Thousands of people rallied in several Indonesian cities on Friday to protest China’s mass detention of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang autonomous region, calling on Jakarta to take strong diplomatic action against Beijing.
About 1,000 people from various Islamic organizations protested outside the Chinese embassy in the Indonesian capital Jakarta, demanding freedom for the Uyghurs who have been thrown into internment camps in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, in China’s northwest.
Rallies protesting Beijing’s crackdown were also held in other Indonesian cities, including Bandung, Banda Aceh, Medan and Makassar.
The protestors also called on the government of Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to take firm
action against Beijing, including expelling its ambassador to Jakarta.
“Stop violence and oppression against Uyghurs,” they shouted. “Get rid of communists from Indonesia.”
The embassy appeared to be closed during the protest, with barbed wire erected by police in front of the building.
About 800 police and soldiers were deployed to provide security during the protest. There was no violence.
Since April 2017, Chinese authorities have detained at least 800,000 – and possibly more than 2 million – Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minorities in the camps for indefinite periods of time, according to a U.S. government assessment, a State Department official said lately.
U.S. lawmakers Marco Rubio and Chris Smith, who head the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China, recently called the situation in Xinjiang “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.”
The top United Nations human rights official, Michelle Bachelet, said earlier this month that her office was seeking access to the Xinjiang region to verify what she called “worrying reports” about the situation over the re-education camps.
Yusuf Muhammad Martak, who was among the protest leaders in Indonesia, said Beijing was violating human rights and international law by sending Muslims to the reeducation camps in the name of fighting extremism.
“We strongly condemn the suppression of Uyghur Muslims,” he said, speaking at the rally.
Novel Bamukmin, a spokesman of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a hardline Islamic group, urged rally participants to boycott Chinese products.
“If they harass our brothers and sisters, we don't want their ambassador. All people from China will be expelled from Indonesia,” he warned.
Ridwan Abu Ridho, one of the protestors, criticized Widodo for staying silent about the plight of the Uyghurs.
“There has not been a single word from Jokowi for the freedom of our Uyghur brothers and sisters. We can’t accept that the president remains silent while Muslims are being treated like that,” he told BenarNews.
On Monday, the Indonesian Foreign Ministry summoned the deputy Chinese ambassador in Jakarta to raise concerns about the issue. Three days later, Foreign Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said the ambassador had made assurances that China was committed to religious freedom.
On Thursday, the Chinese embassy issued a statement on its website insisting that Uyghurs had not been mistreated.
The statement said authorities in Xinjiang had established “professional vocational training institutions” that provided education and training on China’s common language, legal system and vocational skills to lure Uyghurs from radicalism and extremism.
But according to reports, those held in the camps were detained against their will, subjected to political indoctrination and rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, as well as endured poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities. The atmosphere was more like a prison than any kind of school, multiple sources said.
In Friday’s protests, about 1,000 Muslims in Padang, the capital of West Sumatra province, walked for about 5 km (3.1 miles) from the city’s Nurul Iman mosque to the governor’s office.
“If all diplomatic efforts do not produce results, then the Chinese ambassador should not be in this country,” said the chair of the West Sumatra Indonesian Muslim Preachers’ Association (Ikadi), Urwatul Wusqa.
Parliamentary leaders and Islamic officials have also urged the government to increase pressure on China to address the alleged mistreatment of the country’s Muslim minority.
M. Sulthan Azzam in Padang, Indonesia contributed to this report.