China expressed anger on Friday about an exiled leader from the violence-prone far western Chinese region of Xinjiang receiving a rights award in the United States, saying he was a wanted criminal.
Dolkun Isa, executive chairman of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, the leading ethnic Uighur group that advocates democracy and human rights in Xinjiang, received an award from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington on Wednesday.
China put Isa, a former student activist in Xinjiang, on list of Uighur "terrorists" in 2003. Germany accepted his claim of refugee status and granted him a passport in 2006. Isa says he condemns all terrorism.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Isa was a wanted man in China for crimes including murder.
"The giving of this award by the relevant organization to a terrorist like Dolkun Isa, who has carried out multiple crimes, is to profane and sully human rights and the rule of law," Hong said at a daily news briefing.
Foundation officials said they gave him the award for leading "a movement of principled opposition to the ongoing persecution" of the Uighur people and for continuously seeking a peaceful solution with the Chinese government.
The World Uyghur Congress cited Isa as saying in his acceptance speech that he rejects violence and the Uighurs are a "people of peace and development."
"These principles make the Uighur issue not a Uighur problem, but a Chinese government problem, a condition generated by systematic denial of fundamental human rights and freedoms," he said.
Hundreds of people have been killed in unrest in Xinjiang in the past few years. The government blames the violence on Islamist militants wanting to establish an independent state called East Turkestan for ethnic minority Uighurs, a mostly Muslim people who speak a Turkic language and hail from Xinjiang.
Exiles and rights groups say the unrest is not organized by any cohesive militant group but is more a reaction to repressive government policies. China strongly denies abusing anyone's rights in Xinjiang.