Two years ago, Mihrigul Tursun cried in a congressional hearing room as her prepared testimony was read by a translator. A Uyghur who survived one of China's now-infamous "re-education" camps in Xinjiang, her testimony recounted the brainwashing, horrific living conditions, and torture -- including electric shock treatment, "tiger chairs" used to immobilize detainees, and mysterious "medications" that caused sterilization -- that an estimated 1.8 million Uyghur Muslims and other detainees in these camps endure daily.
Mihrigul's story resonated in Congress, and the plight of the Uyghur people has spurred the legislative body to action. Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives took a major step toward addressing China's abuses against Uyghurs due to their faith and ethnicity. The House passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020, which was approved by the Senate a few weeks earlier.
The atrocities committed against the Uyghur people are so heinous that addressing them has garnered something not often seen in the halls of Congress -- bipartisan support. The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act passed yesterday with a vote of 413-1 (new proxy voting procedures in the House, used for the first time ever on this bill, contributed to the unusual vote breakdown).
The bill will compel the U.S. president to identify Chinese officials and any others who are responsible for carrying out torture, arbitrary detention, inhumane treatment, and other human rights violations against Uyghurs. Such individuals would be subject to sanctions including asset blocking and visa restrictions.
This is a powerful statement to Chinese leaders. In a culture where shaming is a big deal, it will be embarrassing for leaders to be singled out as violators of human rights. It also shines a spotlight on China's actions in Xinjiang, the region where most Uyghurs reside.
It isn't just inside the camps where Uyghurs are stripped of their freedoms and basic human dignity. All of Xinjiang is now likened to an "open-air prison." Facial recognition technology and police checkpoints every few blocks enable the Chinese government to tightly control the actions and movements of Uyghurs.
The dire situation of Uyghurs is the tip of the spear of religious persecution in China, but they are not the only victims of China's religious freedom violations.
Christian house churches are routinely shut down, while crosses are torn off of the churches that maintain state approval. Well-known house church pastor Wang Yi still sits in prison serving his nine-year sentence for supposed "subversion of state power."
In Tibet, the Chinese government continues its long-standing oppression of Tibetan Buddhists, destroying their traditional symbols and houses of worship. Last October, the Chinese government sent over 300 workers to destroy a building that Tibetan Buddhist monks were living in.
Ultimately, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will not tolerate any belief system that encourages people to adhere to a power higher than the government -- and that includes God. Rather, the CCP encourages citizens to find their identity in their nationality and their support for the Party. China's religious freedom conditions are deteriorating, and it is only right that the U.S. Congress should act to address China's ongoing atrocities.
The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act will now be sent to President Trump to sign. While the bill focuses on the grave concerns faced by Uyghur Muslims, it also sends the message that the United States will not ignore the plight of religious minorities in China. Signing this into law will signal to China and governments around the world that abusing religious believers will have consequences.