U.S. Lawmakers Call China’s Internment of Uighurs ‘Dire’ Situation

(Bloomberg) -- A U.S. report warned of a “dire human rights situation” in China, especially the country’s mass internment of Uighurs and other Muslim ethic minorities in “political re-education camps.”

The report, released Wednesday by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, said the detention may represent the biggest imprisonment of an ethnic minority population since World War II and may constitute crimes against humanity.

The Republican leaders of the commission -- Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, the chairman, and Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey, the co-chairman -- also warned in a separate letter to the FBI that China’s efforts to rein in Uighurs is stretching to the U.S., where they said members of the group are facing harassment from Beijing.

Rubio and Smith say the Chinese government has subjected Uighurs to detention, torture and surveillance and that there have been credible reports of the extrajudicial detention of more than 1 million individuals in "political re-education" camps.

The Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking Chinese ethnic minority of mostly Sunni Muslims. They comprise some 10 million of the 22 million people who populate Alaska-sized Xinjiang in far western China. Uighurs have close ethnic and cultural ties to Central Asia and some refer to Xinjiang as East Turkestan.

China has said it’s cracking down on terrorism. President Xi Jinping has ordered authorities to “strike first” against Islamist extremism, amid reports that as many as 5,000 Uighurs were fighting alongside terror groups in Syria. Beijing authorities have described the re-education camps as providing “vocational training,” according to the AP.

Rubio and Smith, in an Aug. 28 letter to Trump administration officials, proposed using the Global Magnitsky Act of 2016 -- previously deployed to sanction Russian oligarchs and Turkish officials -- to freeze the travel and assets of officials including Xinjiang party chief Chen Quanguo.

“The dire human rights situation inside China and the continued downward trajectory, by virtually every measure” have continued since Xi became Communist Party general secretary in 2012 and president in 2013, according to the report.

The lawmakers are asking the FBI to report on whether there’s been an increase in reports of threats against members of the Uighur community living in the U.S. and whether the FBI is coordinating with the State Department to deny visas to or remove Chinese officials who may be responsible for threats and intimidation against members of the Uighur community.

"Members of the Uighur diaspora community in the United States have indicated to us that they are unwilling to appear at public events, including congressional hearings, out of fear that they will be surveilled and their members in China punished as a result," they wrote in the letter to the FBI.

Rubio and Smith said the International Olympic Committee should take steps to review and reassign the 2022 Winter Olympics games from host city Beijing "given the current grotesque human rights violations."

“To think that it’s even possible that under Xi Jinping there could be an Olympic Games held is unconscionable," Smith said.

The China commission was created by Congress in 2000 to monitor human rights and the rule of law. The legislation calls for a membership of 18 lawmakers and five senior administration officials.

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