U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a virtual meeting on July 6 with a group of Uyghurs, including internment camp survivors, and affirmed the United States’ commitment to ending Beijing’s ongoing crimes against humanity and genocide in China’s far-western Xinjiang region.
“The United States will continue to place human rights at the forefront of our China policy and will always support the voices of activists, survivors, and family members of victims who courageously speak out against these atrocities,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement following the meeting.
Price warned that the United States could place additional U.S. sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for crimes against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.
“As we deem appropriate, I suspect we’ll be employing additional tools going forward to hold to account those officials responsible for what has taken place there,” Price said during a daily briefing on July 6.
In China’s Xinjiang Province, more than 1 million Uyghurs and other majority-Muslim minorities are currently being held in Chinese internment camps, where they face forced labor, torture, sexual abuse, political indoctrination, forced abortion, and forced sterilization. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has claimed that those camps are “vocational training centers” for “curbing extremism.”
The United States designated the suppression campaign in Xinjiang as a form of genocide in January. Since then, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and the UK have followed suit.
According to Price, Blinken wanted to hold the meeting so that he could “hear firsthand their stories, [and] to hear firsthand their impression of the ongoing atrocities in Xinjiang,” as well as hear any recommendations they might have.
The State Department didn’t release the names of the seven Uyghur attendees at the meeting, only saying that they were former detainees, advocates, and relatives of individuals detained in Xinjiang.
Rayhan Asat, an international human rights lawyer and a nonresident senior fellow at the Washington-based think tank Atlantic Council, was one of the seven participants, according to her Twitter account.
“I discussed my brother Ekpar’s illegal imprisonments, solitary confinement, and my goal at the @AtlanticCouncil to redress and bring an end to the mass atrocities in Xinjiang,” Asat wrote, recounting her talks with Blinken in a series of Twitter posts.
Her brother Ekpar, a businessman, was disappeared in April 2016 and was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2020 after being convicted on charges of “inciting ethnic hatred and ethnic discrimination” in a secret trial. In January, he communicated with his family for the first time since his disappearance via a video call but looked pale and looked as though he had lost significant weight.
Asat also recounted telling Blinken how the secretary of state had said earlier this year that the United States needed to engage China “from a position of strength.”
She recalled telling Blinken: “This cannot be through mere factional opposition. America’s strength must come from seriously opposing genocide.”
“And so, Secretary Blinken, I ask you the question which is echoing right now between the narrow walls of my innocent brother’s prison cell: America, America are you still there?” she said.
Omer Kanat, executive director of Washington-based nonprofit Uyghur Human Rights Project, also took to Twitter to recount his meeting with Blinken.
“Huge thanks to [Blinken] for a very constructive roundtable today. We appreciate his leadership on action to end the Uyghur genocide, especially coordinated sanctions and the G-7 commitment on Uyghur forced labor in global supply chains,” Kanat wrote.
In March, the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Canada announced coordinated sanctions against Chinese officials responsible for human rights abuses against Uyghurs. Last year, several Chinese officials and entities were slapped with U.S. sanctions for the same reasons, including Chen Quanguo, a member of the CCP’s powerful Politburo.
The whereabouts of another missing Uyghur was also recently revealed. On July 2, the Washington-based nonprofit Campaign for Uyghurs (CFU) issued a statement saying that the Chinese regime had confirmed the imprisonment of Dr. Rahile Dawut, who went missing in December 2017. Dawut was a professor at China’s Xinjiang University.
“I feel infuriated to hear that my mother is in prison, while the Chinese authorities kept silent on this matter for more than three years,” Akida Pulat, Dawut’s daughter and CFU’s director of outreach, said in a statement.
“This sad news only strengthens my determination to speak up on the atrocities committed by the Chinese regime. I am sincerely asking for help from human rights organizations.”