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Bishop speaks out on treatment of Uighur Muslims in China

16 August 2019


Protesters from China’s Uyghur ethnic group take part in a rally against the Chinese government during the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, in June

Protesters from China’s Uyghur ethnic group take part in a rally against the Chinese government during the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, in June

THE Chinese government thinks that it can “fool the international community” and get away with injust treatment of religious minorities, the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, has said.

He described the treatment of Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region as “the latest example of the systematic crack down on religious minorities by the Chinese government.

“As well as the detention camps for Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang Province, and the demolition of Christian churches in Shanxi, the Chinese have also opened up camps, euphemistically called ‘vocational schools’, for Buddhists, in Tibet.

“I am glad to add my voice to religious and political leaders around the world to speak out against this oppression and protect these persecuted minorities.”

Officials in China have defended their policies in Xinjiang, where one million Uighurs have been detained in “political education” camps, human-rights activists say (News, 3 May).

“Most people who have received training have already returned to society, returned home,” Alken Tuniaz, the vice-chairman of Xinjiang and himself an Uighur, said at the end of last month. He accused other countries of having “inverted right and wrong, and slandered and smeared [China about the centres]”.

The statement was challenged by activists, including Amnesty International’s regional director for East and South-East Asia, Nicholas Bequelin.

“China is making deceptive and unverifiable statements in a vain attempt to allay worldwide concern for the mass detentions of Uighurs and members of other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang,” he said. “We have received no reports about large-scale releases. In fact, families and friends of people who are being detained tell us they are still not able to contact them.

“Given China’s record of heavy censorship, outright falsehoods, and systematic obfuscation about the situation in Xinjiang, it remains imperative that UN human-rights investigators, independent observers, and the media be given unrestricted access to the region as a matter of urgency.”

Tensions between China and the West over the treatment of Uighurs have risen in recent months. At a conference on religious freedom last month, the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, described it as the “stain of the century”.

Last month, a total of 22 ambassadors, including representatives of Australia, Canada, Japan, and Britain, signed a letter to the president of the UN Human Rights Council calling on China to end the detention of Uighurs. They also called on China to allow the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, “meaningful access” to the region.

But 37 countries, including Russia and Saudi Arabia, signed a letter defending China’s policies in the region. A copy of the letter, seen by Reuters, reads: “Faced with the grave challenge of terrorism and extremism, China has undertaken a series of counter-terrorism and deradicalisation measures in Xinjiang, including setting up vocational education and training centres.”

A Chinese diplomat, Jiang Duan, told the UN Human Rights Council that other countries could learn from China: “During the past three years, there has not been a single incident of a terrorist attack, and people in Xinjiang feel much better and much more happy and secure.”

Mr Tuniaz told the Council: “By setting up vocational education and training centres in accordance with the law, we aim to educate and save those who were influenced by religious extremism and committed minor legal offences. This will prevent them from becoming victims of terrorism and extremism, and protect the basic human rights of the citizens from infringement.”

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