Uyghur, protest, Erkin Tuniyaz
Uyghur and human rights activists gathered opposite the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office in London to protest against the Chinese delegation with Erkin Tuniyaz, the governor of Xinjiang region, February 13, 2023. Photo credit: © Thomas Krych/ZUMA Press Wire

A controversial Chinese official has canceled an EU visit following a campaign from human rights activists who pointed to his involvement in the repression of China’s Muslim minority.

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The visit of high-ranking Chinese official Erkin Tuniyaz to the United Kingdom and the European Union appears to have been scrapped at the last moment this week following an outcry from European lawmakers and human rights activists.

At issue is the role that Tuniyaz, the leading official of Xinjiang’s regional government, plays in China’s controversial treatment of its Muslim minority. 

While Beijing maintains that it is doing nothing wrong, the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has found that China’s actions in Xinjiang “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.” Crimes against humanity involve large-scale violence and are among the gravest human rights violations.

Individual governments and human rights groups have also sharply condemned the treatment of China’s Muslim minority.

This matter has taken on a new dimension with the publication of the explosive Xinjiang Police Files. These documents, obtained through hacking and decoding confidential information, shed light on China’s campaign of planned ethnic restructuring in the Xinjiang region. They describe in great detail that Uyghurs, a Turkic-Muslim minority in China, face torture, forced labor, and brainwashing tactics in prison-resembling “re-education camps.” 

For example, according to these documents, the Chinese government planned the settlement of 30,000 Han Chinese people to the Xinjiang region. The goal was for them to live with the Uyghurs in order to observe and report on their behavior. Cameras with face recognition and spy softwares installed on their phones round out the surveillance. 

“The UK and EU should not be drawn into meetings with senior Xinjiang officials so that China can whitewash its atrocities in the Uyghur region,” UK director at Human Rights Watch, Yasmine Ahmed, said before the trip was canceled. 

Adrian Zenz, the leader of the Xinjiang Police Files research team, said the internment of the Chinese Muslims is “most likely the largest incarceration of an ethno-religious minority since the Holocaust.”

In spite of these revelations, Tuniyaz was reportedly planning a trip to Brussels this week following a visit in London. 

While the US has sanctioned him and nine other Chinese government officials, and taken more than 100 punitive actions in total, neither the EU nor the UK has taken such measures yet. In the UK, only four people involved in what British MPs call “genocide” have been sanctioned.

Human rights groups and many EU and UK lawmakers were incensed by reports of the planned visit and demanded that the “only meetings with Tuniyaz should be in a courtroom,” as British MP Alicia Kearns put it.

“The UK and EU should not be drawn into meetings with senior Xinjiang officials so that China can whitewash its atrocities in the Uyghur region,” UK Human Rights Watch Director Yasmine Ahmed said before the trip was canceled. 

China maintains that it is not doing anything improper.

“The so-called ‘violation’ or ‘repression’ of human rights is the lie of the century propagated by anti-China forces, and has long been debunked by facts,” said Chinese spokesperson Wang Wenbin when asked about the trip. “We once again urge parties concerned to look at Xinjiang’s strong socioeconomic development in an objective light, stop using Xinjiang-related issues for political manipulation and stop meddling in China’s internal affairs.”

Please Donate to WhoWhatWhyIn the face of the backlash, the trips have now reportedly been canceled — although the Foreign Ministry of China has not yet officially confirmed this. However, the planned visit itself had also not been publicly announced. 

The only thing close to an announcement was a leaked email to activist groups. News of the cancellation came out in a tweet from the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, who claimed they heard the news from government sources. Nevertheless, a confirmation by the Chinese Foreign Ministry has not been issued. 

In any case, it appears as though the pressure, protests, and advocacy of activists and lawmakers have been successful this time and were celebrated as such. 

“The cancellation of Erkin Tuniyaz’ trip is an important victory for the Uyghur community and all who have stood up against the Chinese government’s crimes against humanity and genocide,” Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, commented on the newest developments. “Europe must not leave it at that, however. It must take a proactive stance and sanction Tuniyaz and other complicit officials, as well as double down on other efforts to hold those responsible to account.”


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