Pompeo urges Indonesia to focus on China's treatment of Uighurs

(Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday urged Indonesians to focus on the treatment of Muslim Uighurs in China, describing it as the “gravest threat” to religious freedom in a speech to an Islamic group.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walks with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi as he arrives at Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, October 29, 2020. Courtesy of Oktavianto Dermawan/Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Handout via REUTERS

On a trip to the world’s largest Muslim majority country, Pompeo praised Indonesia’s tradition of tolerance, but urged Jakarta to resist China’s entreaties to “look away from the torments of your fellow Muslims”.

Pompeo said China had brutalised its Uighur minority in Xinjiang province, corralling them in huge detention centres and forcing some to eat pork during the Islamic holy month.In his address to the youth wing of Indonesia’s largest Muslim group, he also accused China of separating Uighur children from their parents and imposing sterilisations.

China denies mistreating Uighurs and says the camps are vocational training centres that are needed to tackle extremism and promote development.

Indonesians are typically vocal about the mistreatment of Muslims, but the backlash against abuses of Uighurs has been comparatively muted.

China - Indonesia’s largest trade partner and a leading investor - has also embarked on a diplomatic push to influence perceptions about Uighurs in Indonesia, including paid trips for journalists and Muslim leaders to Xinjiang.

Indonesia’s foreign minister Retno Marsudi has said her government has pressed China on the treatment of Uighurs.

Pompeo also lamented the rise in “blasphemy accusations” and discrimination against non-official religions, both growing problems in Indonesia, according to Human Rights Watch’s Andreas Harsono.

Indonesia is religiously pluralist but recognises only five religions: Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism and Hinduism.

“Indonesia has a toxic blasphemy law and is planning to expand it,” said Harsono.

“Indonesia continuously discriminates against non-Islam and non-Sunni minorities, as well as indigenous faiths,” he said.

Pompeo is visiting Indonesia as part of a regional trip to bolster trade and security ties amid rising geopolitical tensions between the United States and China. He also met Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Foreign Minister Retno in Jakarta.

Additional reporting by Bernadette Christina Munthe; Editing by Ed Davies