The U.S. House of Representatives on Dec. 3 overwhelmingly approved a bill to counter the Chinese communist party’s (CCP) oppression of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in its far northwestern region of Xinjiang, drawing swift condemnation from Beijing.
The Uyghur Act of 2019 is an amended, and stronger version of the bipartisan Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act from U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ), that angered Beijing when it passed the Senate in September.
The House overwhelmingly passes historic legislation to condemn gross human rights violations of Uyghurs and other ethnic Turkic Muslims, and calling for an end to arbitrary detention, torture, and harassment of these communities inside and outside China. pic.twitter.com/6gCNYkFvlg
— Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) (@uyghurproject) Dec. 4, 2019
The Uyghur bill would require the Trump administration to toughen its response to China’s human rights abuses in the region. It calls on President Donald Trump to impose sanctions against Chinese officials and to close down the network of mass internment camps where at least one million Uyghurs are unlawfully detained.
It calls for addressing the “gross violations of universally recognized human rights, including the mass internment of over 1,000,000 Uyghurs.”
The bill passed overwhelmingly by 407-1 in the Democratic-controlled House following months of negotiations among lawmakers about the terms of the legislation. Republican Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky was the only one who voted against the bill.
I voted no tonight on the UIGHUR Act (sanctions against China) for the same reason I voted no in the Hong Kong bill two weeks ago:
When our government meddles in the internal affairs of foreign countries, it invites those governments to meddle in our affairs.
— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) Dec. 4, 2019
Among the senior Chinese officials who the bill says are responsible and should be sanctioned is Xinjiang communist party Secretary Chen Quanguo, who, as a politburo member, is in the upper echelon of China’s leadership.
The bill still needs approval from the Republican-controlled Senate, after which it will be sent to the president. The White House has yet to say whether Trump would sign or veto the bill, which contains a provision allowing the president to waive sanctions if he determines that to be in the national interest.
The Chinese regime and communist party; “are working to systematically wipe out the ethnic and cultural identities of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang,” Rubio said in a statement following the vote. “Today, Congress took another important step to hold Chinese officials accountable for egregious and ongoing human rights abuses committed against the Uyghurs.”
“I applaud the House for taking swift action and passing an amended version of my bill, and I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues to get it passed and sent to the President for enactment,” he added.
Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) senior researcher, Henryk Szadziewski, told The Epoch Times the passage of the bill is a “milestone.”
“It denotes the long-overdue recognition of the repression endured by Uyghurs, as well as concrete actions on their behalf,” he said. “There is no precedent for this measure, and it offers Uyghurs some hope during a dark time in their history. No longer will the Uyghurs be the ‘forgotten people.’”
It comes just a week after the U.S. government enacted the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in support of pro-democracy protesters in the city. The act requires the secretary of state to annually review whether the former British colony is “sufficiently autonomous” from mainland China to justify its special economic privileges granted under the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992.
In a statement on Wednesday, China’s Foreign Ministry called the Uyghur Act a malicious attack against China and a serious interference in the country’s internal affairs.
Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the ministry, urged the United States to “immediately correct its mistake,” and so stop the bill from “becoming law.”
“We urge the United States to stop using Xinjiang as a way to interfere in China’s domestic affairs,” Chunying added.
CCP officials say the mass detentions among the Uyghur population, the majority of whom practice Islam, are part of measures to crack down on terrorism, religious extremism, and separatism in the country. The CCP has used the excuse of potential “extremist threats” to justify its strict surveillance and crackdown on Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang region.
Uyghurs in the region are detained for reasons such as contacting friends or relatives abroad, traveling to a foreign country, growing beards, and attending religious gatherings, Uyghurs who have family members in the camps told The Epoch Times.
First-hand accounts described to The Epoch Times have also revealed attempts by authorities to strip Uyghur detainees of their culture and language, forcing them to denounce their faith and pledge loyalty to the CCP and its leader. If detainees fail to follow orders, they may be subject to several forms of torture as punishment.
The landmark vote follows the leaking of two major CCP document leaks in the past few weeks, which detailed the repressive inner-workings of Beijing in the region.
Arslan Hidayet is the son-in-law of the prominent Uyghur comedian Adil Mijit, who went missing for 10 and a half months in the region. Hidayet feared Mijit was detained in one of Xinjiang’s camps. He told the Epoch Times in a phone interview that he believes the document leaks played a significant role in the passing of the bill.
“It [the vote] was so unanimous. It’s the first time in 70 years, and the first time since Tiananmen Square [massacre of 1989], where the West, instead of appeasing China, they are taking real action. It’s not just a historic moment just for the Uyghurs, but it’s also a historic moment between China and U.S. policy, especially over the last few years.”
“I was worried it wasn’t going to pass, but to get such a unanimous vote, that’s really amazing, and it should be sending a signal to the rest of the world as well,” Hidayet added.
Hidayet told The Epoch Times the bill must now be appropriately used to ensure action is taken.
“It’s really getting this bill now and using it as a baseball bat and hitting China where it hurts, which is their economy.”
Despite the emergence of classified documents and intensifying pressure from international communities condemning Beijing, the Chinese government continues to deny any mistreatment of Uyghurs or others in Xinjiang.
“They will and they could [keep denying the mistreatment of Uyghurs]. However, the one thing that China has not been able to answer is: why haven’t any journalists been given unfettered access? Let everyone in and prove to us that we’re fake news,” Hidayet added.
“I’m so glad this has passed because this would come at a time where the concentration camps could have or may still turn into extermination camps, which is what we’re trying to avoid. We don’t want a second Holocaust.”
U.S. based scholar, Tahir Imin, born in Kashgar, told The Epoch Times the news sends a “clear message that China can’t eradicate Uyghur people.”
“All Uyghurs around the world have been eagerly waiting for any good news from the world. Today we got it,” he said. “It’s time for China to change its inhumane assimilation policy before it’s recognized as genocide perpetrators and criminals against humanity.”
Reuters contributed to this report.