China urged to close mass detention camps for Uighur Muslims

United Nations Human Rights Council criticises deterioration in China’s human rights

Samuel Osborne
Tuesday 06 November 2018 17:31 GMT
Muslims were tortured in 're-education' camp, explains former detainee Omar Bekali

Western nations including the US, France and Germany have called on China to close down detention camps which activists claim hold as many as 1 million Uighurs and other Muslims.

China, however, has rejected western criticism of its suspected use of mass detention and heavy surveillance of Uighurs in the western region of Xinjiang.

Beijing dismissed the allegation as “seriously far away from facts”.

“We will not accept politically driven accusations from a few countries that are fraught with biases,” China’s vice minister of foreign affairs, Le Yucheng, told the United Nations Human Rights Council.

At a debate at the Geneva forum – which reports on alleged violations in each UN member state every five years and reviewed China’s record on Tuesday – Beijing said it protected the freedoms of its 55 ethnic minorities.

China has said Xinjiang faces a threat from Islamist militants and separatists. It rejects all accusations of mistreatment and denies mass internment, although Chinese officials have said some citizens guilty of minor offences were being sent to vocational centres to work.

Mr Le, referring to Xinjiang, said: “Stability is most important, prevention should be put first. Setting up the training centres is a preventive measure to combat terrorism.”

Another Chinese delegate from Xinjiang said authorities were “providing free-of-charge vocational training with a diploma after exams” to those who had been “coerced or lured” by extremist groups.

For the last 22 months there had been “no incident of violent terrorism”, another Chinese delegate said.

But one after another, western countries spoke out against what they described as a deterioration in China’s human rights since the last review, especially over its treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang.

“We are alarmed by the government of China’s worsening crackdown on Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslims in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region,” the US charge d’affaires, Mark Cassayre, said.

The US urged China to “abolish all forms of arbitrary detention, including internment camps in Xinjiang, and immediately release the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of individuals detained in these camps”, he added.

China should also release activists including Wang Quanzhang, Ilham Tohti and Huang Qi, Mr Cassayre said.

An Uighur man looks on as a truck carrying paramilitary policemen travels along a street during an anti-terrorism oath-taking rally in Urumqi, Xinjiang (Reuters) (REUTERS)

Beijing should “halt massive imprisonment” and “guarantee freedom of religion and belief, including in Tibet and Xinjiang”, France’s ambassador, Francois Rivasseau, said.

A UN panel of human rights experts said on 10 August it had received many credible reports that 1 million ethnic Uighurs in China were being held in what resembled a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy”.

Up to 1,000 Tibetan and Uighur protesters from around Europe protested outside the UN headquarters in Geneva during Tuesday’s debate.

They carried signs saying “STOP China ethnic cleansing of Uighurs” and “Tibet dying, China lies”.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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