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Muslim Uyghur children join the adults at a mosque for Friday Prayers in Urumqi in China's Xinjiang region.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced the "awful abuses" of Muslim Uyghurs detained in Chinese reeducation camps and criticized what he said was a government crackdown on Christians in the country.

The comments on September 21 come after a recent UN report assailed China’s mass internment of Uyghurs under the pretext of preventing extremism in the western Xinjiang region.

"Hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of Uyghurs are held against their will in so-called reeducation camps where they're forced to endure severe political indoctrination and other awful abuses," Pompeo said in a speech on religious freedom.

Kazakhs Say Relatives Being Held In China At 'Reeducation Camps'
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Republican and Democratic members of Congress late last month called for sanctions on Chinese officials implicated in the internment of the minority.

Pompeo did not say whether the United States would move toward imposing such sanctions.

On September 10, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said China was carrying out a “mass, systematic campaign of human rights violations” against its mostly Muslim Uyghur minority population.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman accused HRW of being "full of prejudice" against China and of distorting facts. He said measures in Xinjiang aim to "promote stability, development, unity, and livelihoods," while also cracking down on "ethnic separatism and violent terrorist criminal activities."

In his speech, Pompeo also expressed concerns about the fate of Christians in China, who he said had been subject to a government crackdown.

He said Beijing has been "closing churches, burning Bibles, and ordering followers to sign papers renouncing their faith."

Based on reporting by AFP
Rights activist Oyub Titiyev (file photo)

The United States has expressed concern about a Russian court's decision to close rights activist Oyub Titiyev's trial to public, and repeated its call for Titiyev's release.

"We are troubled by the news yesterday‎ that in the baseless drug-possession case against Chechen human rights defender Oyub Titiyev, the judge ruled to close the trial to public observers," Michael Murphy, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said on September 21.

"The eyes of the international community remain on this case and on the human rights situation in Chechnya. We again call for his release," Murphy said at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw.

Earlier, Russia's Memorial Human Rights Center said that a judge in Chechnya had ordered closed-door court proceedings in the trial of Titiyev, one of Russia's leading human rights activists.

Memorial's press service said on September 21 that the judge in Chechnya’s Shali city court granted the prosecutor's request for closed hearings in the trial against the 61-year-old head of Memorial's office in Chechnya.

The prosecutor claimed Titiyev's case file contains state secrets and asked that some witnesses be questioned behind closed doors "to prevent the disclosure of personal information" about operating law enforcement officials.

Memorial said it expected the trial to be reopened to the public after certain witnesses testify.

Titiyev's lawyer, Pyotor Zaikin, said on September 21 that closing the trial to the public violated Titiyev's rights under the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Titiyev has been in custody since January, when he was arrested on drug charges after police in Chechnya said they found a plastic bag with some 180 grams of marijuana in his car.

'Bogus' Charges

Titiyev insists the drugs were planted in the car as evidence against him. He faces a maximum 10-year-prison sentence if convicted.

Mikhail Fedotov, the head of President Vladimir Putin's advisory council on human rights, called in January for Russia's Interior Ministry to investigate the possibility that the drugs were planted in the car.

But in May, the Chechen court rejected Titiyev's request to open a criminal case against police.

The United States, several European Union member states, and the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner have condemned Titiyev’s arrest and expressed concerns about the case.

Memorial has called the charges against Titiyev "bogus," saying they were "clearly fabricated as a means of silencing him."

Human Rights Watch has called the charges a "pure fabrication" and Amnesty International has called the case "a grave injustice that strikes at the heart of Russia’s human rights community."

"The Russian authorities are hellbent on silencing anyone who speaks out against human rights abuses in Chechnya...and Titiyev has faced years of harassment and intimidation," said Denis Krivosheyev, the head of Amnesty's Eastern Europe and Central Asia office.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s North Caucasus Service and Interfax

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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