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UK Lawmakers Demand Cancellation of Visit by Xinjiang Official Accused in Uyghur Genocide

FILE - In this April 22, 2021, photo, Erkin Tuniyaz speaks during a press conference in Urumqi in northwestern China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
FILE - In this April 22, 2021, photo, Erkin Tuniyaz speaks during a press conference in Urumqi in northwestern China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

A group of British members of Parliament are calling on the government to cancel a planned visit by Erkin Tuniyaz, chairman of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, due to his alleged involvement in what has been described as Uyghur genocide.

On Thursday, the MPs argued that if the visit goes ahead, a private prosecution should be allowed.

“I call on the U.K. government to rescind this invitation and sanction Erkin Tuniyaz and Chen Quanguo for their role in this crime against humanity and genocide,” Sir Iain Duncan Smith said. “The place to deal with these individuals is in a tribunal or court of law, not in the quiet office of a Foreign Office official.”

Seven MPs have sent a letter to the U.K. attorney general requesting a private prosecution of Tuniyaz, who is accused of restricting the basic rights and freedoms of Uyghur people.

The Foreign Office minister, Leo Docherty, stated that Tuniyaz may visit the U.K. next week on a diplomatic passport, but said he has not been invited by the British government.

“To be very clear, he has not been invited by the U.K. government or the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and we have no confirmation that he will, in fact, travel,” Docherty said in a statement sent to VOA by email.

According to Docherty, the U.K. has taken a leading role in holding China accountable for its actions in Xinjiang. In 2019, it became the first country to lead a joint statement at the U.N., which was supported by 23 countries and has since grown to 50 countries through diplomatic efforts.

“We have imposed sanctions on four individuals and one entity in Xinjiang and have introduced robust measures to tackle forced labor in supply chains,” Docherty said, adding that his country will continue to raise awareness and pressure China to change its behavior and stop its abuses in Xinjiang, making it clear that the world is watching.

Alicia Kearns, a British MP and chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, stated that the government's response was not enough.

She said, "There is no legitimate reason to allow this man, Erkin Tuniyaz, into our country. The only meetings with him should be in a courtroom."

The U.N. Human Rights Office has accused China of human rights violations against Uyghur and other Turkic Muslim groups, which may amount to crimes against humanity. The U.S. officially designated the mistreatment as genocide.

But China denies the allegations.

“The Chinese side has made clear its position on Xinjiang-related issues on various occasions,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told reporters in Beijing on Friday.

She called on the U.K. to “stop using Xinjiang-related issues for political manipulation and stop meddling in China’s internal affairs.”

“We hope the U.K. will look at Xinjiang’s strong socioeconomic development in an objective light.”

According to Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow and director of China studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial, evidence from Xinjiang police files shows that Tuniyaz personally ordered measures to prevent escapes from internment camps.

He was involved in the creation of the De-Extremification Regulation, which provided the basis for mass internments, and was closely informed of camp detention statistics, security measures and the work leading up to the mass internments.

“But the key evidence implicating him in the atrocity comes from #XinjiangPoliceFiles: On July 6, 2018, shortly after Chinese Minister of Public Security Zhao Kezhi's visit to Xinjiang. Tuniyaz spoke to the XUAR Stability Maintenance Command headquarters,” Zenz said in a tweet.

James Millward, a professor of Chinese history at Georgetown University, tweeted that if the U.K. foreign office talks to Tuniyaz, they should require him to appear before British reporters.

“Tuniyaz is being brazenly sent on a charm offensive to UK, EU, but he’s deeply involved in the mass internment regime in Uyghur region,” Millward said in his tweet. “If UK foreign office still talks to him, make him do a real press conference. Lots of material here to ask him about.”

Tuniyaz replaced Shohrat Zakir as chairman of Xinjiang in September 2021. In December 2021, he was sanctioned by the U.S. government for his alleged role in the Uyghur genocide.