The U.S., in tandem with Canada, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, on Monday sanctioned Chinese officials in Xinjiang for human rights abuses committed against the Uyghurs.
The State Department announced the Global Magnitsky sanctions against two Chinese officials in Xinjiang – Wang Junzheng, the Secretary of the Party Committee of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) and Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau (XPSB) – for their connection to “appalling abuses” in the region. Targeted sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act are reserved for serious human rights abusers.
“Amid growing international condemnation, the PRC continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang,” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on Monday.
Up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities are estimated to have been imprisoned in a network of more than 1,300 camps in Xinjiang. Detainees have reportedly been subject to indoctrination, forced labor, beatings, torture, and sterilizations.
Previous Secretary of State Mike Pompeo determined that China was committing genocide in Xinjiang against Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in the region. Blinken, when asked in his confirmation hearing if he agreed with that determination, responded that he did.
One religious freedom advocate praised the sanctions as a first step of a necessary larger effort to pressure China over its human rights abuses.
“It’s a very important step for something that really needs to get much larger,” Dr. Tom Farr, president of the Religious Freedom Institute, told EWTN News Nightly on Monday.
Farr said he was encouraged to see that the U.S. brought international partners – particularly the EU – into the effort. He said he hoped the U.S. would intensify its pressure on China over the human rights abuses, and appoint a new religious freedom ambassador at the State Department.
“Hundreds of thousands” of innocent Muslims “are in concentration camps” in Xinjiang, Farr said. “We need to remember that.”
Other human rights advocates also praised the move to issue sanctions.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) tweeted that the move “represents a major victory for religious freedom & an important step toward holding China accountable.”
The State Department’s international religious freedom office tweeted that the actions are “vital to stopping the ongoing atrocities in Xinjiang. Other officials responsible for these abuses should be on notice.”
In Xinjiang, residents outside the camps have also been subject to restrictions on movement and religious practice, with reports of Uyghur women being subjected to a massive campaign of forced birth control, abortions, and sterilizations. Uyghurs have reportedly been subject to mass surveillance and predictive policing, as well as efforts to restrict Muslim religious practices. Muslim children have been separated from their families and sent to boarding schools.
“The United States reiterates its calls on the PRC to bring an end to the repression of Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang, including by releasing all those arbitrarily held in internment camps and detention facilities,” Blinken said on Monday.
The Congressional-Executive Commission on China said on Monday that the coalition of countries joining the U.S. “is certainly welcome.”