On Feb. 20, the McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice and the McMaster Muslim Students Association sent a letter to Canadian ministers Chrystia Freeland and Ralph Goodalech, asking the government to investigate the Chinese government’s role in directing students to silence human rights activists on campus.
The letter follows an event organized by MMPJ and McMaster MSA on Feb. 11 where Rukiye Turdush, a Uighur Muslim activist, spoke about the Chinese internment of Uighur Muslims.
According to the Washington Post, a group of students created a WeChat group chat to oppose the event.
During the event, a student filmed Turdush and cursed at her. After the talk, the students say that they contacted the Chinese Embassy in Canada, which directed them to investigate whether university officials or Chinese students attended the event.
A few days later, five Chinese student groups, including the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, released a statement condemning the event and stating they contacted the Chinese consulate in Toronto.
The internment of Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region of China has been confirmed by multiple news outlets and the international community.
Approximately one million Uighur Muslims have been detained by the Chinese government, according to the British government.
The Chinese government has denied any wrongdoing, suggesting the camps are constructed for counter-terrorism purposes.
On Feb 16, the Chinese Embassy released a statement defending the actions of the Chinese students on the principle of free speech and dismissing any accusations of misconduct as ‘groundless accusations’ and ‘anti-China sentiment.’
Representatives from McMaster MSA and MMPJ say this is not a free speech issue.
“I do not think this was ever a conversation about freedom of speech. I think it always has been a conversation about human rights violation and speaking up against that,” said representatives from the McMaster MSA and MMPJ. “It’s blatantly obvious that the government is supporting these attempts to quell discussion about these human rights violations.”
The CSSA did not respond to multiple emails from The Silhouette about the situation.
McMaster MSA and MMPJ said the government acknowledged their letter but has yet to engage in any formal action on the matter.
“It’s important that we help people understand the university’s commitment to free speech and to the sharing of views and opinions, even those that might be controversial,” said Gord Arbeau, McMaster’s director of communications.
It is worth noting that these events come amid growing concerns about Chinese government involvement in Canadian universities to oppose any criticism against the Chinese Communist Party.
Following the protest at Turdush’s talk, an unnamed McMaster student created a Change.org petition in hopes of removing the CSSA from the MSU. As of March 2, the petition has amassed 461 signatures.
McMaster MSA and MMPJ said they did not start the petition.
“We definitely have mixed feelings about this petition simply because I think we somewhat recognize that these students these Chinese students are also victims of surveillance and they are victims of a form of control,” McMaster MSA and MMPJ representatives said. “It has never been a priority for either of our organizations to go and attack them, to take revenge.”
The MSU clubs department is aware of the situation but will not take any action without instruction from the government and/or university administration.
"As the clubs department is not a formal investigative body, its governing policies state clearly that any punitive action taken towards a club or individuals inside a club are done so after federal, provincial, municipal and/or University judicial bodies (as appropriate) render opinion and/or action. Therefore, the Department would certainly act on the advice of investigative professionals in this matter," said Josephine Liauw, the MSU clubs department administrator.
This article was clarified on March 12, 2019 to include a direct quotation from Liauw.