U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday slammed China over its repressive policies against Muslim Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), while calling on the international community to join Washington in protecting religious freedom.
Speaking at a Vatican conference on religious freedom, Pompeo singled out China as one of the worst perpetrators of abuse against people of faith, particularly in the XUAR, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas since April 2017.
He highlighted the case of Zumuret Dawut, a Uyghur mother of three who in April last year was detained for months in a camp, where she was forced to recite Chinese propaganda, beaten for providing food to an ailing fellow prisoner, and injected with unknown drugs.
“All this for the crime of being Muslim, for worshipping her God, for exercising her conscience,” Pompeo told the conference, organized by the U.S. embassy to the Vatican.
While Dawut was released after her Pakistani husband advocated on her behalf, she was first forced to renounce her faith and promise not to speak about what happened to her there, the secretary said, noting that she was later subjected to official monitoring at her home and forced to eat pork, against the dietary restrictions of Islam.
Pompeo said that cases like Dawut’s are examples of what happens when authoritarian governments restrict their citizens’ right to religious freedom.
“When the state rules absolutely, it demands its citizens worship government, not God,” he said. “That’s why China has put more than one million Uyghur Muslims … in internment camps and is why it throws Christian pastors in jail.”
“When the state rules absolutely, God becomes an absolute threat to authority.”
While Beijing initially denied the existence of the camps, China this year changed tack and began describing the facilities as “boarding schools” that provide vocational training for Uyghurs, discourage radicalization, and help protect the country from terrorism.
Reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media organizations, however, has shown that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.