US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday accused the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of seeking to “infuse communist dogma” into faith groups’ teachings, saying that the state of religious freedom in China has further deteriorated over the past year.
China’s “state-sponsored repression against all religions continues to intensify”, Pompeo told reporters at the release of the “2019 International Religious Freedom Report”.
“The mass detentions of Uygurs in [the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region] continues, so does the repression of Tibetan Buddhists and Falun Gong and Christians,” said Pompeo.
Last year began with China’s formal adoption of a five-year plan to “Sinicise” Islam, a strategy to bring the religion and its practitioners in line with Party doctrine.
In 2019, the Chinese government had “tortured, physically abused, arrested, detained, sentenced to prison, subjected to forced indoctrination in CCP ideology, or harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and practices,” said the report.
Among the many individual cases the report cited, it highlighted the prosecution of Wang Yi, a Christian pastor sentenced last December to nine years in prison on charges of inciting state subversion and other crimes.
The right to faith is enshrined in China’s constitution, which provides protection to those who practise “normal religious activities” but does not define “normal”. The state officially recognizes only five faiths: Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam.
This is the second time the report has devoted a stand-alone section on Xinjiang. Previous reports singled out only Tibet, Hong Kong and Macau.
“The US government believes that “more than one million” Uygurs and other ethnic minority groups have been detained in mass internment camps for the purpose of forced indoctrination since April 2017”, said the report.
The report noted that throughout 2019, Beijing had continued to cite the “three evils” of “ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and violent terrorism” to justify its crackdown on Muslims in Xinjiang.
It further highlighted testimonies of individuals who had either been detained themselves or knew of relatives who had.
Among them was Zulhumar “Humar” Issac, a Uygur woman living in Sweden who believed her parents were sent to a camp for “re-education”, despite her mother being a Communist Party member and her father having worked for a Party-run local newspaper.
Meanwhile, China has defended the mass internment camps as a humane and legitimate response to the threat of religious extremism, while a regional official said last summer that most detainees had “completed their study and found new jobs”.
However, Washington’s special envoy for international religious freedom on Wednesday said that the government had seen “no evidence” to support such claims.
“Even if they were released, they’re released into a virtual police state that China has created,” said Samuel Brownback, expressing concern that the deployment of hi-tech surveillance in Xinjiang offered a picture of “the future of what oppression is going to look like” in other parts of the country.
Wednesday’s report came as US President Donald Trump prepares to enact legislation that will compel the administration to sanction Chinese officials over the treatment of Uygurs and other ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang.
Trump is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming days.
On Wednesday, Pompeo shot back at critics of the US administration, including officials in Beijing, who have questioned its moral authority to critique the human rights records of other countries overseas given such events.
“There is no equivalence between our two forms of government,” Pompeo said of the US and China. “We have the rule of law; China does not. We have free speech and embrace peaceful protests. They don’t. We defend religious freedom … China continues its decades-long war on faith.”
But Pompeo admitted that foreign governments had complained to his department that their countries’ correspondents covering the protests had been “treated inappropriately” by US law enforcement.
“Those countries should know we will handle [the allegations] in a completely appropriate way,” he said.