Religious Freedom Panel Demands Action on Uighurs
By Jacqueline L. Salmon
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is asking the federal government to take strong action against the Chinese government, including sanctions and travel restrictions, because of China's "violent response" to protests in its Xinjiang province.
China has said that it intervened when protests by the Uighurs, a Muslim minority in China's far west, turned violent. But Uighur exile groups say that the violence occurred because security forces overreacted to what had been peaceful protests. More than 180 people are believed to have died and thousands more have been injured and detained.
Now the religious freedom commission, an independent agency of the federal government tasked as a watchdog for religious freedom worldwide, has weighed in, saying that the Chinese government has long repressed the Uighurs because of their religion and asking the U.S. government to take strong action.
But don't expect the State Department to pay much mind to the commission's demands. There's long been tension between the State Department and the agency. The commission has criticized State for lack of tough sanctions against countries that are serious persecutors of religious minorities. But State Department officials have complained that the commission undercuts often delicate negotiations with foreign officials.
Last week, a State Department spokesman said officials would raise their concerns about the violence with China's deputy foreign minister, who is visiting Washington this week.
But the commission wants more. In a press conference today, Leonard Leo, commission chair, said that China has tightened restrictions on the practice of Islam over the last several years in Xinjiang and imams are required to go include pro-government messages in their sermons. He compared the Uighur's plight to that of the Tibetans, where China has also cracked down.
He said the commission said sanctions could include sanctions on exports from Xinjiang or travel restrictions on government officials who have authority over Xinjiang. He said the agency will continue to press the matter.
Jacqueline L. Salmon
July 15, 2009; 1:12 PM ET
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