Under the guise of curbing terrorism, China has turned the region of Xinjiang into an internment camp. According to some reports, the Chinese government has detained at least tens of thousands of Uighur Muslims without charging them with a crime. The detainees cannot get in touch with their families, suffer torture, and in some cases never return.
Uighur Muslims face random stops on the streets where policemen check their phones for religious material. Religious salutations in text messages such as ‘Salaam’ could make you a suspect so could installing VPN, Facebook, and Twitter apps on your phone.
The authorities then send the suspects to internment camps, or what the Chinese state calls, ‘re-education centers’. The state officials beat detainees, starve them for days, force them to renounce their faith, shout party slogans, and pledge loyalty to the state party.
Rather than only using the force, the Chinese state has also set up bureaucratic barriers that make religious education impossible. The state has grown sterner when issuing licenses for religious schools while praying outside the public mosques remains illegal.
Though Uighurs take safety measures to stay off the state’s radar, they aren’t leaving their faith for security. The anti-Islam stance of the Chinese state is having the opposite effect of the pro-Islam regime in Iran.
Where Christianity has become the fastest growing religion in Iran due to the regime’s ultra-Islamist policies, Uighur Muslims are sticking by their faith.
Even as the U.S. mulls sanctions on China for its’ human rights record, the majority in Pakistan remains oblivious to the condition of Uighur Muslims.
The Pakistani media has not reported on Uighurs for fear of offending the Chinese. Pakistan and China have always had close ties but last year as part of its’ Silk Road initiative, China pledged $50 Billion in loans and investments to Pakistan known as CPEC.
Although the two nations released very little of the agreement they signed, both states remain optimistic of the economic growth CPEC would spur.
Due to the incessant rhetoric, CPEC has become a holy cow that is beyond reproach. Even as Moody’s downgraded Pakistan’s economic outlook from ‘stable’ to ‘negative’ in June, it did not deter the confidence in CPEC.
The true extent of Pakistan’s petulance on this issue was visible a few days ago when Financial Times published an interview with Abdul Razak Dawood, member of a Pakistani economic cabinet.
The interview claimed that Pakistan was rethinking its’ role in China’s Silk Road initiative. Pakistani media took the lead in calling the FT story ‘fake’. Mr. Dawood himself only claimed that FT took his comments out of context.
The fact that Financial Times would have run the piece by Mr. Dawood before publishing it was missing from the media coverage in Pakistan.
Rather than keeping with the ethics of journalism, Pakistani media act through an invisible loyalty to the power.
Instead of raising legitimate concerns over the secrecy of the CPEC agreement, the media is blindly loyal to the Chinese state. For this reason, they ignore the state of Uighur Muslims.
By comparison, there is another state-to-state agreement shrouded in secrecy. The last government of Pakistan signed a multi-billion dollar LNG deal with the state of Qatar.
The media have expressed alarm over its’ secrecy and called for studies to better analyze the economic benefit or deficit to Pakistan while holding CPEC to a different standard.
When the Burmese military began persecuting the Rohingya Muslims, Pakistani media covered it extensively. The coverage even moved the Pakistani government to vow to try to resolve the conflict although the two nations had had minimal diplomatic ties.
China isn’t the sole recipient of favors from the Pakistani media. Yemeni atrocities by Saudi-led and US-backed forces received little notice while the media broadly covered attempted missile attacks on Riyadh.
A good way to predict the stance of Pakistani media on an international issue is to read a statement from the state’s Foreign Office.
As a principle, the media never defy the Foreign Office narrative when they cover an international event.
To quote a recent incident, as the rift between Canada and Saudi Arabia grew, Foreign Office released a statement in favor of the Saudis. The Pakistani media then kept Saudis in a positive light even as Human Rights Watch released a damning report on their crimes in Yemen.
Although Pakistan ranks at 139 for Press Freedom, a large part of what the media does is self-censorship.
There is a belief that if they challenge the state institutions, the public would see that as unpatriotic and boycott their channel. To keep the public happy and keep the revenue streams flowing, they air what the public wants to hear.
Though I have talked of Pakistani media as a monolith, it is by no means so. What I have described here is true of TV news channels that have the biggest viewership in Pakistan and set the national agenda.
There are a few English newspapers but Dawn is the only one with any credence. Despite that, the reading culture in Pakistan is poor. The majority reads very little besides school texts and religious books.
Dawn has talked of Uighur Muslims but it too is far from being a neutral observer. Instead of covering real issues, Dawn legitimizes the international stereotypes about Pakistan to erode evidence of progress.
The criteria for reporting still depend on who the culprits are. Woes of Uighurs still matter less than those of Kashmiris, Palestinians, and Rohingya.