US House votes for sanctions on Chinese officials over Uighur treatment

Media captionThe BBC visits the camps where China’s Muslims have their “thoughts transformed”

The US House of Representatives has passed a bill to counter what it calls the “arbitrary detention, torture, and harassment” of Uighur Muslims in China.

It calls for “targeted sanctions” on members of the Chinese government – and names the Communist Party secretary in the Xinjiang autonomous region, Chen Quanguo.

The bill still needs approval from the Senate and from President Trump.

China reacted angrily, calling it a “gross interference”.

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

Its passing comes days after Mr Trump signed into law a bill that supports pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong – also leading to condemnation from China.

Republican Thomas Massie, from Kentucky, voted against the Uighur bill. He also voted against the Hong Kong bill.

The BBC’s China correspondent John Sudworth said – if it became law – the bill would “mark the most significant international attempt to pressure China over its mass detention of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities”.

What’s in the bill?

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”.

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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 Uighur bill calls for sanctions on Chinese officials who are “credibly alleged to be responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang”.

It also names Xinjiang’s Communist Party boss Chen Quanguo, who has been dubbed the “architect” of the camps.

The bill calls on Mr Trump to “condemn abuses” against the Uighurs, for China to immediately close all the camps, and to “ensure respect for internationally-guaranteed human rights”.

Media captionThe BBC’s John Sudworth meets Uighur parents in Turkey who say their children are missing in China

What was the reaction in China?

“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 claimed “the international community speaks highly of China’s Xinjiang policy”.

China also reacted angrily to the Hong Kong bill – suspending visits by US Navy ships and aircraft to Hong Kong, and issuing sanctions against US-based human rights groups.

What’s going on in Xinjiang?

Rights groups say that 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.

But evidence shows many are being detained for simply expressing their faith – for example, praying or wearing a veil – or for having overseas connections to places like Turkey.

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Records seen by the BBC show China is also deliberately separating Muslim children from their families.

This is an attempt to “raise a new generation cut off from original roots, religious beliefs and their own language,” Dr Adrian Zenz, a German researcher told BBC News earlier this year.

“I believe the evidence points to what we must call cultural genocide.”

China’s ambassador to the UK denied the allegations, saying they were “lies”.

Media captionChinese Ambassador Liu Xiaoming dismisses evidence of a separation campaign in Xinjiang