Washington D.C., Mar 30, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).- After China announced retaliatory sanctions against U.S. human rights advocates this weekend, advocates responded they would not be silent about the “genocide” in Xinjiang.

“The Chinese government’s baseless sanctions on U.S. and foreign government officials who advocate for human rights and religious freedom in China are an attempt to silence growing international criticism and scrutiny of its genocidal policies against Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang,” stated Gayle Manchin, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), on Tuesday.

“USCIRF will not be silenced. We will not stop speaking out against the Chinese government’s ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity,” Manchin stated.

USCIRF is a bipartisan federal commission tasked with promoting international religious freedom, advocating for the release of prisoners of conscience, and condemning religious persecution around the world. The commission has been outspoken that China’s actions against the Uyghurs and other minorities in China’s northwest region of Xinjiang constitute genocide.

On Saturday, China announced sanctions against top USCIRF officials, after the U.S. and several other countries last week leveled sanctions against regional officials in Xinjiang connected to the abuses of the Uyghurs.

Up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang have been detained in a system of mass internment camps. Detainees have reportedly been subject to indoctrination, torture, forced sterilizations, and forced labor.

Outside the camps, officials have set up mass surveillance and predictive policing systems, restricting the movement of residents and cracking down on religious and cultural practices in the largely-Muslim region.

Uyghur women have also been subjected to forced contraception, sterilization, and abortion to the scale of drastically reducing the region’s birth rates. Children have been separated from their families and sent to boarding schools, orphanages, and welfare centers.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo determined that the abuses against the Uyghurs and other minorities constituted genocide, and current Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said he agreed with that assessment and has called the genocide “ongoing.”

Blinken on Saturday responded to China’s retaliatory sanctions of USCIRF officials.

“Beijing’s attempts to intimidate and silence those speaking out for human rights and fundamental freedoms only contribute to the growing international scrutiny of the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang,” Blinken said in a statement

USCIRF officials said they would not be silenced by China’s actions, and would continue to condemn the abuses of the Uyghurs.

“We call on the international community, especially U.S. allies who share the same fundamental universal values and principles of freedom of religion or belief and the rule of law, to redouble their efforts and unite in standing up to Communist China,” said USCIRF vice chair Tony Perkins.

He also called for an “impartial international investigation into the atrocities in Xinjiang and the Communist Party’s genocidal campaign.”

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) also responded to China’s sanctions on Monday.

“The Chinese Communist Party is committing genocide against religious minorities in Xinjiang, so it’s no surprise that China targeted the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which fights for the rights of the faithful worldwide,” he stated.

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