The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has urged the Trump administration to immediately enforce sanctions against Chinese officials responsible for the detention and persecution of more than a million Uyghurs in the Xinjiang autonomous region in western China.
More than a million ethnic Turkish Muslims have been detained in camps in Xinjiang by China’s communist government, as estimated by the U.N. and the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020, which was passed by Congress nearly unanimously last month, and seeks to safeguard the rights of this religious minority group.
“For the past several years, China has been continuously arresting Uyghur people and placing them in ‘re-education camps,’” the U.S.-based China Aid said in a statement released Thursday. “Chinese authorities claimed these camps provide vocational training for Uyghur people. However, camp survivors reported being starved, tortured, forced to study pro-government propaganda, and made to do extensive labor with little to no pay.”
The USCIRF said Thursday that it wants the president to immediately enforce sanctions listed in the bill that he signed into law on Wednesday.
“For 20 years, USCIRF has loudly sounded the alarm on the actions of the Chinese Communist Party to target millions of Uyghur and other Muslims,” the panel said in a statement on Wednesday. “USCIRF has condemned the concentration camps where Uyghurs and other Muslims are being held as an unjustified mockery of international human rights standards, and along with the actions of the Chinese Communist Party against Uyghurs, as crimes against humanity and cultural genocide.”
“USCIRF urges the Administration to enforce the Act and issue immediate and targeted sanctions against Chinese government officials responsible for the persecution of Uyghurs,” it added.
“The administration must take meaningful action now to condemn China’s crimes against humanity, modern slavery, and cultural genocide.”
In a “signing statement” on Wednesday, the president said that some of the provisions for sanctions in the bill could limit his constitutional authority to engage in diplomacy as president so he would treat them as advisory and not mandatory.
“The Act holds accountable perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses such as the systematic use of indoctrination camps, forced labor, and intrusive surveillance to eradicate the ethnic identity and religious beliefs of Uyghurs and other minorities in China,” Trump said.
The Chinese government has continually denied that it has unjustly imprisoned Uyghur and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region. However, documents called “The China Cables” that were leaked last year to news outlets revealed the ideological motivations and structure behind such detention centers.
The documents were leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a consortium that has worked with 17 media partners, including the BBC and The Guardian. Included in the leak was a nine-page memo reportedly sent out to officials operating the camps by then deputy-secretary of Xinjiang’s Communist Party, Zhu Hailun, in 2017.
The BBC reported that the memo said detention centers in Xinjiang should be run as high-security prisons with strict punishments and no escapes. The memo also ordered detention center officials to “increase discipline and punishment of behavioral violations,” make remedial Mandarin studies a top priority and “promote repentance and confession.”
According to The Guardian, the memo also revealed that inmates at the camps were made to serve at least one year but could be detained indefinitely.
The Chinese government has also continued its campaign against Christianity during the country’s coronavirus outbreak by destroying crosses and demolishing a church while people were on lockdown.
More than 60 million Christians live in China, at least half of whom worship in unregistered, or “illegal” underground churches.
China is ranked as one of the worst countries in the world when it comes to the persecution of Christians, according to Open Doors USA’s World Watch List.