U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Tuesday urged Beijing to end harassment of Uyghurs living outside of China, saying Washington was troubled by reports that the government has "harassed, imprisoned, or arbitrarily detained" family members of Uyghur activists and survivors of Xinjiang internment camps.
"In some cases, these abuses occurred shortly after meetings with senior State Department officials," Pompeo said in a statement, reiterating Washington's call for Beijing to release those detained in internment camps in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
In his statement, Pompeo referred to several individuals whose families had come under pressure from Beijing, including Zumrat Dawut, who described her camp experiences at an event in New York on the sidelines of United Nations General Assembly in September.
Dawut, Uyghur mother of three, had spoken on how she was detained by Chinese authorities for months in a camp, where she was forced to recite Chinese propaganda, beaten for providing food to an ailing fellow prisoner, and injected with unknown drugs.
Dawut, who is married to a Pakistani businessman, said she was released from a camp in Urumqi in June last year, but was fined for having a third child outside of China’s family planning limit and forced to undergo sterilization before authorities would return her passport.
She left China for Pakistan in January and relocated in April with her husband and three children to Washington, where she detailed a similar story to RFA’s Uyghur Service last month.
"Most recently, Ms. Dawut learned her elderly father, who was reportedly detained and interrogated multiple times by Chinese authorities in Xinjiang in recent years, recently passed away under unknown circumstances," Pompeo said.
“The courage of Uyghur advocates to speak out is vital to unearthing the truth about the PRC’s abuses of human rights, including repression of freedom of religion,” he said.
"We once again call on Beijing to cease all harassment of Uyghurs living outside of China... and to allow families to communicate freely without repercussions," Pompeo said.
China among worst abusers
Pompeo last month singled out China as one of the worst perpetrators of abuse against people of faith, particularly in the XUAR, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas since April 2017.
Pompeo’s statement came as the he Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), a bipartisan advisory panel, called on U.S. customs authorities to do more to ensure that goods imported from China are not produced through forced labor in the XUAR, where Uyghurs are subject to mass detentions under the guise of “vocational training.”
“There is a substantial risk that apparel made in the XUAR, or with XUAR manufactured components, is made with forced labor. The risk of forced labor is so great that it is difficult, if not impossible, for companies to conduct appropriate due diligence of their supply chains in the region,” CECC leaders wrote in a letter to Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
“Forced labor is part of a larger Chinese government policy of social control in the XUAR,” wrote U.S. Representative James McGovern and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, the Chair and Cochair, respectively, of the CECC.
“The Chinese government offers subsidies to companies that operate factories in the XUAR and they employ current and former detainees of the internment camps who work in food, textile, and other manufacturing jobs, including electronics,” said the letter.
The U.S. government last month expanded its trade blacklist to include China's top artificial intelligence start-ups and announced visa restrictions on Chinese officials it believes responsible for the detention or abuse of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang region.
Mass incarcerations in the XUAR, as well as other policies seen to violate the rights of Uyghurs and other Muslims, have led to increasing calls by the international community to hold Beijing accountable for its actions in the region.
While Beijing initially denied the existence of the camps, China this year changed tack and began describing the facilities as “boarding schools” that provide vocational training for Uyghurs, discourage radicalization, and help protect the country from terrorism.
Reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media organizations, however, has shown that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.