China condemns ‘politically-driven’ criticism of Muslims policy

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China has once again rejected criticism of its treatment of ethnic Muslims, telling the United Nations that accusations of rights abuses from some countries were “politically driven”.

At a regular UN review of the country’s human rights record, China characterised the far west region of Xinjiang as a former hotbed of extremism that has been stabilised through “training centres” which help people gain employable skills.

Former detainees of such centres, on the other hand, have described the facilities as political indoctrination camps where ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities are forced to renounce their faith and swear loyalty to the ruling Communist Party.

Switzerland Protest Uyghur Tibet
Uighurs and Tibetan people demonstrate against China (Salvatore di Nolfi/AP)

At Tuesday’s review, part of the Human Rights Council’s periodic review process for every member state, the US, Canada, Japan and several other countries called on Beijing to address growing concerns over its treatment of Xinjiang Muslims.

US charge d’affaires Mark Cassayre urged China to “immediately release the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of individuals” arbitrarily detained in the region.

Representatives from both Canada and the UK said the country’s human rights situation has “deteriorated”.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng dismissed the censures.

CORRECTION Switzerland UN Human Rights UPR China
Chinese Vice-Foreign Affairs Minister Le Yucheng arrives to give evidence (Salvatore di Nolfi/AP)

Yasim Sadiq, the Uighur mayor of Xinjiang’s capital of Urumqi, told the session in Geneva that current policies are in line with the people’s wishes.

He repeated China’s frequently cited claim that no terrorist attacks have occurred in the region for 21 months, and that “trainees” who were previously “controlled by extremist ideology” have since immersed themselves in cultural and athletic activities at the centres.

Mr Sadiq said visitors are always welcome in Xinjiang, but he did not address requests from several countries to allow independent UN observers inside the region.

In recent years, Xinjiang has been outfitted with a high-tech security network, making police checkpoints and surveillance cameras ubiquitous throughout the region.

Switzerland Protest Uyghur Tibet
Uighur people demonstrating (Salvatore di Nolfi/AP)

“China’s efforts to whitewash its record have failed to convince a growing number of states who recognise China’s deliberate and systemic abuses, and suppression of dissenting voices, can no longer be ignored,” John Fisher, the organisation’s Geneva director, said in an emailed statement.

About 500 people, including ethnic Uighurs but also pro-Tibet demonstrators, marched through Geneva before holding a boisterous, colourful rally at Geneva’s landmark three-legged chair outside the UN offices.

Chanting “Shame On China” and accusing its government of tyranny and “terrorist” repression, the demonstrators waved light-blue flags representing East Turkistan, some Uighurs’ preferred name for Xinjiang, and held aloft photos of loved ones who have gone missing or were taken into custody by Chinese authorities.

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