Restrictions on religion and security controls have intensified in northwest China’s Xinjiang region in recent months, a congressional commission said Monday, warning that Washington’s anti-terrorism cooperation with Beijing must not come at the cost of the rights of ethnic Uyghurs.
In a statement, the Congressional Executive Commission on China (CECC) said that the situation in Xinjiang had “further deteriorated” since the release of its 2017 annual report, which found that freedoms of speech and religion, the rule of law, and individual rights and freedoms had worsened under the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
“Reports indicate XUAR Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo has implemented a hardline, all-encompassing security network throughout the region, by overseeing the hiring of tens of thousands of new security personnel, the convening of mass rallies, and the involuntary collection of residents’ DNA, fingerprints, eye scans, and blood types,” said Senator Marco Rubio, CECC chairman.
“Civilians are detained without cause, ‘political education’ camps proliferate, and a vast surveillance apparatus invades every aspect of daily life. These rights violations are deeply troubling and risk serving as a catalyst for radicalization.”
Representative Chris Smith, cochairman of the CECC, similarly expressed alarm over the state of human rights in Xinjiang.
“The Chinese government’s expansive surveillance and security network in Xinjiang is a gross violation of privacy and international human rights, including the right to religious freedom, as the government is turning mosques into political propaganda centers and labeling religious beliefs as extremist,” he said.
“These policies seem to be completely counterproductive and a recipe for instability and dissatisfaction rather than security.”
Smith urged U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to avoid condoning restrictions on freedom in Xinjiang in the name of counterterrorism.
“The U.S. should be calibrating our counterterrorism cooperation with China to ensure that we do not condone or advance a crackdown on peaceful domestic dissent or the freedom of religion, association, and expression,” he said.
Rubio and Smith highlighted the detention and “likely mistreatment” of up to 30 family members of U.S.-based Uyghur activist Rebiya Kadeer, which the CECC said was “yet another example of China’s efforts to silence criticism of the Party or of government policies through intimidation, detention, and threats to the family members of activists living abroad.”
Kadeer’s children, grandchildren, and other relatives are reportedly in detention, including her sons Ablikim and Alim Abdureyim—both of whom previously suffered torture and abuse during periods of detention and imprisonment.
Kadeer was a political prisoner for more than five years before being released on medical parole in 2005, and since her relocation to the U.S. that year, Chinese authorities have carried out a campaign of harassment against her family members who remained in Xinjiang.
The CECC also expressed concern over an expansion of detentions in Xinjiang’s political re-education camps, where large numbers of Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and others have been held for months at a time for “crimes” such as praying, wearing “Islamic” clothing, or having foreign connections.
Additionally, the commission said, Chinese authorities have ordered Uyghurs studying abroad in countries including Egypt, Turkey, France, Australia, and the U.S. to return to Xinjiang, and have subsequently detained some of them in re-education camps, “about which very little is known.”
Officials have also been issued quotas for the number or percentage of the population in their jurisdictions that must be sent to undergo “political education,” the CECC said, citing overseas reports.
China regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns in Xinjiang, including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people, including videos and other material.
While China blames some Uyghurs for "terrorist" attacks, experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from the Uyghurs and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence there that has left hundreds dead since 2009.