In a scathing report released on Monday, a U.S. government commission on religious freedom called for sanctions against Chinese officials complicit in the mass-detention of Uighur Muslims.
The recommendation came as part of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s 2019 annual report, which classified China as a “tier one” country of particular concern (CPC) – the commission’s highest, most serious designation.
“If there is one country in the world that epitomizes the CPC designation it is China,” USCIRF chair Tenzin Dorjee wrote in the report.
According to the State Department, between 800,000 and two million Uighurs and other Muslims in China’s restive Xinjiang province have been detained in “concentration camps” since 2017.
The USCIRF report finds that the majority of those detained have not been charged with any crimes, but instead were rounded up for “extremist” religious behavior, such as having an “abnormal” beard, accessing religious material online, or wearing a veil.
According to former detainees, those in the camps are required to renounce Islam and swear loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party.
The report also concludes that detainees are subject to “unspeakable acts of abuse” and “alleged torture,” and that others are compelled to work in privately owned, state-subsidized factories.
The Chinese government originally denied the existence of the camps but has since claimed they are necessary to provide “vocational training” and to combat extremism and terrorism.
Access to the camps – and to the entire province of Xinjiang – is strictly regulated by Chinese officials. In January, a delegation from the European Union was permitted to visit the region but were supervised by Chinese officials for the duration of the trip. The group ultimately concluded the trip was heavily “scripted” and that the sites they were permitted to visit were “carefully selected by the authorities to support China’s official narrative.”
The USCIRF report paints an image of Xinjiang that’s reminiscent of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel, “1984.”
“Outside the camps, the Chinese government continued to use intrusive measures to create an ‘open-air prison’ in Xinjiang,” it concludes.
Among these “intrusive measures” are armed checkpoints, wide-scale GPS tracking systems, facial and iris recognition systems, DNA sampling, and voice pattern sampling – all of which are reportedly designed to monitor the regions Muslim population.
In late 2017, the government also launched the “Pair Up and Become Family” program, which deployed more than a million government workers to periodically live in Muslim households to gage each family’s ideological views.
‘The Impunity Must End Now’
The USCIRF commissioners – all of whom are appointed by the president – condemned the international community for failing to hold the Chinese government accountable for its repression of political and religious freedoms.
“The international community is increasingly responsible for allowing the Chinese government and other governments to get away with systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom without consequence or accountability,” the commissioners wrote. “The impunity must end now.”
The report calls for the U.S. and other governments to “swiftly and resolutely” sanction Chinese officials and agencies responsible for carrying out the repression.
Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party Secretary in Xinjiang, is specifically named as an individual that should be sanctioned.
In November, legislation was introduced in Congress that would require the State Department to appoint a special coordinator for Xinjiang and to consider imposing sanctions on Chinese officials.
The bill did not receive a vote before the end of the 115th session of Congress in December, but the legislation has been reintroduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate this year.
Dorjee said in the report he “strongly” recommends that U.S. lawmakers utilize the Global Magnitsky act – which allows Congress to sanction individuals and agencies responsible for human rights violations.
The USCIRF report also highlights other reported instances of religious repression from the Chinese government outside of Xinjiang, including abuses of Tibetan Buddhists, Christians, Falun Gong and Xie Jiao Groups, and human rights activists.
More on the Subject
Omir Bekali, a former detainee, told the Associated Press in May that detainees were subjected to political indoctrination and forced to chant, “Thank the party! Thank the motherland!” before meals.
Bekali said he initially refused to follow orders and was sent to solitary confinement, where he was deprived of food. The experience led him to the verge of suicide, he said.