WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of US lawmakers called on Wednesday for the United States to impose sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for human rights abuses against minority Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region, saying it was being turned into a “high-tech police state.”
The group, led by Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Chris Smith, Republican co-chairs of the bipartisan Congressional Executive Commission on China, made the call in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Muslims in Xinjiang, China’s western autonomous region, were “being subjected to arbitrary detention, torture, egregious restrictions on religious practice and culture, and a digitized surveillance system so pervasive that every aspect of daily life is monitored,” the lawmakers said in their letter, which in addition to Rubio and Smith was signed by 15 US senators and representatives.
The letter, signed by nine Republicans, seven Democrats and one Independent, called for sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act against senior Chinese government and Communist Party officials overseeing the policies, including Xinjiang party chief Chen Quanguo, and for other measures to be considered.
The Magnitsky Act was originally designed to target Russian Rights violators, but has been expanded to allow sanctions for abuses anywhere in the world.
“The Chinese government is creating a high-tech police state in (Xinjiang) that is both a gross violation of privacy and international human rights,” the letter said.
China has said that Xinjiang faces a serious threat from Islamist militants and separatists who plot attacks and stir up tensions between the mostly Muslim Uighur minority who call the region home and the ethnic Han Chinese majority.
A United Nations human rights panel earlier this month said it had received many credible reports that 1 million ethnic Uighurs in China are held in what resembles a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy.”
Hundreds of people have been killed in violence in Xinjiang in recent years, prompting the tough security measures.
The US lawmakers, in their letter, said as many as a million or more Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities were being detained in “political reeducation” centers or camps, saying this required “a tough, targeted, and global response.”
“No Chinese official or business complicit in what is happening … should profit from access to the United States or the US financial system,” the letter said.
The US State Department has said that it is deeply troubled by Beijing’s crackdown in Xinjiang, but has declined to comment on the possibility of future sanctions on Chen and others.
Critics have said the security and surveillance steps in Xinjiang have created near martial law conditions, with police checkpoints, reeducation centers and mass DNA collection.