The U.S. ambassador for religious freedom, Sam Brownback, has accused China of persecuting millions religious believers and urged other nations to push Beijing to end “its war with faith”.
Brownback said Muslim Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang were being denied basic religious freedoms, describing recent footage from the remote region as “highly disturbing”.
A video released earlier in September shows hundreds of blindfolded and shackled Uyghur men being led from a train in Xinjiang. The footage, verified as authentic, shows the men, with shaved heads and their eyes covered, being led away by police.
“This is footage you would expect to see from the 1940s maybe, not in 2019,” Brownback told reporters in New York.
Brownback said he was concerned a number of Islamic countries have not spoken out against China over its “concentration camps,” perhaps fearing economic repercussions by the economic power. He declined to name the countries.
China’s vast internment camps for Muslims in Xinjiang hold some one million ethnic Uyghurs and people from other Muslim minorities. China has faced widespread criticism for the camps, but Beijing says the centers are central to its fight against Islamic extremism.
The U.S. is pressing nations to join its proposed International Religious Freedom Alliance that pushes countries against religious persecution.
But Brownback said the alliance was not aiming specifically for human-rights related sanctions against China over the crackdown in Xinjiang.
“You can’t lock people up for simply being of a certain faith,” Brownback said of the need for the alliance.
“If they are peaceful practitioners of their faith, you can’t lock them up. You can’t give them the death penalty. We’re talking about really basic levels of religious freedom that we would hope nations would join together.”
He said “millions of people are being persecuted for their faith” in China not only Muslim Uyghurs.
“China is at war with faith. It’s all of them. They will not win this war.”
He pointed to a shutdown of underground or house churches not sanctioned by the state, and concerns over organ harvesting of adherents of the Falun Gong spiritual movement that the government “has not come clean on.”
China also faces accusations from rights groups and exiles of repressing Tibetan Buddhists in the remote region, a charge Beijing denies.
“The Dalai Lama can’t even go to his ancestral home. The Chinese are threatening to appoint the next Dalai Lama – and this is a right that belongs to the Tibetan Buddhists,” he said.
“You’ve got a raft of issues here that need serious addressing.”
Brownback was speaking as the U.S. sponsored an event on religious freedom on the opening day of the annual U.N. General Assembly.