China targets UK politicians for sanctions over Xinjiang ‘lies’

Foreign ministry says nine individuals and four groups subject to immediate sanctions and threatens further action.

Watchtowers on a high-security facility near what is believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained on the outskirts of Hotan in May 2019 [File: Greg Baker/ AFP]

China’s foreign ministry on Friday announced sanctions against individuals and organisations in the United Kingdom for “maliciously” spreading “lies and disinformation” on the situation in the far western region of Xinjiang where the United Nations says the Chinese government is committing rights abuses against the Uighurs and other minority Muslim groups.

The sanctions target nine people and four entities, banning the affected people and their family members from entering mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau, Chinese citizens and institutions from dealing with them.

“China is firmly determined to safeguard its national sovereignty, security and development interests, and warns the UK side not [to] go further down the wrong path,” the ministry said in a statement. “Otherwise, China will resolutely make reactions.”

Those sanctioned include Tom Tugendhat, an MP for the governing Conservative party who chairs Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith, and prominent human rights lawyer Helena Kennedy, who is an opposition Labour peer in the upper house. The sanctions have immediate effect.

Conservative politician Tom Tugendhat is among nine British people targeted for sanctions for what the Chinese government described as ‘lies and disinformation’ for rights abuses in Xinjiang [File: Tolga Akmen/AFP]
Prominent human rights lawyer Helena Kennedy, seen here with former US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in a discussion at Oxford University in 2018, is also among those sanctioned by China [FIle: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA]

Geoffrey Nice, who prosecuted the former Yugoslavian leader Slobodan Milosevic and is chairing the Uyghur Tribunal – an independent tribunal set up to investigate whether the alleged rights abuses in Xinjiang constitute genocide – was also among the nine.

Nice is also a patron of Hong Kong Watch, a Hong Kong group advocating for the rights and freedoms of the Chinese territory. The group said the sanctions marked the end of the so-called “golden era” of UK-China relations.

“A regime that sanctions UK parliamentarians, barristers, academics and activists for the ‘crime’ of voicing out concern over human rights abuse cannot seriously be considered a partner to the UK or a supporter of the international rules-based order,” Hong Kong Watch said in a statement, noting that another of its patrons, David Alton, was also among the individuals sanctioned.

The Uyghur Tribunal, which is due to hold its first hearing in May, was one of the four groups targeted by China alongside the China Research Group, Conservative Party Human Rights Commission (CPHRC), and Essex Court Chambers.

In a tweet, the CPHRC said it was “honoured to have been sanctioned by the Chinese Communist Party regime, in recognition of its tireless work documenting the horrific human rights crisis in China.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday gave strong backing to those sanctioned by China.

“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,” Johnson tweeted.

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

Earlier this week, the UK joined the US, Canada and the EU in imposing asset freezes and travel bans against Chinese government officials, as well as a Xinjiang security body, for “gross human rights violations” against the Uighurs and other minorities.

“Beijing is trying to send the message that they will not stand idly by with measures that they consider unfair from others,” said Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu, who is in the Chinese capital. “This is very much a symbolic move.”

The United Nations has said approximately one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic-speaking residents of the northwestern region have been held in a network of camps that China has described as vocational skills training centres necessary to counter extremism.

Rights groups said the Uighurs have also been subjected to other abuses including mass surveillance, sterilisation and restrictions on religion.

Source: Al Jazeera