US lawmakers call for sanctions over Xinjiang camps

A demonstrator wears a mask painted with the colors of the flag of East Turkestan attends a protest in Istanbul in July; China has denied allegations that one million of its mostly Muslim Uighur minority are being held in internment camps

US lawmakers on Wednesday urged President Donald Trump's administration to slap sanctions on Chinese officials involved in the internment of a Muslim minority in the country's far-west Xinjiang region, Florida senator Marco Rubio announced.

In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the members of Congress -- from both parties -- called for sanctions against seven officials and two surveillance equipment manufacturers, The Wall Street Journal reported.

"Today I & a bipartisan group of 16 members of Congress asked @POTUS to use the Global Magnitsky Act to freeze the assets & ban the entry of Chinese officials responsible for the mass roundup of Muslims in internment camps in the #Xinjiang region," Rubio said on Twitter.

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

A Chinese official told a UN human rights committee in Geneva earlier this month that tough security measures in Xinjiang were necessary to combat extremism and terrorism, but did not target any specific ethnic group or restrict religious freedoms.

China has branded reports of such camps "completely untrue", saying that the "education and training centers" to which "minor criminals" are assigned serve merely "to assist in their rehabilitation and reintegration".

But multiple NGOs and China experts believe the reality is far more sinister, saying accounts from former detainees and official documents point to a massive program of political and cultural indoctrination.

Last year, China banned "abnormally long" beards and Muslim veils in Xinjiang -- which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan -- and ordered all car owners in the region to install GPS tracking devices.

Meanwhile in December 2017, New York-based Human Rights Watch reported that Xinjiang authorities were planning to collect bio data from all residents.