Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador for religious freedom, speaks during "A Civil Society Dialogue on Securing Religious Freedom in the Indo-Pacific Region" forum in Taipei, Taiwan, March 11, 2019.
Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador for religious freedom, speaks during "A Civil Society Dialogue on Securing Religious Freedom in the Indo-Pacific Region" forum in Taipei, Taiwan, March 11, 2019.

WASHINGTON - Washington’s top diplomat for religious freedom is calling on China to stop its growing oppression of people of faith.

Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, told journalists, “China is at war with faith, but it is a war they will not win.”

“The Chinese Communist Party does not seem to trust its own people to allow them to choose their own path for their souls,” he said. “There is over a billion people at stake here.”

Brownback said the crackdown means Muslims can no longer name their children Mohammed, nor can Tibetan Buddhists choose and venerate their own religious leaders as they have for more than 1,000 years. He said churches are being destroyed, and others are forced to install surveillance cameras.

Human rights groups have accused China of putting a million Uighurs in detention camps. China says Uighurs are in “vocational education centers” to stop the spread of religious extremism and to stop a surge in terrorist attacks. Critics of the Chinese policy say the measures are aimed at destroying Uighur identity.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo answers a question
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo answers a question during a news conference, March 26, 2019, at the Department of State in Washington.

?Pompeo meets with Uighurs

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met at the State Department in Washington Tuesday with four Uighur Muslims affected by the crackdown in China’s autonomous region of Xinjiang, the country’s largest region.

State Department officials say Pompeo met with Mihrigul Tursun, a Uighur Muslim who survived horrific conditions and abuse in a Chinese internment camp in Xinjiang. He also met with three other members of the Uighur Muslim community: Gulchehra Hoja, Ferkat Jawdat and Arfat Erkin, whose relatives have been detained in the camps or sentenced for crimes by Chinese authorities.

The State Department said these individuals’ family members are among the more than 1 million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs and members of other Muslim minority groups whom the Chinese government has detained in internment camps since April 2017. Pompeo commended them for speaking out about China’s abuses, and pledged U.S. support to end China’s campaign of repression against Islam and other religions.

At a State Department briefing, Pompeo condemned China’s practice of putting Uighur Muslims in internment camps.

“The numbers are in the, certainly, hundreds of thousands. This is — I think we use the word, or words, historic human rights abuse — and we’re working to convince the Chinese that this practice is abhorrent and ought to be stopped,” he said.