China ‘one of the worst abusers of religious freedom in the world’, says US

The US State Department’s annual report on international religious freedom has accused China of continued genocide and repression of predominantly Muslim Uyghurs.

The report released by secretary of state Antony Blinken on Thursday blames the Xi Jinping government for using state policy and technology to repress Uyghur Muslims as well as other minorities.

He said that more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and others minority groups have been detained in internment camps in Xinjiang since April 2017.

“The PRC [People’s Republic of China] continues to harass adherents of other religions that it deems out of line with Chinese Communist Party doctrine, including by destroying Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, and Taoist houses of worship and by erecting barriers to employment and housing for Christians, Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners,” Mr Blinken said.

Rashad Hussain, Washington’s envoy for international religious freedom, said China has been designated a “country of particular concern” regarding religious rights every year since 1999, and continues to be “one of the worst abusers of religious freedom in the world”.

“The PRC uses sophisticated emerging technologies such as AI and facial recognition to surveil and maintain control of its open-air prison in Xinjiang,” said Mr Hussain.

“Behind all the evidence and data, the many reports of deaths in custody, torture, and physical abuse, there are thousands of Uyghur family members – daughters and sons are desperate to know where their parents are, but are terrified of what news they could discover and are wondering whether they will ever be safely reunited.”

Rights groups and activists have been accusing China of systemically oppressing Uyghurs for years in Xinjiang.

Concerns have been raised about widespread abuses, including mass incarceration, forced labour, torture and sexual assault of more than a million Uyghurs in detention centres in the region.

China has denied all allegations of abuse and has described these centres as reeducation camps.

The US report comes on the heels of UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet’s controversial trip to China amid fears that the fact-finding mission will end up being a whitewash.

Ms Bachelet, who visited Xinjiang as part of a six-day trip to China, said in a video conference that the visit was not an investigation but an opportunity to raise concerns with senior Chinese leaders.

The top UN rights official faced criticism for agreeing to a trip that did not include unhindered access to Xinjiang.

The start of Ms Bachelet’s trip coincided with the release of a major new cache of documents relating to the involuntary detention of Uyghurs. Photographs and a huge cache of data hacked from police computer servers in the region revealed new details of China’s highly secretive system of mass incarceration in Xinjiang, as well as a shoot-to-kill policy for those who try to escape.

Among these documents, a spreadsheet titled “persons subjected to strike hard because of religion” lists 330 people who were sentenced because of “illegal” religious activities such as studying the Quran.