US commission seeks China sanctions

WASHINGTON: The US government commission on religious freedom called Wednesday for targeted sanctions against China over the ethnic unrest in the predominantly Muslim region of Xinjiang.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom said it was "gravely concerned" about China's "repression" of the cultural and religious traditions of the Uighurs, the ethnic group native to the vast, arid Xinjiang region.

China says 192 people died on July 5 in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi in the country's worst ethnic violence in decades pitting Uighurs against the growing number of settlers from China's Han majority.

The religious freedom commission called for President Barack Obama to consider sanctions on exports coming from Xinjiang or travel restrictions on Chinese government officials in charge of the northwestern province.

"Protests such as those occurring last week happen for a reason," said Leonard Leo, the chairman of the commission.

"Beijing has pushed its ethnic and religious minorities, its human rights lawyers, its labor activists and its free speech advocates to the wall. The international community must speak up," he said.

The commission, which includes appointees of both main US political parties, monitors religious freedom abroad and makes recommendations to policymakers but cannot impose sanctions on its own.

The commission also called for an independent investigation into the violence in Xinjiang.

China, which says it has worked to bring development to Xinjiang, reports that most of the victims of the violence were ethnic Hans killed and injured in "rioting" by Uighurs.

But Rebiya Kadeer, the Washington-based leader of exiled Uighurs, told a meeting of the religious freedom commission that Chinese forces used indiscriminate force on peaceful protests.

"You can compare it to the Tiananmen Square massacre," Kadeer told the commission, referring to China's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in the nerve center of Beijing 20 years ago.