US House Speaker Appoints Uyghur Attorney Nury Turkel to Panel on Religious Freedom

uyghur-nury-turkel-headshot.jpg Nury Turkel in a photo provided by USCIRF.

U.S. House of Representatives Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has appointed Washington-based Uyghur attorney Nury Turkel to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Turkel will serve until May 14, 2022 as a commissioner on the bipartisan body, which has called for holding China accountable for human rights violations against Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), and succeeds Tibetan-American Dr. Tenzin Dorjee, according to a congressional record dated May 22.

“As an immigrant and a member of an oppressed ethnic group in China, I am thrilled and humbled to be appointed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi as a Commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom,” Turkel told RFA’s Uyghur Service on Tuesday.

“I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to contribute to USCIRF's important work to promote and protect religious freedom around the world.”

The appointment comes ahead of a planned Wednesday vote by the House on the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020—a bill that would sanction Chinese government officials responsible for arbitrary incarceration, forced labor and other abuses in the XUAR, home to internment camps holding as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslims.

The U.S. bill, which was passed unanimously by the Senate in mid-May, condemns the Chinese Communist Party for the three-year-old internment camp program and requires regular monitoring of the situation in the region by U.S. government bodies for the application of sanctions once signed into law by President Donald Trump.

Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), which Turkel co-founded in 2003 and whose board he chairs, welcomed Pelosi’s appointment in a statement on Tuesday, calling USCIRF “a leading voice in the global fight to defend religious freedom.”

“Speaker Pelosi’s appointment of a Uyghur American to USCIRF sends an important message. Nury’s work as a Commissioner will be a symbol of Uyghur Americans’ whole-hearted embrace of democratic values and religious freedom for all,” said UHRP executive director Omer Kanat.

“Nury has been an outstanding voice calling for global action to end the mass atrocities committed against Uyghurs in our homeland, East Turkistan,” Kanat added, using the name preferred by Uyghurs for their homeland.

Bipartisan panel

Comprised of nine commissioners, USCIRF is an independent body that reviews violations of religious freedom internationally and makes policy recommendations to the White House, State Department, and Congress.

USCIRF commissioners are appointed by the U.S. President and the leadership of both political parties in the House and Senate.

Last month, in an annual report, USCIRF called for sanctions against entities deemed responsible for the persecution of Muslims in the XUAR and for China to be placed on a State Department blacklist of the world’s worst abusers of religious freedoms.

It said behavior 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.

Reported and translated by Alim Seytoff for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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