POLITICS
08/10/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Delahunt Urges Administration To Condemn China's Uighur Crackdown

The Chinese government's crackdown against Uighurs living in Xinjiang province now has the full attention of the House human rights subcommittee, chair Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) said Thursday night.

"At this point in time what we want is for the People's Republic of China to stop abusing and repressing the Uighur people," Delahunt told the Huffington Post. "We're going to be introducing a resolution, which we hope receives broad bipartisan support."

This past weekend, Uighur protests in the provincial capital Urumqi turned violent when Chinese authorities fired on the crowds, leaving at least 156 dead and more than 1,000 wounded. Massive protests were incited by a Han Chinese attack on Uighur workers at a toy factory dormitory in Guangdong province, which resulted in two deaths and 118 injuries. Police arrested 1,434 Uighurs early this week and shut down Uighur mosques Thursday, leading to more arrests of protesters.

Delahunt said he and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), the ranking member of the Foreign Affairs International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight Subcommittee, began focusing on the plight of the ethnic Muslim community in China during the investigation they began last year into abuse of Uighur detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison. A delegation from the People's Republic of China brutally interrogated and threatened those men for more than a week back in 2002, Delahunt said, and he and Rohrabacher have sought answers from the Department of Defense since the Bush administration denied their request to meet with the Uighur detainees in July 2008.

"I find it outrageous," Delahunt said. "Since when do we allow Communist agents to interview detainees and particularly when they were members of a minority that historically has been persecuted, tortured, threatened, intimidated and in some cases executed by the Chinese? And yet two duly elected members of Congress were denied (access) despite the full consent of their lawyers and the willingness of the detainees to meet with us."

Since then, Delahunt's subcommittee has held hearings on the plight of the Uighurs held at Guantanamo Bay -- four of whom were released to Bermuda last month, with 13 still in custody -- but broadened its focus in June to the Uighur people generally. The House subcommittee has not communicated with the Obama White House regarding the Uighurs, Delahunt said, but he and Rohrabacher sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a letter Monday urging her to condemn the Chinese government's actions.

They have not received a direct response, but Clinton has publicly expressed caution. "[W]e are deeply concerned over the reports of deaths and injuries from violence in Western China," she said Tuesday. "We are trying to sort out, as best we can, the facts and circumstances from the region, and we're calling on all sides to exercise restraint. We know there's a long history of tension and discontent, but the most immediate matter is to bring the violence to a conclusion."

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu asked Clinton Thursday to take a more active stand, while Japanese diplomats urged their Chinese counterparts at a bilateral human rights meeting in Tokyo to guarantee the Uighurs their human rights.

Though the current violence has taken center stage, Delahunt said he and Rohrabacher remain interested in hearing from the Department of Defense why they were barred from Guantanamo Bay. "It's not the Pentagon that defines what our oversight responsibilities are," he said.

DOD claimed Chinese intelligence treated the detainees humanely and helped them authenticate individual identities, Delahunt said. "That's just beyond absurd," he said. "Is this the message of tolerance that we want to send to the Muslim world?"

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