The Chinese government is engaging in an unprecedented crackdown against religious groups tantamount to a "war on faith," the U.S. envoy for religious freedom said Thursday.
"But it is a war they will not win," Ambassador Sam Brownback told reporters at the State Department.
"The Chinese Communist Party does not trust their own people to allow them to choose their own path for their souls."
Brownback pointed to internment camps China has erected for its minority Uighur Muslim population, prohibiting the community from naming their children "Mohammed," restrictions on Tibetan Buddhists on who they can venerate, and the destruction of churches and arrests of Christian clerics.
“China must end these counterproductive policies, release all those arbitrarily detained and end its repression," he said.
Brownback said the U.S. has confirmed reports that some Turkish individuals have been detained at the camps but did not provide additional details.
In its annual human rights report, the State Department detailed alleged abuses in China's camps "such as torture, repressive surveillance measures, homestays and forcible service of pork and alcohol by Chinese government officials in Muslim homes, confiscations of Qurans, and instances of sexual abuse and death".
Around 1 million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in an expanding network of "political re-education" camps, according to U.S. officials and UN experts.
China’s Xinjiang region is home to some 13 million Uighurs. The Turkic Muslim group, which makes up around 45 percent of Xinjiang’s population, has long accused authorities of cultural, religious and economic discrimination.
Brownback said Beijing's crackdown on religious groups has intensified since the Chinese Communist Party took over the regulation of religion from the central government, calling repression "much harsher" after the party took control.
“These are horrific things that are taking place, and by a country that wants to be a global leader,” he said.