Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walks onstage before speaking at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, Thursday, July 18, 2019, at the U.S. State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Pompeo takes aim at China at religious freedom conference

July 18, 2019 - 8:55 am

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday said China is responsible for the "stain of the century" of human rights abuses, with mass detentions of Muslims and other minorities.

Speaking at an international religious freedom conference that he is hosting, Pompeo denounced China for its large-scale detentions in the western Xinjiang region, where an estimated 1 million Muslim Uighurs, Kazakhs and other minorities are believed to be held in internment camps.

Chinese officials describe the camps as vocational training centers and say they are necessary to curb religious extremism.

China is "home to one of the worst human rights crises of our time," said Pompeo, who also accused China of intimidating countries into staying away from his conference.

Pompeo, an evangelical Christian, has made promoting religious freedom a priority since becoming secretary of state. But critics of the Trump administration have questioned the commitment, noting that its restrictive migration policies threaten religious minorities.

The conference was being held just days after the International Rescue Committee and the U.N. refugee agency warned that the administration's sharp reductions in admissions of refugees and asylum seekers put many, including religious minorities, at risk.

In a report released on the eve of the conference, the IRC said that so far this year the administration has slashed admissions of Iranian Christians by 97%, Iraqi Christians by 96%, Iraqi and Syrian Yezidis by 97% and Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar by 77%, compared to the last government spending year of the Obama administration.

"The Trump administration cannot cheer on the world to protect religious minorities in one breath, while substantively cutting its own protections for these groups in the next," said Nazanin Ash, the IRC's vice president of Global Policy & Advocacy.