Ambassador Samuel D. Brownback
Office of International Religious Freedom
U.S. Department of State
2201 C St., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20520
Dear Ambassador Brownback:
On behalf of the Uyghur Human Rights Project I wish to extend my sincere gratitude for
the work you have done as the Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom.
I wish to thank you for being one of the strongest advocates for the cause of human
rights for the Uyghur people in the Administration over the past four years. As the scale
of the crimes against humanity happening in East Turkistan became clear, you were
among the first to speak out. You made it clear that the mass detentions, sterilizations,
forced labor regime and establishment of a high-tech police state show the CCP’s
intention to annihilate the religious and cultural identity of the Uyghurs and other Turkic
The first International Religious Freedom Ministerial in 2018 was an important venue to
raise the issue among an international audience of officials. The Office of International
Religious Freedom was also critical in providing a provide a platform for Uyghur voices
at the UN General Assembly in 2019. Stating that the Chinese government’s actions are
in no way legitimate “counter-terrorism,” as you did in your Washington Post op-ed in
2019, is a critical point that officials must emphasize.
I hope that you take the sanctions placed on you by the CCP government as a personal
achievement and badge of honor. Clearly your voice has made an impact.
Again, thank you so much for your solidarity and your leadership. Your name will be
remembered by Uyghurs in future generations as a visionary hero in our time of dire
Blog post by Omer Kanat, UHRP Executive Director– 2 min read
In March, UHRP thanked Senator Rubio (R) and Representative McGovern (D) for introducing the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in the Senate (S.3471) and the House (H.R.6210). As I said then, for companies to continue business as usual would be a green light for China’s atrocities.
UHRP strongly endorses this legislation and calls on governments around the world to apply joint pressure on the Chinese government to end its human-rights crimes against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims.
Key provisions of the Act are outlined in a one-page summary here, and include:
A finding that there is a “very high risk” that many factories and other suppliers in East Turkistan are exploiting forced labor, and that corporate “due diligence” regarding supply chains is not possible due to mass surveillance, pervasive police presence, and harsh intimidation of workers.
A shift in the burden of proof for companies, in order to comply with U.S. laws prohibiting the import of forced labor goods. The legislation would create a “rebuttable presumption” that goods produced in East Turkistan are made with forced labor. Before allowing such goods to be imported, U.S. border authorities would require “clear and convincing evidence” that they were not produced with forced labor, in whole or in part.
A requirement that the U.S. government impose Global Magnitsky sanctions on foreign persons who knowingly engage in Uyghur forced labor or attempt to violate U.S. law on importation of forced labor goods.
A requirement that the Secretary of State provide to Congress:
a list of Chinese entities that use Uyghur forced labor,
a list of products made by forced labor, and
a list of businesses that have sold such products in the U.S.
Below is the transcript of UHRP Director Omer Kanat’s remarks at the launch of UHRP’s new report on the systematic destruction of mosques in East Turkestan. The event also featured remarks by the report’s main researcher and writer Bahram Sintash, NED President Carl Gershman, and commentary by Elise Anderson and RFA Uyghur Service Director Alim Seytoff. The entire event can be viewed on the video posted below.
October 29, 2019
National Endowment for Democracy
I want to thank the National Endowment for Democracy for co-hosting this event and for supporting UHRP’s human-rights documentation work for more than a decade. We are truly grateful.
Government denial and secrecy
Our new report presents evidence of the complete or partial destruction of over 100 mosques. This is important because the government claims to be respecting freedom of worship. It strongly denies that these demolitions are taking place. Therefore, it is quite dangerous for anyone in East Turkestan to provide evidence of what is happening. Providing this kind of information will almost certainly mean you will be detained yourself. But because we have these satellite images, along with the photographs that Bahram has collated, these desecrations cannot be entirely hidden.
Barham has also gone deeper into the meaning of this destruction, by speaking with people who know or knew these mosques very well. He spoke with Alijan Hasan, a researcher in Islamic culture, who left Est Turkestan in 2016 and is now living in the Middle East. Bahram talked with him about the Keriya Mosque. It is the oldest and largest mosque in East Turkestan, and has witnessed 800 years of Uyghur history. Alijan Hasan told Bahram, quote, “I always prayed at this mosque when I visited Keriya. The last time I visited was when I attended my cousin’s wedding, and I took a picture with the groomsmen in front of the gate. For the safety of other people who are in the photo, I can’t share it.” Unquote. So this is the situation: even sharing past photographs of community experiences at these mosques may be too dangerous to the people who used to pray at them.
Imams, teachers, and civil society
It is also important to note that the imams who oversee these mosques have been targeted for severe and inhuman treatment. The goal appears to be to permanently remove religious leaders from society, and not “re-educate” them, as official propaganda suggests. Of course, all Imams were already vetted by the government. For several years before the crisis began in 2017, they were forced to give sermons that were written for them by the government, praising government policy. Still, once the crisis began, this provided no protection. They were taken away en mass. Many have been given very long prison sentences.
One of the few camp survivors, Erbol Ergali, now in Kazakhstan,has stated that imams in detention with him were sentenced to 20 years in prison and kept constantly shackled. Another former detainee, Amanzhan Seiituly, said that in his cell were not only Imams, but also people employed as guards and cleaners at mosques, as well as people who had registered at mosques before praying.
Many religious leaders have died in custody. On January 29, last year – in 2018 — UHRP received confirmation from relatives of Muhammad Salih Hajim that he had died in an internment camp. Muhammad Salih Hajim was a prominent Koranic scholar and Uyghur religious leader. He translated the Koran from Arabic into Uyghur at the request of the Chinese government. He was 82 years old when he was taken into custody at the end of 2017. His daughter, Nezire Muhammad Salih, and other relatives were also taken away at the same time. This is only one of many similar cases, where the entire family of a religious leader has been taken away to the camps.
Husan Kari Hajim, the oldest Imam of the Keriya mosque, went missing in 2017 and there is no news of him. Imin Damollam received a life sentence in 2017. He was a graduate from the first cohort of the Xinjiang Islamic Institute and was assigned to the Keriya mosque as Imam by the government in 1992.
Abdulnehed Mehsum is another noted religious scholar who died in custody. He died while being held in an internment camp in Hotan prefecture in November 2017, although his death was not reported until May 2018.
Abdurashid Salih is another religious scholar who died in June 2018 in Ghulja. He was our neighbor in East Turkestan, in Nilka County, and I spent several days with him when he visited Istanbul in 1996. His body was given to his family in June 2018, his head was covered with a white sheet, and a blood stain was visible from a distance. His family members were not allowed to take part in his burial and were not allowed to touch the body.
The targeting of civil society should also be noted. This started early. The case of Abliz Haji is a prime example. Abliz Haji was one of many faithful Uyghur Muslims who worked to rebuild neighborhood and village mosques. He managed the voluntary contributions for the construction of a mosque near Hotan. He was arrested in 2015. He was tortured to force him to hand over the names of people who made donations. He refused to cooperate, and was handed a 10-year prison sentence.
The widespread destruction of mosques, shrines and cemeteries – and the systematic elimination of religious scholars and teachers from society – make one thing very clear. There can be no doubt about the Chinese government’s goals regarding the future of the Uyghur people. This is a step-by-step campaign to erase Uyghur sacred places and Uyghur religious practice from the face of the earth. It is a clear indicator of genocidal intent.
I can say more about specific policy recommendations in the discussion. For now, I will note that UHRP is again calling on UNESCO and concerned governments to take urgent action to stop this systematic destruction of a people and their faith.