US sanctions Chinese official for alleged religious freedom violations

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday announced sanctions on a Chinese Communist Party official for alleged gross violations of human rights that include violations of religious freedom.

The sanctions target Yu Hui, described as a former top official in charge of a government office engaged in the alleged persecution of Falun Gong practitioners, a religious movement that gained popularity in the 1990s, only to be subsequently banned by the Chinese government.

“We will continue to consider all appropriate tools to promote accountability for those responsible for human rights violations and abuses in China and elsewhere,” the secretary said in the statement.

Yu is identified as the former director of the “so-called ‘Central Leading Group on Preventing and Dealing with Heretical Religions’ of Chengdu, Sichuan Province,” Blinken said in the statement.

The secretary said Yu was involved in gross human rights violations for the arbitrary detention of Falun Gong practitioners for their spiritual beliefs.

The sanctions prevent Yu and his immediate family members from obtaining visas and traveling to the United States.

The sanctions were announced alongside the release of the State Department’s Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2020, a significant documentation of the state of religious freedom around the world.

More than 6,600 Falun Gong practitioners in China were arrested over the course of 2020, the report notes, and also cites reported “severe societal discrimination” in employment, housing and business opportunities.

The annual religious freedom report has, since 1999, designated China as a country of particular concern (CPC), the most severe designation that concludes the government “engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

The 2020 report again designated China as a CPC.

The Chinese Communist Party asserts control over religion and restricts the activities and personal freedom of religious adherents that it perceives as threatening the state or party interests, the report notes, citing reports from religious groups, nongovernmental organizations and international media.

While the government allows the practice of “patriotic religious associations,” namely Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism and Catholicism, it imposes restrictions on these practices and then prohibits other religions.

The State Department assessment notes reports of deaths in custody of religious practitioners and that the government tortured, physically abused, arrested, detained, sentenced to prison or subjected to forced indoctrination of Chinese Communist Party ideology, against practitioners belonging to the permitted religious groups and those that are banned.

The sanctions announced Wednesday follow other actions imposed by the U.S. against Chinese officials for the persecution of religious minorities, specifically in response to what it has determined to be a genocide taking place against the minority Muslim Uyghur community.

This includes sanctions on Chinese Communist Party officials and dozens of government entities for human rights violations in Xinjiang province, which is largely home to the Uyghur’s and where most of the gross human rights violations are taking place, including forced sterilization, arbitrary detention and reports of torture and rape.

The U.S. also prohibits the import of products made in Xinjiang that may have been produced in forced labor camps targeting Uyghurs.

The Chinese government rejects that it is committing genocide against Uyghurs and that buildings described by the international community as detention centers are education and vocational institutions.

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