Uighurs: UK MPs banned by China vow to ‘redouble’ efforts against human rights abuseson March 26, 2021 at 4:29 pm

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Five sanctioned parliamentarians say they will continue to campaign for persecuted groups in China.

Iain Duncan Smith, Nusrat Ghani and Tom Tugendhat

image copyrightGetty Images/UK Parliament/PA Media

Five UK parliamentarians sanctioned by China have released a joint statement vowing to “redouble” their efforts to campaign against human rights abuses.

Three MPs, including ex-Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, and two peers said the action by China was an attempt to stifle “free and open debate”.

The PM said he “stands firmly” with those targeted by China for criticising its treatment of the Uighur people.

The sanctions follow similar moves by the UK, US, Canada and the EU on China.

China has imposed sanctions on nine UK citizens in total – including the five parliamentarians – who are among the most vocal critics of the country in the UK.

It said it was sanctioning the group for spreading what it called “lies and disinformation” about China.

In response, Sir Iain, along with MPs Nusrat Ghani and Tim Loughton, and the peers Lord Alton and Baroness Kennedy, said: “Today’s sanctions have unmasked the Chinese Communist Party.

“These actions are not only an attack on us as individuals but an attempt to stifle the free and open debate that is at the heart of our parliamentary democracy.”

The group added that “intimidation” would only encourage them to “redouble” their efforts, as they pledged to continue advocating on behalf of “the Uighurs, Tibetans, Hong Kongers and all other persecuted groups in China”.

“These are the true victims of the Chinese government’s authoritarian rule, not us,” they added.

In common with the government, the group also called for “international investigations into the alleged abuses” in Xingjian against the Uighur people.

Earlier, Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted: “The MPs and other British citizens sanctioned by China today are performing a vital role shining a light on the gross human rights violations being perpetrated against Uighur Muslims.

“Freedom to speak out in opposition to abuse is fundamental and I stand firmly with them.”

China has detained Uighurs at camps in the north-west region of Xinjiang, where allegations of torture, forced labour and sexual abuse have emerged.

It has denied the allegations of abuse, claiming the camps are “re-education” facilities used to combat terrorism.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that if Beijing wanted to “credibly rebut” the claims, it should allow the United Nation’s commissioner for human rights to access Xinjiang.

Sanctions were imposed on Chinese officials on Monday, as part of a co-ordinated action by the European Union and the UK, the US and Canada.

  • Tory MPs Sir Iain, Nusrat Ghani and Tim Loughton, and peers Baroness Kennedy and Lord Alton, who are all members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China
  • Tory MPs Tom Tugendhat and Neil O’Brien, who lead the China Research Group
  • Lawyer Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, chair of the Uighur Tribunal, which is investigating atrocities against the minority group
  • Newcastle University academic Jo Smith Finley, whose research focuses on the Uighurs

They will all be banned from entering China, Hong Kong and Macau, their property in China will be frozen and Chinese citizens and institutions will be prohibited from doing business with them.

Ms Ghani said the move had made her “even even more determined” to speak out about the Uighurs, while Sir Iain argued that those who lived free lives “must speak for those who have no voice”.

Mr Tugendhat, who chairs the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, told the BBC: “I view this as a direct assault on British democracy and an attempt to silence the British people who have chosen me to speak for them.”

He added that the government had been too soft on China, which he said had been “constantly and continuously seeking to intervene” in the internal matters of the UK.

Academic Dr Smith Finley tweeted: “I have no regrets for speaking out, and I will not be silenced.”

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Analysis box by James Landale, Diplomaitc correspondent

Britain’s relations with China are going from bad to worse.

On Monday, the UK imposed its first ever sanctions on Chinese officials for human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Now Beijing has retaliated, announcing sanctions on some of its most vocal critics in Britain.

It matters because the government is trying to strike a balance in its relations with Beijing.

In its recent foreign policy review, the UK described China as a “systemic competitor” and “the biggest state-based threat to the UK’s economic security”.

But it also spoke of pursuing “a positive trade and investment relationship” and co-operating with China on climate change and biodiversity. All that just became a little harder still.

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Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said the sanctions were a “direct attempt to silence those who criticise the actions of the Chinese government”.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said the UK’s decision to impose sanctions “flagrantly breaches international law and basic norms governing international relations, grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs, and severely undermines China-UK relations”.

He added that the Chinese foreign ministry had summoned the British Ambassador to China to “lodge solemn representations, expressing firm opposition and strong condemnation”.

Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry, later told a press briefing China was forced to act “in self-defence” in response to UK sanctions “based on lies”.

Workers walk by the perimeter fence of what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre in Dabancheng in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China September 4, 2018.

image copyrightReuters

Four groups have also been sanctioned – the China Research Group, the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, the Uighur Tribunal, and Essex Court Chambers.

A legal opinion by senior barristers at Essex Court Chambers had concluded there was a “very credible case” that the Chinese government was committing genocide against the Uighurs.

An Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China spokesman said: “The decision to sanction five of our British members is a flagrant assault on those parliamentarians’ rights to conduct their duties.

“We will be making urgent representations to ministers and the House authorities to see that they’re protected from danger or harm as a result of the communist party’s bullying.”

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Analysis box by Robin Brant, Shanghai correspondent

China has gone for the people exerting the most pressure on Boris Johnson to be tough on China.

It’s gone for the people who say “genocide” has happened in Xinjiang.

The measures are essentially tokenistic – it’s unlikely these people or entities did any business with Chinese firms or people anyway.

Targeting Neil O’Brien is personal for the UK prime minister. The MP is in charge of leading policy in Downing Street.

Going after Essex Court Chambers – a group of self-employed barristers – for a legal opinion it reached also shows you how China views an independent judicial system. It doesn’t believe in them.

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After UK sanctions were announced on Monday, Mr Raab called the abuse of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang “one of the worst human rights crises of our time”.

More than a million Uighurs and other minorities are estimated to have been detained in camps in Xinjiang.

A map showing the Xinjiang region

Xinjiang lies in the north-west of China and is the country’s biggest region. Like Tibet, it is autonomous, meaning – in theory – it has some powers of self-governance. But in practice, both face major restrictions by the central government.

Uighurs living in the region speak their own language, similar to Turkish, and see themselves as culturally and ethnically close to Central Asian nations.

The Chinese government has been accused of carrying out forced sterilisations on Uighur women and separating children from their families.

The country initially denied the existence of the camps, before defending them as a necessary measure against terrorism. It has denied allegations of human rights abuses.

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