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An armed police officer stands guard outside the entrance of what is officially called a vocational skills education centre in Hotan in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China. Picture taken September 7, 2018. Thomas Peter/Reuters

U.S. sanctions Chinese officials over repression of minorities

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on three senior officials of the Chinese Communist Party for alleged human rights abuses targeting ethnic and religious minorities China has detained in the western part of the country.

The decision to bar these senior officials and their families from entering the U.S. is the latest of a series of actions the Trump administration has taken against China as relations deteriorate over the coronavirus pandemic and trade.

WATCH: This dissident leaked explosive documents depicting China’s brutal treatment of Uighurs

“The United States will not stand idly by as the Chinese Communist Party carries out human rights abuses targeting Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang, to include forced labor, arbitrary mass detention, and forced population control, and attempts to erase their culture and Muslim faith,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

Pompeo said additional visa restrictions are being placed on other Chinese Communist Party officials believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, the unjust detention or abuse of Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs and members of other minority groups.

In recent years, the Chinese government has detained an estimated 1 million or more ethnic Turkic minorities. The ethnic minorities are held in internment camps and prisons where they are subjected to ideological discipline, forced to denounce their religion and language and physically abused. China has long suspected the Uighurs, who are mostly Muslim, of harboring separatist tendencies because of their distinct culture, language and religion.

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.

Last December, Xinjiang authorities announced that the camps had closed and all the detainees had “graduated,” a claim difficult to corroborate independently given tight surveillance and restrictions on reporting in the region. Some Uighurs and Kazakhs have told the AP that their relatives have been released, but many others say their loved ones remain in detention, were sentenced to prison or transferred to forced labor in factories.

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