Chairs Raise Alarm About Deteriorating Human Rights Situation in Xinjiang

(Washington D.C.)—The Commission’s 2017 Annual Report highlighted intensified restrictions on religious freedom and oppressive security controls, particularly in ethnic minority regions, including the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).  The situation has only further deteriorated since the Report’s release in October.  Today, Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Chris Smith, the chair and cochairman respectively of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (the Commission), expressed alarm about the human rights crisis in Xinjiang.

“Reports indicate XUAR Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo has implemented a hardline, all-encompassing security network throughout the region, by overseeing the hiring tens of thousands of new security personnel, the convening of mass rallies, and the involuntary collection of residents’ DNA, fingerprints, eye scans, and blood types,” said Senator Rubio. “Civilians are detained without cause, ‘political education’ camps proliferate, and a vast surveillance apparatus invades every aspect of daily life.  These rights violations are deeply troubling and risk serving as a catalyst for radicalization.”

“The Chinese government’s expansive surveillance and security network in Xinjiang is a gross violation of privacy and international human rights, including the right to religious freedom, as the government is turning mosques into political propaganda centers and labeling religious beliefs as extremist.  These policies seem to be completely counterproductive and a recipe for instability and dissatisfaction rather than security,” said Representative Smith. “The U.S. should be calibrating our counterterrorism cooperation with China to ensure that we do not condone or advance a crackdown on peaceful domestic dissent or the freedom of religion, association, and expression.”   

The cochairs also noted with alarm reports regarding the detention and likely mistreatment of up to 30 family members of U.S.-based Uyghur rights activist Rebiya Kadeer in apparent retribution for her human rights advocacy efforts—yet another example China’s efforts to silence criticism of the Party or of government policies through intimidation, detention, and threats to the family members of activists living abroad.  (see CECC’s hearings on the global ramifications of China’s ‘long arm.’)

The individuals detained reportedly include Ms. Kadeer’s children and grandchildren, as well as other relatives living in Xinjiang. Among the detainees are sons Ablikim and Alim Abdureyim, both of whom previously suffered torture and abuse during lengthy periods of detention and imprisonment.  Their cases are featured in the Commission’s Political Prisoner Database.  Chinese officials have long persecuted the family members of Ms. Kadeer, who herself was a political prisoner for more than five years before being released on medical parole in 2005. According to Ms. Kadeer, prior to her release, Chinese officials threatened repercussions against her family members if she discussed Uyghur human rights in exile. Soon after her arrival in the United States in 2005, authorities began a campaign of harassment against her family members who remained in Xinjiang, culminating in the imprisonment of Alim in 2006 and Ablikim in 2007.   

Other issues of concern:

  • Expanded Detentions in “Political Education Centers”: This past year, XUAR authorities have reportedly detained large numbers of Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs and others in “political education centers,” where they have been held for months at a time and subject to political indoctrination sessions. Many have reportedly been detained for praying or wearing “Islamic” clothing, or for having foreign connections, such as previous travel abroad or relatives living in another country.
  • Uyghur Students Deported & Detained: Over the past year, Chinese authorities ordered some Uyghurs studying abroad in countries including Egypt, Turkey, France, Australia, and the United States to return to Xinjiang, as documented in the Commission’s Annual Report.  Some of these students were subsequently detained in “political education centers,” about which very little is known given the lack of access to the region for independent press, diplomats and non-governmental organizations.  According to overseas reports, officials have recently been issued quotas for the number or percentage of the population in their jurisdictions that must be sent to undergo “political education.”    

Media Contact:  Scott Flipse, 202-226-3777