The Muslim minority group in China is facing 'oppression' when they want to practice their faith, the US Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback says.
The US has no evidence China is freeing members of the oppressed Muslim minority Uighurs, group in the country's northwest, the US Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said on Wednesday.
"We have no evidence that they’ve been released, and even if they were released, they’re released into a virtual police state that China has created," Brownback told reporters at the State Department.
His remarks came after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a 2019 Report on International Religious Freedom that discusses the status of religious freedom in every country.
"It is a horrific situation, and our big concern here is that this is the future of what oppression’s going to look like, is what it looks like for the Uighurs when they get out of the prison camps," he said.
Even if released, said the ambassador, the Uighurs are going to face "cameras and identification" and "oppression" when they want to practice their faith.
"In many of these places, you’re fine if you want to do anything – you want to get an education, fine. You want to work, fine. You’re – anything – but if you want to practice your faith, it’s a no go.
"And if you do, there will be consequences for you and anybody else that pings you on your cell phone. These are the things that is the virtual police state that we’re very concerned about it being the future of – beyond Xinjiang," he added.
He said a number of workers have been put into forced labour facilities in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
According to the report, the Chinese government sought the forcible repatriation of Uighur Turks and other Muslims from foreign countries and detained some of those who returned.
It said satellite imagery and other sources indicated the government destroyed mosques, cemeteries and other religious sites.
The report also said individuals died as a result of injuries sustained during interrogations by the authorities in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
Sanctions against Chinese officials
The US House of Representatives passed legislation last month calling for sanctions against officials in China responsible for human rights abuses in the region.
The Chinese government denies the allegations and describes them as vocational schools aimed at dampening the allure of religious extremism and violence.
The Chinese embassy in Washington said the bill “blatantly smears China’s counterterrorism and deradicalisation measures and seriously interferes in China’s internal affairs,” which Beijing “deplores and firmly opposes”.
“We urge the US to immediately rectify its mistake, stop using Xinjiang-related issues to intervene in China’s internal affairs and refrain from going even further down the wrong path,” the embassy added.
The region is home to around 10 million Uighurs. The Turkic Muslim group, which makes up around 45 percent of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region's population, has long accused China's authorities of cultural, religious and economic discrimination.
Up to a million people, or about 7 percent of the Muslim population in the region, have been incarcerated in an expanding network of "political re-education" camps, according to US officials and UN experts.
In a report last September, Human Rights Watch accused the Chinese government of a "systematic campaign of human rights violations" against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
According to the 117-page report, the Chinese government conducted "mass arbitrary detention, torture and mistreatment" of Uyghur Turks in the region.