US voices concern on China's Muslim crackdown, sanctions weighed

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BEIJING - China called for United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to respect its sovereignty on Tuesday, after she urged it to allow monitors into the restive far western region of Xinjiang and expressed concern about the situation there.

US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said the US government was "deeply troubled" by China's "worsening crackdown" on minority Muslim groups in the far western province of Xinjiang, saying there were "credible reports" of thousands being detained in detention centers since April 2017. For those who can read, they read out from a paper but for those who cannot, they said, "You can sing a song or tell a story and we will record you".

"Throughout the region, the Turkic Muslim population of 13 million is subjected to forced political indoctrination, collective punishment, restrictions on movement and communications, heightened religious restrictions and mass surveillance in violation of global human rights law", it added.

Nauert acknowledged that the State Department had received a letter from a bipartisan group of USA lawmakers at the end of August asking Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to impose sanctions on a number of Chinese officials accused of overseeing the policies.

"China urges the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and its office to strictly abide by the mission and principles of the UN Charter to respect China's sovereignty", said foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.

"The Chinese government protects people's freedom of religion and people of all ethnic groups are fully entitled to freedom of religion".

China has denied allegations that one million of its mostly Muslim Uighur minority are being held in internment camps.

The economic penalties would be one of the first times the Trump administration has taken action against China because of human rights violations.

In the camps, the Uighurs are reportedly forced to learn Mandarin Chinese, espouse the Communist party and denounce Islam.

Up to 1 million people, or about 7 percent of the Muslim population in Xinjiang, have now been incarcerated in an expanding network of "political re-education" camps, according to US officials and United Nations experts.

She called on Beijing to permit the United Nations rights office access to "all regions" of China and embark on a discussion of the issues.

"My understanding is the issue has been raised very diplomatically to signal the concern ... but not cause the wrath of the Chinese government", Nargis Kassenova, director of the Central Asian Studies Center at KIMEP University in Almaty, said recently.

There are reports of China detaining up to 1 million Muslims in indoctrination camps in the region.

According to a 117-page report published over the weekend, the Chinese government conducted "mass arbitrary detention, torture and mistreatment" of Uighur Turks in the region.

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