddhist beliefs, as well as those of other religions which now have relatively few followers.
Artworks discovered in caves in Xinjiang were made by Buddhist devotees who are believed to have been among some of the ancestors of modern Uyghur people.
They show the diversity of the society at the time, with images dating from the fifth to 14th centuries of Indians, Persians, Chinese and even some resembling Europeans on the cave walls.
Uyghurs are also united by a common language, which is related to Turkish, and by a shared culture of music, dance, food and other traditions.
How long have Uyghurs been in Xinjiang?
The oldest known inhabitants of the Tarim basin, a part of Xinjiang, are the Tarim mummies.
The mummified remains have European features and it has been claimed that the people spoke a language related to European Celtic. They lived about 3,800 years ago.
But there have been many influxes of people since then.
One of the key factors that has influenced who lives in the area is the presence of the Silk Road – the main worldwide trade route from Roman to Medieval times – through Xinjiang along which travelled goods and people.
Some Chinese experts argue that Uyghur people arrived in Xinjiang around the eighth and ninth centuries after the fall of a society further north called the Uyghur Khaganate.
Other experts, however, say that those arrivals were just one of the many waves of immigration into the area, and the modern Uyghur population reflects those past movements of people.
This article was originally published in 2020.
Schools Bill axed in current form, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan confirms
A bill through which the government promised to “raise education standards across the country” through a range of measures has been axed in its current form, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has confirmed.
In her first appearance in front of the Educations Committee in her new role as secretary of state, Ms Keegan told MPs that the Schools Bill will not progress to its third reading.
It is the government’s third policy reversal this week.
The government had previously said the bill, which was launched back in May, would “underpin the government’s ambition for every child to receive a world-class education, no matter where in the country they live”.
The legislation contained proposals to support schools to join strong, multi-academy trusts, introduce registers for children not in school and to give Ofsted more powers to crack down on unregistered schools operating illegally.
Ministers had said the bill “delivers the primary legislation needed to strengthen the school system, as well as essential measures to keep children safe”.
Ms Keegan told MPs: “I can confirm that the Schools Bill will not progress in the third session [of Parliament],” Ms Keegan tells MPs.
“There’s been a lot of things we’ve had to focus on.
“However we do remain committed to the very many important objectives of the bill, and we will be prioritising some aspects of the bill as well to see what we can do.”
The bill has not progressed any further since September, when peers in the House of Lords removed key clauses that would have given the Department of Education significant powers over how academies operate.
Ms Keegan said that a register of children not in school is still “definitely a priority” for the government.
The government had proposed the creation of local authority-administered registers for children not in school which, it said, would allow the government to support local authorities to make sure they know where every child is being educated, that it is of the right quality, and that support is offered to home educating families.
The bill also committed to moving to a direct National Funding Formula which would make sure every school received funding on the same basis, wherever it is in the country.
Elsewhere in the committee hearing, Ms Keegan suggested some institutions have “lost their way” on debating “difficult issues”.
Asked how the Department for Education (DfE) plans to enforce political impartiality in schools, she said she believes the “vast majority” of teachers take that responsibility “extremely carefully”.
Ambulances will go to ‘life-threatening’ calls during strikes but may not attend falls, Health Secretary Steve Barclay says
Ambulances will be dispatched to “life-threatening” Category 1 calls during the two days of industrial action this month but may not attend if an elderly person has a fall, Health Secretary Steve Barclay has suggested.
Asked whether an elderly individual who has had a fall will receive help on two strike dates – 21 and 28 December – Mr Barclay told Sky News the government is discussing what will be covered with the trade unions.
“They have said that they will cover life-threatening conditions.
“So there’s four categories of call: Life-threatening, which is Category 1, emergency, which is Category 2. Those tend to be things like heart attacks and strokes. So your case would often be classed as a Category 3 or Category 4.
“At the moment, the trade unions are saying those things wouldn’t be covered.”
Pressed on whether an ambulance would arrive if somebody has had a suspected heart attack, he added: “Well, the indication from the trade unions is that it would.”
Asked about possible strokes, Mr Barclay replied: “Well we are having those discussions. Obviously the trade unions said to us they didn’t want to get into the details of exactly what derogations, what things would be covered and what would not until they announced the date of the strike.
“Now they have done that, there are discussions that will take place tomorrow in terms of what exactly will be covered by that.”
More than 10,000 ambulance workers across nine trusts in England and Wales will strike on 21 and 28 December as part of coordinated industrial action by the GMB, Unison and Unite unions in a row over pay.
Ambulance workers from the GMB union, including paramedics, emergency care assistants, call handlers and other staff, will strike at the following trusts:
• South West Ambulance Service
• South East Coast Ambulance Service
• North West Ambulance Service
• South Central Ambulance Service
• North East Ambulance Service
• East Midlands Ambulance Service
• West Midlands Ambulance Service
• Welsh Ambulance Service
• Yorkshire Ambulance Service
Unite said more than 1,600 of its members at the West Midlands, North West and North East ambulance service trusts would also join the walkout on 21 December.
Ambulance workers who are members of Unison will join the strike at five services in England: London, Yorkshire, the North West, North East and South West.
The strikes will go ahead after the Royal College of Nursing staged their second walkout, which was also over pay.
Last week, workers across the ambulance services and some NHS trusts voted to take industrial action over the government’s 4% pay award, which the GMB union has described as another “massive real-terms pay cut”.
The government says it cannot afford such demands, and increasing wages higher than inflation will push prices up higher.
The union said on Tuesday that its representatives will now meet with individual trusts to discuss requirements for “life and limb cover” on the two confirmed dates.
Rachel Harrison, GMB national secretary, said: “The government could stop this strike in a heartbeat – but they need to wake up and start negotiating on pay.”
Unite called the action a “stark warning” to the government, which it urged to stem the “crisis” engulfing the NHS.
The union said it would maintain essential emergency cover for patients.
Abolishing House of Lords would spark ‘fundamental challenges’, Speaker warns
The Speaker of the Lords is set to condemn Labour’s plans to abolish the second chamber, claiming changing it to a fully elected House would “present fundamental challenges”.
Sir Keir Starmer announced the plan on Monday – alongside former prime minister Gordon Brown – as the pair insisted a new Labour government would ensure “the biggest transfer of power out of Westminster and Whitehall [that] our country has seen”.
But while Lord McFall – once a Labour MP himself – agrees with the need to reform the red benches, he will criticise the direction the party is taking.
He fears it could “threaten both the balance of our constitution and our capability across parliament to deliver good and effective legislation”.
Giving a lecture to the Hansard Society in Westminster later today, he is expected to say: “The House of Lords needs to keep up with the times.
“If it doesn’t, it will decline, and that’s bad for our politics and our democracy.”
Lord McFall will recommend making the chamber “smaller, more inclusive and more representative of all parts of the United Kingdom”.
But he will warn about the need for buy-in to the plans from across the political spectrum, saying “previous failed attempts at far-reaching change illustrate that without agreement across parties even the most worthy proposals could be found wanting”.
The Speaker will also say the electorate “makes their decisions based upon the issues that matter to them” rather than constitutional reform, adding: “While I think that the future of the House of Lords is important, I am not certain it ranks above topics such as health, education and the economy for most voters.”
Sky News contacted Labour for a response, but the party declined to comment.
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