US blacklists Chinese groups over repression of Uighurs

A display of CCTV products from Hikvision at the Smart China Expo in Chongqing Aug 29 2019 Credit helloabc Shutterstock A display of CCTV products from Hikvision at the Smart China Expo in Chongqing, Aug. 29, 2019. Hikvision was among the firms blacklisted by the US government this week. | helloabc/Shutterstock.

The US Commerce Department on Monday added 28 Chinese organizations to a blacklist barring them from buying products from US companies, saying they co-operate in the detention and repression of Uighurs in the country's northwest.

The Oct. 7 Commerce Department filing said the groups are engaging in or enabling "activities contrary to the foreign policy interests of the United States," specifically "human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China's campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups in the [Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region]."

An estimated 1 million Uighurs, members of a Muslim ethnoreligious group, have been detained in re-education camps in Xinjiang.

Inside the camps they are reportedly subjected to forced labor, torture, and political indoctrination. Outside the camps, Uighurs are monitored by pervasive police forces and facial recognition technology.

The 28 groups added to the Entity List will be unable to buy from US companies without the approval of the US government. The groups are the Xinjiang public security bureau, 19 of its subordinates, and eight technology companies that produce video surveillance equipment, artificial intelligence, and voice recognition technology.

Announcing the additions, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the US "will not tolerate the brutal suppression of ethnic minorities within China."

Geng Shuang, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said, "there is no such thing as these so-called 'human rights issues' as claimed by the United States. These accusations are nothing more than an excuse for the United States to deliberately interfere in China's internal affairs."

The Chinese government has said reports on the camps by Western governments and media are unfounded, claiming they are vocational training centers and that it is combatting extremism.

The Washington Post reported Oct. 5 that women in Kazakhstan who say they had been detained in Xinjiang said they were forced to have abortions, had contraceptive devices implanted involuntarily, or were raped.

According to an Oct. 8 article in NPR based on interviews conducted in Kazakhstan with relatives of Uighurs and Kazakhs  detained or imprisoned in Xinjiang, detainees are increasingly being sentenced and transferred to formal prisons.

In July, Xinjiang officials said the re-education camps have been successful, with most of those held having been reintegrated into Chinese society.

Xinjiang vice chairman Alken Tuniaz said detainees were allowed to "request time off" and "regularly go home," the AP reported.

While they are not permitted to practice their religion during their "period of study", he said, they may do so at home.

The officials did not provide figures to back up their claims, and they have been met with scepticism outside China; David Brophy, senior lecturer in modern Chinese History at the University of Sydney, said to the Wall Street Journal "How much of this employment involves forced relocation to elsewhere in China? How much of it is taking place in education camps that have now been repurposed as heavily surveilled factories?"

Uighurs can be arrested and detained under vague anti-terrorism laws. Violence in the region escalated in the 1990s and again in 2008.

In August 2014 officials in Karamay, a city of Xinjiang, banned "youths with long beards" and anyone wearing headscarves, veils, burqas, or clothes with the crescent moon and star symbol from using public transit. That May, universities across the region banned fasting during Ramadan.

Meanwhile, US officials are stepping up their criticism of China's detention of Muslims in Xinjiang, and other religious freedom abuses.

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Speaking to CNA at the Vatican last week, US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said the State Department is particularly concerned with the Chinese government's use of advanced technologies, like facial recognition and a social credit score system, to marginalize people of faith in the society.

"That system is starting to be exported to other places, other authoritarian repressive regimes ... I think that is why [Secretary of State Mike Pompeo] talks about it, and it is certainly why I talk about it," Brownback said.

John Sullivan, deputy US secretary of state, said at a panel held last month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly that "the United Nations, including its member states, have a responsibility to stand up for the human rights of people everywhere, including Muslims in Xinjiang. We urge the UN to investigate and closely monitor China's rights abuses, including the repression of religious freedom and belief."

"We cannot be the only guardians of the truth nor the only members of the international community to call out China and demand that they stop," Sullivan stated.

He concluded: "I would like to take the opportunity to commend those who have already joined us in standing up for the rights of the more than one million members of ethnic and religious minority groups the Chinese government is abusing. We invite others to join the international effort to demand and compel an immediate end to China's horrific campaign of repression."

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