The U.S. State Department on May 29 renewed calls for the end of the mass internment of Uyghur and other Muslims in the northwestern region of Xinjiang in China, so that they may be reunited with their families for the upcoming Eid holiday.
“The human rights abuses in Xinjiang must end, and they must end now,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said during a press briefing. “We call on the Chinese government to release all Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities arbitrarily detained throughout Xinjiang, so that they may return home to celebrate the Eid holiday with their loved ones.”
Eid, which falls on June 4 this year, is an important holiday celebrated by Muslims to mark the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting.
The U.S. State Department and experts estimate that more than 1 million Uyghur and other Muslim minorities are being detained in internment camps, where they are forced to undergo political indoctrination and renounce their faith. Former detainees have recounted Uyghurs being tortured, raped, and even killed in these camps.
“The United States is alarmed by the arbitrary and unjust detention of more than 1 million people; widespread reports of torture and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment; ever-present, high-tech surveillance; and coerced practices contrary to people’s faiths,” Ortagus continued.
“Throughout this campaign, the Chinese government aims to force its own citizens to renounce their ethnic identities and their Islamic faith.”
According to Radio Free Asia, the regime has forced detained Muslims to break fasting during Ramadan and also forced them to eat pork, which is strictly forbidden in Islam.
Beyond detention, the Xinjiang region has served as a testing ground for sophisticated forms of mass surveillance and control. Uyghur residents are monitored via a dense network of surveillance cameras—some enhanced with facial recognition and night-vision capabilities—and security checkpoints.
The Chinese regime uses the pretext of fighting extremism to justify the crackdown.
Ortagus added that “the repression of Chinese Muslims stands out as particularly cruel and inhumane during the Holy Month.”
The strong condemnation comes a week after the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a bill, called the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which would require regular reports on the crackdown and the appointment of a special State Department coordinator on Xinjiang. The bill, which also has a House equivalent, will now move to the Senate floor.
Earlier in May, a senior U.S. Defense Department official called the facilities “concentration camps.”
“The [Chinese] Communist Party is using the security forces for mass imprisonment of Chinese Muslims in concentration camps,” Randall Schriver, assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, told a Pentagon briefing on May 3, estimating that the number of detained Muslims could be “closer to 3 million citizens.”
Schriver defended his use of a term normally associated with Nazi Germany as appropriate under the current circumstances.
Asked by a reporter, Schriver said that it’s justified “given what we understand to be the magnitude of the detention, at least a million but likely closer to 3 million citizens out of a population of about 10 million.
“So, a very significant portion of the population, [given] what’s happening there, what the goals are of the Chinese government and their own public comments make that a very, I think, appropriate description,” he said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in an interview with Fox News on May 2, also alluded to Nazi Germany, saying that the internment camps were “reminiscent of the 1930s that present a real challenge to the United States, and this administration is prepared to take this on.”
Reuters contributed to this report.