US envoy calls China’s Muslim camps ‘horrific,’ wants probe

Sam Brownback, above, believes there should be an independent investigation into China's violations. (AFP/File)
Updated 12 March 2019

US envoy calls China’s Muslim camps ‘horrific,’ wants probe

  • US ambassador for international religious freedom urged China to release Chinese Muslims from camps
  • China said these facilities are vocational training centers and not camps

TAIPEI: Describing China’s internment of an estimated 1 million Muslims as a “horrific situation,” a US envoy on religion called Tuesday for an independent investigation into the detentions and for the release of those being held.

Sam Brownback, US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, said China has done nothing to assuage concerns from the US and others over the detention of Uighurs, Kazakhs and members of other Muslim minority groups.

“We’ve been putting out very clearly that this is a horrific situation that’s taking place in Xinjiang,” Brownback said in a telephone news conference with reporters, referring to the northwestern region that is home to most Chinese Muslims.

“It is just a very tragic and I think a horrific situation there,” he said.

China has already angrily protested Brownback’s earlier remarks last week in Hong Kong criticizing Beijing’s polices toward religious minorities and accusing the country of being “at war with faith.”

China’s officially atheist Communist government at first denied the existence of the internment camps in Xinjiang, but now says they are vocational training facilities aimed at countering Muslim radicalism and separatist tendencies.

China says Xinjiang has long been its territory and claims it is bringing prosperity and development to the vast, resource-rich region. Many among Xinjiang’s native ethnic groups say they are being denied economic options in favor of migrants from elsewhere in China and that their Muslim faith and unique culture and language are being gradually eradicated.

The camps sprang up over the past two years at extraordinary speed and on a massive scale, as monitored by satellite imagery. China maintains a massive security presence in Xinjiang and efforts to independently verify claims by Uighur activists are routinely blocked.

Brownback appeared undeterred by Beijing’s complaints over his earlier comments, describing China’s explanation of the reasons behind the camps as “completely unsatisfactory answers.”

China is already listed by the US among the worst violators of religious freedom, and Brownback held open the possibility of sanctions and other punitive measures “if corrective actions aren’t taken.”

While making no commitments, Brownback held open the possibility of action toward individuals involved in the internments under The Global Magnitsky Act of 2016.

The act makes it possible to impose entry bans and targeted sanctions on individuals for committing human rights violations or acts of significant corruption.

Brownback also contrasted Beijing’s attacks on religion with the tolerant approach of governments such as that of Taiwan, the self-governing island democracy that China claims as its own territory. He said Washington would continue to push for dialogue among all faiths to promote religious freedom worldwide.

“The administration is serious about religious freedom matters and deeply concerned about what’s taking place in China,” Brownback said.

Sri Lankan police hold alleged trainer of suicide bombers

Updated 1 min 15 sec ago

Sri Lankan police hold alleged trainer of suicide bombers

  • Arrested Egyptian national living in Sri Lanka illegally for four years, police say
  • Eight countries promise help to combat terror, says leader

COLOMBO: An Egyptian man arrested north of the Sri Lankan capital Colombo on Wednesday is alleged to have trained suicide bombers who carried out the Easter Sunday attacks on the island, investigators said. 
The 44-year-old Egyptian national was arrested in Madampe, a coastal town 40 km north of Colombo, following a tip-off.
Ruwan Gunasekera, a Colombo police spokesman, said that the man had been living illegally on the island without a passport or valid visa for more than four years.
Police are investigating whether the suspect trained the suicide bombers responsible for a wave of attacks on hotels and churches on the island that left more than 350 people dead and hundreds injured.
Eight of the nine suicide bombers have been identified by police, the spokesman said.
The names of the attackers were withheld because of security concerns. However, Arab News learned that among the nine were Mohammed Insaf and Mohammed Azaam Mohammed Mubarak, who struck the Shangri La Hotel.

State Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardene said that most of the suicide bombers were well educated and hailed from upper middle-class families. One of the bombers had studied in the UK and did his doctorate in Australia, he added.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Niluka Kudirgamuwa told Arab News on Wednesday that the bodies of 13 of the 36 foreigners killed in the bomb blasts have been repatriated. Fourteen foreign tourists are still missing.
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena told foreign ambassadors on Tuesday that eight countries, including the US and Germany, have pledged technological and intelligence assistance to combat terror on the island.
He appealed to other countries to cooperate “in this fight against the menace of terrorism.”
The Sri Lankan leader said that law enforcement agencies had acted swiftly to identify and arrest those responsible for acts of terrorism.
Envoys who offered help included representatives of the UN and EU, and ambassadors of Germany, the US, Denmark, Norway and Pakistan.
Sirisena said that intelligence gained during the 30-year civil war on the island will be used in the fight against terrorism following the introduction of emergency powers.
A block on social media will be lifted by Thursday, he said. 
Meanwhile, Archbishop Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith told Muslim foreign ambassadors and high commissioners who visited him to offer their condolences on Wednesday, that Muslims have successfully coexisted with other communities in the island for centuries.

Turkish Ambassador Tunca Ozcuhadar said the attack is neither communal nor political but was carried out by a group of misled youths who may have had some links with some extremist groups.