A few weeks ago, we Americans celebrated our independence and first freedoms—including freedom of thought, religion, and speech.
One freedom little remembered, but ever so important, is enshrined in our Declaration of Independence. It is the freedom from “quartering,” which liberated Americans from providing food and housing to occupying British soldiers.
As Americans enjoyed beer and barbecue July 4, millions of Chinese Communist Party officials quartered themselves in the homes of Chinese Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province.
Chinese government authorities long have persecuted the more than 11 million Uighurs in the region, collectivizing them, bulldozing their residences, requiring them to submit to invasive DNA and biometric tests, and now forcing them to live with Chinese officials in their homes.
Up to 1 million Chinese officials are involved in “homestay programs” that involve forcing occupants to reveal information concerning their personal lives and political affiliations.
A report from Human Rights Watch describes how Muslim civilians were “literally eating and sleeping under the watchful eye of the state.”
Chinese officials not only are staying in homes of the Muslim population, but are responsible for indoctrinating the population with “Xi Jinping Thought.” This is a reference to Xi, China’s president and general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, and involves teaching citizens about the dangers of Islam and brainwashing them about the positive impacts of communism.
In addition to the invasive homestay programs, China experts believe that as many as 1 million Uighurs are confined to re-education camps. There they are detained arbitrarily by Chinese authorities and subjected to forcible re-education that includes declaring Muslim worship sinful, until the government decides to release them.
One expert on the situation in Xinjiang described the camps as an organized form of “disappearances.” News reports indicate that the children of Uighur parents sent to these re-education camps are put in orphanages, where, as one orphanage worker described it, the children are “locked up like animals in a shed.”
Persecution of Uighurs took on new severity when regional party Secretary Chen Quanguo took control of Xinjiang in 2016.
Chen, previously the party’s administrator over Tibet, took a page out of that playbook, instituting a reinvigorated version of his “grid-style social management” program of heavy surveillance and police presence to monitor the population in Xinjiang.
As of September 2017, more than 90,000 police and security officials were posted in the province.
Reports indicate that Uighurs experience increased beatings, arrests, interrogations, wait times at checkpoints, and forced assimilation. A Freedom House report on the state of religious freedom in China suggests that Uighur Muslims are among the most highly persecuted religious groups in China, alongside Tibetan Buddhists and Falun Gong.
The U.S. government may be considering more substantive measures to hold Chinese officials accountable for their abuses in Xinjiang.
The U.S. ambassador at large for religious freedom, Sam Brownback, is urging U.S. lawmakers to consider sanctioning Chinese officials responsible for human rights abuses and religious freedom violations in Xinjiang.
The Treasury Department already may have the authority to sanction authorities such as Chen under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which permits the U.S. government to seize and freeze the assets of persons who violate human rights.
The U.S. government should continue to publicly and privately call out China for its human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and continue to urge Chinese authorities to respect the religious freedom and human rights of Uighurs.
Heritage Foundation researchers long have urged U.S. government officials to raise human rights concerns with China and use our foreign policy toolbox to make it clear to China that there will be consequences for continued rights abuses.
It is in the American ethos to promote freedom in the world; it’s time to take a stand for Uighurs.