US residents are reportedly detained in China's prison-like detention camps for Muslims, where people have to pledge allegiance to Xi Jinping to get food

XinjiangEthnic Uyghur men talk as they meet at a teahouse on July 1, 2017Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

  • US politicians have been speaking out against China's crackdown on the Uighurs, a majority-Muslim ethnic minority living in the western region of Xinjiang.
  • Beijing is accused of imprisoning at least 1 million Uighurs in detention camps there, where people are physically and psychologically tortured, and forced to pledge allegiance to President Xi Jinping in exchange for food.
  • Sam Brownback, the US ambassador for religious freedom, and unnamed State Department sources say multiple legal US residents could be held in those camps.

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 Thursday 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.

China is waging an unprecedented crackdown on the Uighurs, a mostly-Muslim ethnic minority who mainly live in Xinjiang.

Read more: This map shows a trillion-dollar reason why China is oppressing more than a million Muslims

Xinjiang police streetsPolice patrol on a scooter as an ethnic Uyghur boy stands in his doorway on June 27, 2017 in the old town of Kashgar, in the far western Xinjiang province, China.Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

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.

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.

Read more: Shocking footage purportedly shows cells inside prison camp where China oppresses Muslim minority

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 Friday "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."

Xinjiang prisonerIn this March 29, 2018, photo, Omir Bekali demonstrates how he was strung up by his arms in Chinese detention before being sent to an internment camp during an interview in Almaty, Kazakhstan.AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

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."

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.

Residents of other countries, including Turkey, Kazakhstan, and Australia, have also been swept up in the crackdown.

sam brownbackSam Brownback, the US ambassador for international religious freedom, speaks in Taipei on March 11, 2019.Tyrone Siu/Reuters

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.

Read more: Relatives of China's oppressed Muslim minority are getting blocked online by their own family members, who are terrified to even tell them how bad their lives are

Xinjiang Uighur ChinaAn ethnic Uyghur man has his beard trimmed after prayers on June 30, 2017 in the old town of Kashgar, in the far western Xinjiang province, China. Kashgar has long been considered the cultural heart of Xinjiang for the province's nearly 10 million Muslim Uyghurs.Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

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" earlier this week.

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.

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