WASHINGTON—Countries must hit China with sanctions over the mass detention of ethnic Uyghurs, hundreds of scholars said on Nov. 26, warning that a failure to act would signal acceptance of “psychological torture of innocent civilians.”
Beijing has in recent months faced an outcry from activists, academics and foreign governments over mass detentions and strict surveillance of the Muslim Uyghur minority and other ethnic groups in the restive western region of Xinjiang.
In August, a U.N. human rights panel said it had received many credible reports that a million or more Uyghurs and other minorities are being held in what resembles a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy” in the region.
Representatives from a group of 278 scholars in various disciplines from dozens of countries called on China at a news briefing in Washington to end its detention policies, and for sanctions directed at key Chinese leaders and security companies linked to the abuses.
“This situation must be addressed to prevent setting negative future precedents regarding the acceptability of any state’s complete repression of a segment of its population, especially on the basis of ethnicity or religion,” the group said in a statement.
Countries should expedite asylum requests from Xinjiang’s Muslim minorities, as well as “spearhead a movement for U.N. action aimed at investigating this mass internment system and closing the camps,” it said.
But after initial denials about the detention camps, Chinese officials have said some people guilty of minor offenses were being sent to “vocational” training centers, where they are taught work skills and legal knowledge aimed at curbing militancy.
However, a report published on Nov. 5 by U.S. think-tank the Jamestown Foundation found that despite the purported large “vocational training” campaign, employment outcomes had not markedly improved, according to Xinjiang’s own official employment figures.
“Xinjiang’s budget figures do not reflect increased spending on vocational education … Rather, they reflect patterns of spending consistent with the construction and operation of highly secure political re-education camps designed to imprison hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs with minimal due process,” said the report’s author, Adrian Zenz, an anthropologist at the European School of Culture and Theology in Germany.
The Chinese regime has used the excuse that Xinjiang faces a serious threat from Islamist militants and separatists who plot attacks and stir up tensions with the ethnic Han Chinese majority to crack down on the local population in Xinjiang.
Michael Clarke, a Xinjiang expert at Australian National University who signed the statement, told reporters that China sought international respect for its weight in global affairs.
“The international community needs to demonstrate to Beijing that it will not actually get that while it’s doing this to a significant portion of its own citizenry,” Clarke said.
U.S. lawmakers introduced legislation on Nov. 14 urging a stronger response by the Trump administration to China’s crackdown on minority Muslims, including possible sanctions against officials, such as Xinjiang Communist Party chief Chen Quanguo, and companies linked to accusations of human rights abuses.
Other sanctions raised for consideration by the proposed act include a ban on sales or provision of U.S.-made goods or services to Xinjiang state agents and the barring of certain Chinese entities—including the Xinjiang police bureau—from purchasing U.S.-made equipment that could be used for surveillance.
By Michael Martina & Philip Wen. The Epoch Times staff contributed to this report.