US religious freedoms panel pushes for sanctions on China over Xinjiang violations


China’s persecution of its Muslim minorities in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) should not be ignored and the country should be placed on a State Department blacklist of the world’s worst abusers of religious freedom, a U.S. bipartisan commission said on Tuesday.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in an annual report said U.S. administration should “impose targeted sanctions on Chinese government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom—particularly Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo and former Political and Legal Affairs Commission Chief Zhu Hailun.”

Specifically, the report called for a freeze on the officials’ assets and a bar on their entry into the United States “under human rights related financial and visa authorities, citing specific religious freedom violations.”

Additionally, the USCIRF recommended that Washington redesignate China as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) “for engaging in systematic, on-going, and egregious religious freedom violations.”

USCIRF said China had created a “high-tech surveillance state” using facial recognition and artificial intelligence to monitor religious minorities, including in the XUAR, where authorities are believed to have detained up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in more than 1,300 internment camps since April 2017—numbers it noted had been revised upward since the previous reporting period.

USCIRF said behaviour deemed to be signs of “religious extremism,” such as wearing long beards and refusing alcohol, regularly lead to detention in the XUAR’s camps, where former detainees have reported being subjected to torture, rape, sterilization, and other abuses.

It also noted that nearly half a million Muslim children have been separated from their families and placed in boarding schools in the region.

In 2019, internment camps in the XUAR “increasingly transitioned from re-education to forced labour as detainees were forced to work in cotton and textile factories,” the report said, while the government continued to deploy officials to live with Muslim families and report any signs of “extremist” behaviour.

Additionally, authorities in the region, and throughout China, have destroyed or damaged thousands of mosques and torn down Arabic-language signs from Muslim businesses, it said.

USCIRF called on the U.S. Congress to support the Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act, which would prohibit the importation to the United States of textiles, cotton, and other goods from the XUAR.

The commission noted that in 2019, the Chinese government also “continued to pursue a strategy of forced assimilation and suppression of Tibetan Buddhism,” in particular through laws designed to control the next reincarnation of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and those of other Tibetan eminent lamas.

Tuesday’s report also noted that Chinese authorities raided or shut down hundreds of Protestant house churches in 2019 and arrested thousands of Falun Gong practitioners for practicing the movement’s meditation exercises or distributing literature about their beliefs.

In a statement, USCIRF commissioner Tenzin Dorjee called China “the classic example of a ‘country of particular concern,’ or CPC, when it comes to religious freedom violations.”

Speaking to RFA’s Tibetan Service on Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback called for an end to “these systematic violations of religious freedom in Xinjiang, in Tibet, to the house church, to Falun Gong members, that are taking place throughout China.”

Dolkun Isa, president of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) exile group, welcomed USCIRF’s report, which he said, “clearly highlighted the horrific treatment of the Uyghur Muslims under China’s brutal rule.”

Matteo Mecacci, president of Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet ICT), applauded USCIRF’s call for the passage of the Tibetan Policy and Support Act in a statement Tuesday.

He urged Congress and the White House to adopt the act, which he said would “send a strong message to the communist government in Beijing that its attempts to control and dominate the lives of Tibetan Buddhists and other people of faith will face serious consequences from the United States and its allies.” (Source: RFA)