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Protesting propaganda

At the UN Human Rights Council, demonstrations as China claims Uighurs enjoy ‘colorful and meaningful’ lives in re-education camps

Protesting propaganda

Uighurs and Tibetan people demonstrate against China during the Universal Periodic Review of China by the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)

As Western countries accuse China of indefinitely detaining 1 million Uighurs in its Xinjiang region, China continues to defend its action as a counterterrorism measure that has been misconstrued for “politically driven” reasons.

“This protects the human rights of the vast majority, while also saving these people,” Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng said on Tuesday at a review by United Nations Human Rights Council. “It’s another important contribution of China to the global counterterror field.”

At the review of human rights in China, which comes every five years, 150 UN member states had 45 seconds to speak, some using their time to compliment China’s economic growth or asking softball questions of the Communist country: Many of the countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East depend on large Chinese investments. Outside, up to 1,000 Tibetan and Uighur activists protested China’s actions against their people groups. 

Western countries including Australia, Canada, the United States, France, and Switzerland spoke out most strongly about the Uighur re-education camps. Mark Cassayre, the representative of the U.S. Mission to the UN in Geneva, called on 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 also called on China to release human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, Uighur professor Ilham Tohti, and human rights activist Huang Qi. International groups fear Huang will die in prison as the Chinese government refuses to give him medical care for his kidney disease, heart disease, and hydrocephalus (buildup of fluid in the brain). However, the United States commented only as an observer state, since it withdrew from the council in June. 

The 66-member China delegation continually defended its human rights record, stating in a written report submitted before the review that there was “no universal road for the development of human rights in the world,” and that China would pursue “human rights with Chinese characteristics.”

During the review, Yasheng Sidike, the Uighur mayor of Ürümqi, claimed the camps were necessary because “the threat of terrorism was quite serious.” He added that there had been no terrorist attacks in the past 22 months, and those in the camps have “never thought life could be so colorful and meaningful.”

Even though 50 Muslim countries were present, only Turkey broached the subject. Its representative spoke out against China’s “restriction on basic rights and liberties, like confinement of individuals without any legal grounds, and their separation from families and society.” Kazakhstan started to discuss the detention camps, but was cut off due to the time limit. 

Several countries called on China to allow the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights access to the camps. Yet because the council has no power to enforce a recommendation, China will likely refuse.

“China is trying to develop a response that can at least keep allies at the UN comfortable or deflect international criticism,” James Leibold, a China expert at Australia’s La Trobe University, told The New York Times. “What they probably fear the most is if … Muslim countries start to think this is unacceptable. That would be far more damaging.”

Luo Xiaoguang/Xinhua/AP

Louis Cha (Luo Xiaoguang/Xinhua/AP)

Death of a literary giant: 

Last week, novelist Louis Cha died at the age of 94. Cha, who wrote under the name Jin Yong, is sometimes called the J.R.R. Tolkien of China for his “wuxia” novels that mixed martial arts, Chinese history, romance, and magic. Cha’s books spawned TV shows and video games, and he is one of the most popular authors in the Chinese-speaking world. He also co-founded Ming Pao, one of the leading newspapers in Hong Kong.