U.S. Congress calls for sanctions on China over treatment of Uighurs

The US House of Representatives has passed a bill calling for sanctions on members of the Chinese government to counter what it calls the “arbitrary detention, torture, and harassment” of Uighur Muslims.

The Uighur Human Rights Policy Act 2019 bill was passed by 407 to 1 in the House of Representatives on Tuesday night.

It still has to be approved by President Trump but if it becomes law the bill would mark the most significant international attempt to pressure China over its mass detention of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities.

The purpose of the bill is “to address gross violations of universally recognised human rights, including the mass internment of over 1,000,000 Uighurs.”

It also accuses China of “systematically discriminating” against Uighurs by “denying them a range of civil and political rights, including the freedoms of expression, religion, movement and a fair trial.”

Uyghur Muslim men

The bill details some of the policies allegedly carried out by China against Muslims in Xinjiang.

These include:

  • Pervasive, high-tech surveillance – including the collection of DNA samples from children
  • The use of QR codes outside homes to gather information on how frequently individuals pray
  • Facial and voice recognition software and “predictive policing” databases

The World Uyghur Congress (WUC), a U.S. based human rights group, hailed the bill for rebuffing what it called “China’s continued push of extreme persecution” in Xinjiang. Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the WUC, said the organisation looked forward to President Trump signing the bill into law.

But China, which denies any mistreatment of Uighurs, said the bill was an affront to its policies in Xinjiang and amounted to interference in its internal affairs.

“This bill deliberately smears the human rights condition in Xinjiang, slanders China’s efforts in de-radicalization and counter-terrorism, and viciously attacks the Chinese government’s Xinjiang policy,” a foreign ministry statement said.

It said the policy in Xinjiang was “about fighting violence, terrorism and separatism,” adding that “thanks to those efforts, Xinjiang hasn’t seen a single terrorist attack over the past three years.”

The statement also said “the international community speaks highly of China’s Xinjiang policy.”

Rights groups say hundreds of thousands of Muslims are detained in high-security prison camps across Xinjiang.

The Chinese authorities say the Uighurs are being educated in “vocational training centres” in order to combat violent religious extremism.

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