Uyghur Relatives Deployed by China to Counter Abuse Testimony Rejected as ‘Forced’ Witnesses

China stages a news conference to discredit grim accounts heard by the June 4-7 Uyghur Tribunal.
By Roseanne Gerin
2021.06.09
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Uyghur Relatives Deployed by China to Counter Abuse Testimony Rejected as ‘Forced’ Witnesses Kazakh-Uyghur Omir Bekali (L) demonstrates how he says he was shackled in chains at a 're-education camp' in northwestern China's Xinjiang region, at the 'Uyghur Tribunal' in London, June 4, 2021.
AFP

Chinese officials of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) presented relatives of ethnic Uyghurs at a news conference on Wednesday to speak out against witnesses who testified during a recent independent tribunal in London, discrediting their accounts of torture, sexual assaults, and other grave human rights violations inflicted on Muslims in the region.

Xu Guixiang, a deputy spokesperson for the Xinjiang regional government who led the news conference, rejected testimony provided by witness at the “Uyghur Tribunal” that aimed to gather evidence on whether the Chinese government’s alleged human rights abuses in the XUAR constitute genocide.

More than 30 witness and experts submitted written testimony and reports and replied to questions at the June 4-7 tribunal, chaired by prominent British attorney Geoffrey Nice. The nine jurors will hold a second round of hearings in September and are expected to issue a non-binding verdict in December.

At Wednesday’s news conference, relatives of Uyghur internment camp survivors rejected grim accounts of abuse presented at the tribunal, while Xu called the London panel a “pseudo tribunal” performed by actors telling fabrications and lies.

During a similar news conference in April, Xu said witnesses who shared experiences in the XUAR’s detention camp system were “actors” who “make a living by smearing Xinjiang abroad” in exchange for refugee status and material benefits.

A reporter from Britain’s ITV News challenged Xu and what appeared to be a staged news conference.

“The accusation could also be made the other way; that is, a scripted procedure that you are conducting this morning and that those relatives have been put up to give evidence in a scripted manner,” said Debi Edward, Asia correspondent for ITV News.

“So who are we to believe in this scenario, and why should we believe you rather than what is being said at the tribunal that was held in the UK?” she asked.

Xu did not provide a direct answer to the reporter’s question.

The London-based tribunal invited the witnesses Xu presented to appear at the next round of hearings in autumn.

"The Uyghur Tribunal’s primary concern is the impact on the wellbeing of the witnesses who gave evidence at the recent Tribunal Hearings in London and to the relatives and a neighbour of those witnesses who appeared at the PRC conference," it said in a statement.

"The Tribunal notes the statements made by the relatives and a neighbour and the Tribunal extends an invitation to them to attend the Tribunal’s next Hearings in September of this year," the panel said in response to the XUAR media event.

"We would invite the PRC to confirm that they are at liberty to travel to the UK if they so wished."

China has subjected relatives of Uyghur exiles to what appear to be coerced interviews with state media in which they say the purported victims were never detained, pledge allegiance to the ruling Communist Party, and denigrate their family members abroad for telling “lies.”

The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) noted that Beijing “has a known history of broadcasting forced confessions and holding family members of activists abroad in duress.”

“IPAC condemns these cruel and senseless attempts to intimidate activists abroad,” the lawmakers group said on Twitter.

“We salute the courage of all taking part in the #UyghurTribunal,” it added.

Dolkun Isa, president of president of the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), a Germany-based organization representing the interest of the Uyghurs in the XUAR and abroad, said it was “despicable” that Chinese authorities forced the people to lie about the suffering of their family members in the camps.

“There’s no doubt these family members are being held hostage and were forced to say what they were told against their loved ones by the authorities,” he said in a statement.

China has held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a network of detention camps since 2017. Beijing has said that the camps are vocational training centers or re-education centers and has denied widespread and documented allegations that it has subjected Muslims living in the XUAR to severe rights abuses.

The Uyghurs are a predominantly Muslim group estimated at more than 12 million people in the XUAR. Smaller numbers of Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, fellow Turkic speaking people, have also been incarcerated in the camp system.

“Today’s press conference by the Xinjiang government just a day after the conclusion of the Uyghur Tribunal is a desperate attempt to whitewash China’s atrocities against the Uyghurs and other indigenous Turkic peoples in East Turkestan,” Dolkun Isa said.

He also said that China should show it “has nothing to hide” by allowing those who appeared at the press conference to attend the session of the Uyghur Tribunal in September and freely provide testimony.

In late May, Chinese officials and state media has lashed out at the Uyghur Tribunal ahead of its first session, with Xu saying that Beijing “condemned and despised” the hearings.

“This is a total violation of international law and order, a serious desecration of the victims of real genocide, and a serious provocation to the 25 million people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang,” Xu told reporters at a briefing in the capital.

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