This week, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., led the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) in a hearing on how the communist regime of that Asian nation targets religions.

Rubio is the chairman of the CECC and a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. He and U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-NJ, the cochairman of the CECC, held a hearing on “The Communist Party’s Crackdown on Religion in China” on Wednesday.

During the hearing, Rubio questioned Mihrigul Tursun, a Uyghur Muslim who was held in a Chinese “political reeducation” camp.

The exchange went as follows:

Rubio: Even as the Government has carried out an extensive campaign to ensure ideological loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party, above all else, impacting various sectors of society—not least of which are religious communities—it has also targeted those who represent and advocate for them. Not just the communities but those who represent and advocate for them.

The “709 crackdown” as it was called, saw scores of rights lawyers and advocates detained, arrested and tortured. Forced to ingest unknown medications and confess to crimes that they did not commit, these brave men and women have been at the tip of the spear in representing China’s reppressed and persecuted Christians, Uyghur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists and Falun Gong practitioners.

Of the rights lawyers who have courageously defended the rights of their fellow citizens in Chinese courts, several continue to serve sentences, including Wang Quanzhang, Jiang Tianyong, and Gao Zhisheng. Those who have independently documented the truth of Chinese citizens persecuted for their beliefs became targets of persecution themselves. One fearless example is citizen journalist and human rights defender Huang Qi. We are extremely concerned that he is in danger of making the ultimate sacrifice for telling these stories because his government is currently deliberately denying him access to medical treatment while he is in prison.

However, set against this grim backdrop something remarkable has happened. The number of religious adherents in China has grown. This shows the utter failure of the Chinese Communist Party’s policies in this regard.

Ms. Tursun’s story reminds us that China’s suppression of religious faith and religious communities is real. It is evil, it is too horrendous to ignore.

In the 21st century, we must not, cannot, and should not, accept the mass internment of individuals based on their religious faith on the basis of their cultural identity; nor can we accept the efforts to stamp out all “unofficial” religious communities in China that maintain as a matter of faith that they do not want to be beholden to the leadership of the Chinese government or frankly any government.

Rubio: I wanted to first of all Ms. Tursun, I wanted to thank you for coming, first of all I could see how difficult your testimony was for you.

I want you to know, I won’t, for purposes of making this anymore difficult for you. But I do have here, pictures you submitted for us, of you and your family, and of your three children, and we’re going to submit those for the record,  If that’s okay, with your testimony.

Others who are here, I can see people holding up pictures and articles about your loved ones who are unaccounted for and I want you to know that we see that – just the sheer number and volume of cases and individuals who have gone through this is so massive that it would take forever to document it, but none of them are forgotten. They’re the reason that we spend… I believe that this is our fourth hearing along with other activities that we’ve done. But today you’ve been their voice Ms. Tursun.

And I wanted to thank you for that, I have three questions that I hope you can address, the first is: You testified briefly about fear. That even here in the United States you’re being watched, harassed, and followed, that is disturbing to us. That someone living in this country the Chinese government could try to intimidate whether it be through phone calls or other activities that you described in your written testimony. The first is we’ll obviously talk to you after this to ensure that appropriate law enforcement authorities are aware of this. To ensure that you are and will be safe in this country. And that nothing happens, and that everyone knows that if anything were to happen, we knew who did it. We think is the strongest form of protection, you deserve that. But if you could briefly describe if you’ve had any incidents recently, where you feel, not just a phone call, but individuals have followed you, or have felt suspicious that you have been in anyway the target of harassment potentially by those working on behalf of the Chinese government.

Mihrigul Tursun: As soon as I came to America other than the pressure I have received from my family members, like my father and my brothers text messages. And also another two suspicious articles.

About two weeks ago at one of the markets in Virginia, I was catching an Uber and was traveling, and I felt that some person who was wearing black glasses and also a black hat, he was trying to talk to me through the windows of the car. And the car drove in a different direction we dropped him, and I was scared when he tried to talk to me through the window. And they were asking me “do you know him?” and I said “No, I don’t know him, but I see he is Chinese,” I understand, and I ask driver to help me run away, and he goes the other way, and this driver got me to my house. But I am always worried, all this time, I don’t feel like I’m safe here.

Zubayra Shamseden [translating for Ms. Tursun]: She is talking about the article she has here, it is from Global Times, in that article specifically they mention her name, that what she said and what she has given to Radio Free Asia, is a lie. And that report says that the report of Global Times recently reported from one of the “Re-Education Camps” of Xinjiang that the situation reported is completely different. It says that what portrayed about the camps that kind of situation doesn’t exist in China’s prison. This is another threat that she felt directly from the Chinese government, which is specifically mentioning her name in the article.

Rubio: The second question I have is, in your time in camp, were you ever forced to perform work or labor. Any forced labor?

Mihrigul Tursun: No, they don’t allow us to go out from the room. They just lock us in the room. They don’t allow us to be out.

Rubio: So in her detainment she wasn’t even allowed to go out. They were basically detained in a sort of confinement with a handful of other people, some of whom died?

Mihrigul Tursun: It is a cell. We’ve been locked in with many other people and if we decide to go to read something, to go to the bathroom we do it in the same place. We just stay together, people die amongst us and I have witnessed 9 people die in front of me. 

Rubio: There have been reports on the forced collection of DNA from people throughout China, but particularly in the Xinjiang region. Some of it under the guise of a physical exam others forced to provide blood samples and so forth as part of getting passports. In your time there, whether it was getting your passport, are you aware of these forced efforts to make people undergo physical exams or give blood samples…Was that something you were subjected to? Either in confinement or when you applied with the authorities on entry or on exit?

Mihrigul Tursun: Yes, I have witnessed that kind of practices. Taking out blood samples and doing DNA tests. Before 2015 when you applied for a passport that was one of the requirements, that you do have to have a blood test. After 2015, doing a blood and DNA test became a compulsory practice applied to one month old baby up until whatever age, everybody was required to do blood tests as well as DNA sampling.

Rubio: You may not have any reason to know this, but the authorities who have compelled the turning over of DNA of everyone a few months ago put out a contract for DNA sequencers to be able to account for all of this and the creation of this massive database and it is a great shame that one of the companies that has provided those DNA sequencers and frankly, takes great pride in the work they do, is an American company, Thermo Fisher Scientific, who just recently appeared in an article discussing what a great leader Xi Jinping, which I imagine in their perspective is driven by the money they are making in that marketplace and it gets to the broader issue of calling out these American companies who are participating and assisting them in the compulsory collection of DNA for the purposes of collecting this massive database against the consent or absence of consent or even the knowledge of the people it’s being collected from…It seems to me that at the core of all this is an obsessive desire on the part of the Chinese government, which is not new, to create a sort of unified national identity which must be stripped of anything that competes with it–ethnicity, religion, ethnic cultural tradition. There can be nothing that competes with it, and they appear, as they have been in the past to be extremely ruthless in their willingness to stamp that out at any cost, whether it’s in Tibet, or Xinjiang or any other part of their country. And I would add to that, that in addition to that, that willingness to stamp out anything that competes with the party for people’s loyalties of this national identity, is that when they use terms like extremism and they use terms like dangerous, what they mean by those terms is not violence, or advocacy of violence, what they mean by extremist is you don’t agree with them, or you have loyalties to God, or loyalties to a culture or any identity. That is not the one they want you to have.

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