Multiple US residents are reportedly detained in China’s prison-like detention camps for Muslims, where inmates have to pledge allegiance to President Xi Jinping in exchange for meals.
“A few” American residents or citizens are being detained in those camps, CNN cited unnamed State Department sources as saying.
It comes after Sam Brownback, the US’s Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, told reporters on March 28, 2019, that a man in California had emailed him to say that his 75-year-old father, who has legal residency in the US, had disappeared after traveling to Xinjiang, a region on China’s western frontier.
Beijing is accused of detaining at least 1 million Uighurs in prison-like centers, where inmates are required to memorize Chinese Communist Party doctrines and shout patriotic phrases like “Long live Xi Jinping!” to receive small amounts of rice for meals, according to recent testimonies reported by The Telegraph.
China is waging an unprecedented crackdown on Uighurs in Xinjiang.
Those who refuse to do so are reportedly electrocuted with a cattle prod, The Telegraph reported. Past detainees have also described being shackled to a chair, strung up, deprived of sleep, and being psychologically tortured.
China refers to these camps as “boarding schools” and “free vocational training” as part of its counterterror measures. Geng Shuang, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said on March 29, 2019, “the overall situation is stable” in Xinjiang, according to CNN.
Geng added in response to Brownback’s comments that Beijing “is firmly opposed to the US attempt to use the Xinjiang issue to interfere in China’s internal affairs.”
Referring to the unnamed California man who emailed him, Brownback said: “He’s not been able to reach him [his father] for months … doesn’t know whether — where he is and whether he’s still alive.” He added that this account has not yet been verified.
“This gentleman that I just was reading the email about has legal status in the United States,” he added. “He’s not a U.S. citizen, but he had legal status being here, traveled back to Xinjiang after being here with his son in California, and then has not been heard from since.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.
Brownback added that this man is “an intellectual” and has “a number of chronic illnesses,” and that it’s not clear whether he is receiving any treatment. Scholars and activists have warned of Beijing’s efforts to eradicate Uighur culture.
Many Uighurs in Xinjiang have actively cut off communications with relatives living abroad for fear of China’s retribution. Talking to people outside China — regardless of the content of the conversation — can get Uighurs arrested and imprisoned.
Relatives of Uighurs in Xinjiang have previously told Business Insider of their anguish at being blocked by their families on social media and messaging apps.
The US government has repeatedly criticized China over the Xinjiang crackdown, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meeting with several Uighurs and describing Beijing’s actions as a sort of “shameful hypocrisy” late March 2019.
Democratic and Republican members of Congress have for months called on the Trump administration to punish Beijing for its actions towards Uighurs in the form of sanctions against those involved. The White House has yet to respond to those requests.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.