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China sanctions U.S. religious freedom ambassador over Uyghurs
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The Chinese government announced sanctions Monday against the U. S. ambassador for religious liberty as well as lawmakers who have repeatedly spoken out against the oppression of China’s Uyghur population. The country also issued sanctions against the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

The sanctions against Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), were issued in retaliation for sanctions announced by the Trump administration last week against four Chinese officials as well as the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau.

Xinjiang is a province in northwestern China. It is home to most of the country’s Uyghurs.

The terms of the sanctions on the U.S. diplomat and legislators are not clear. On Monday, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying accused the United States of “interfering in China’s international affairs,” and defended the situation in Xinjiang as a domestic issue.

“I must point out the Xinjiang affairs are China’s internal affairs and the US has no right to interfere,” said Hua. 

Hua requested that the United States “immediately withdraw its wrong decision and stop interfering in China’s internal affairs or undermining China’s interests,” and that China “will make further reactions based on the development of the situation.” 

Reports by U.S. government agencies and human rights groups estimate anywhere from 900,000 to 1.8 million Uyghurs are now in a system of more than 1,300 detention camps set up by Chinese authorities, ostensibly for “re-education” purposes. Survivors have reported indoctrination, beatings, forced labor, and torture in the camps. China initially denied the camps existed, but was forced to officially admit their existence in 2018.

In a statement confirming the Chinese action July 13, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo  said that “the United States will not stand idly by as the Chinese Communist Party carries out human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang, to include forced labor, arbitrary mass detention and forced population control, and attempts to erase their culture and Muslim faith.” 

The U.S. sanctions were announced July 9, citing  the individual’s “connections to serious human rights abuse against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, which reportedly include mass arbitrary detention and severe physical abuse, among other serious abuses targeting Uyghurs, a Turkic Muslim population indigenous to Xinjiang, and other ethnic minorities in the region,” according to a press release from the U.S. Department of the Treasury. 

The sanctions forbid any US national from engaging in business with the four officials and the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau. Any assets the officials held in the United States have been frozen, and they cannot visit or move to the United States. 

Rubio, who co-chairs the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, made light of the sanctions, tweeting “I guess they don’t like me?” with a link to an article about the sanctions. 

The Florida Senator has been an outspoken supporter of the Uyghur population. In March, along with fellow target of sanctions Cruz, Rubio co-sponsored the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, and in May he co-sponsored the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act. 

Cruz, who in 2018 co-sponsored a resolution condemning China’s persecution of religious minorities, also made jokes about the sanctions. 

“Bummer. I was going to take my family to Beijing for summer vacation, right after visiting Tehran,” tweeted Cruz on Monday. 

In a more serious response, Cruz said the Chinese Communist Party was “terrified and lashing out” by issuing the sanctions.

“They forced over one million Uighurs into concentration camps and engaged in ethnic cleansing, including horrific forced abortions and sterilzations,” said Cruz. “These are egregious human rights atrocities that cannot be tolerated.” 

Cruz added that he had no plans “to travel to the authoritarian regime that covered up the coronavirus pandemic and endangered millions of lives worldwide.” 

In February, Brownback said that China was the “best in the world” at religious persecution, and has been engaged in a “war with faith.” 

A June 29 report by AP found numerous Uyghurs have been imprisoned for the offense of having too many children, and women reported that there were frequent pregnancy checks, forced abortions, and forced implantations of IUDs and other contraceptive methods by Communist authorities. 

One expert told the Associated Press that the forced birth control campaign is “genocide, full stop.” 

“It’s not an immediate, shocking, mass-killing-on-the-spot-type genocide, but it’s a slow, painful, creeping genocide,” Dr. Joanne Smith Finley, a senior lecturer in Chinese studies at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom.

China has engaged in an extensive network of detention camps for religious and ethnic minorities. The Chinese government claims that the camps are purportedly to prevent the spread of terrorism in the region. Numerous leaked files have revealed that many are sent to the camps for the “crimes” of following traditional Islamic practices like fasting, or for conspicuously religious dress. 

A leaked manual for the operation of the camps showed that there is a heavy emphasis on assimilating the Uyghur population into the customs of the Han ethnic group. This includes forced intermarriage between Uyghur women and Han men.