The actions on Thursday target a cluster of officials who played a major role in devising and enforcing policies in the country’s western Xinjiang region that have detained hundreds of thousands — some estimates put it at more than a million — members of largely Muslim ethnic minorities in indoctrination camps, while also smothering those groups under a net of surveillance.
Mr. Chen, the most prominent of the four officials, has been the Communist Party secretary of Xinjiang since August 2016. He oversaw a rise in mass detentions of Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities. The New York Times reported last year on government documents from the Xinjiang region that described how Mr. Chen, who previously served as a party chief of Tibet, ordered officials to “round up everyone who should be rounded up.”
“Chen Quanguo is truly one of the worst human rights abusers in the world today, and he cut his repressive teeth in Tibet,” said Matteo Mecacci, president of the International Campaign for Tibet, in response to the announcement on Thursday. “By developing a model of intense security and forced assimilation in the Tibet Autonomous Region, then implementing and expanding on that model in Xinjiang, Chen has inflicted untold suffering on millions of Tibetans, Uighurs and other non-Chinese ethnic groups.”
Another official facing sanctions, Mr. Zhu, led a Communist Party law-and-order committee in Xinjiang from 2016 until early last year. Mr. Zhu is less well-known than Mr. Chen, but appears to have played an important role in the mass-detention drive, urging officials across the region and helping them cope with the practicalities of rapidly confining hundreds of thousands of people.
In 2017, a directive signed by Mr. Zhu called recent terrorist attacks in Britain “a warning and a lesson for us.” It blamed the British government’s “excessive emphasis on ‘human rights above security,’ and inadequate controls on the propagation of extremism on the internet and in society.”
Mr. Huo and Mr. Wang, the two other officials the Treasury Department placed sanctions on, were senior police officials in Xinjiang who helped introduce the surveillance programs and technology that have constricted Uighurs and other minority members, tracking their movements, recording their visits to mosques or other sensitive sites and collecting their DNA and other biometric information.
Chinese officials have repeatedly defended the indoctrination camps, which are intended to break down inmates’ devotion to Islam, deter any “separatist” tendencies and turn people into loyal supporters of the Communist Party.