Wednesday , March 22 2023

UK MPs urge gov’t to block Xinjiang official


LONDON: A cross-party group of MPs are urging the government to block a planned visit to the UK by a senior Chinese official accused of overseeing severe human rights violations in Xinjiang.

If the trip goes ahead, the MPs argue, a private prosecution should be allowed to be brought against him. One even suggested the Chinese official should be arrested.

Erkin Tuniyaz is a top-level Chinese Communist Party member and the governor of China’s north-western Xinjiang Province. In 2021 MPs approved a non-binding Commons motion which declared Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in Xinjiang were “suffering crimes against humanity and genocide”.

On Thursday in the Commons, MPs voiced their outrage after the government said Tuniyaz might arrive in the UK at the weekend and have a meeting with Foreign Office officials next week. The United Nations has accused China of “serious human rights violations” and possible crimes against humanity in Xinjiang. Human rights groups believe more than one million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities have been detained in camps. China denies its committed abuses in Xinjiang, and says the camps are “learning facilities” intended for de-radicalization.

Seven MPs have signed a letter to Attorney General Victoria Prentis asking her to give “serious consideration” to a request to approve a private prosecution of Tuniyaz.

Lawyers for Erbakit Ortaby, an ethnic Kazakh who now lives in the UK, say they lodged the request this week.

Ortabay claims he was detained in one of a “network of internment camps” China has constructed in Xinjiang. He alleges he was arbitrarily detained for several months, experienced forced labour, and was subjected to torture.

His legal team say Erkin Tuniyaz, as the governor of Xinjiang, is not entitled to diplomatic immunity because he holds a position of “state responsibility” and was “directly responsible for the implementation of policies designed to restrict the basic rights and freedoms of Uyghur people”.

They say torture is a “universal jurisdiction” offence that can be prosecuted in any country, but the attorney general must approve it.

The seven MPs, who include Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Bryant and Alistair Carmichael, say in their letter to Victoria Prentice they understand “evidence has been submitted” to the Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Team “for investigation and possible action when (Tuniyaz) arrives on Sunday”.

They add “we hope you will give this application serious consideration. In the absence of an international mechanism to hold to account those responsible for Uyghur abuses, we must seize every opportunity to ensure accountability”.

The attorney general’s office has been approached for comment.

Earlier, in the Commons, Foreign Office Minister Leo Docherty was heckled by Tory MPs as he explained Tuniyaz may travel on a diplomatic passport and so could not be denied entry as he has not been sanctioned by the UK.

Docherty said: “He has not been invited by the UK government or by the FCDO [Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office] and we have no confirmation that he will in fact travel.”He said ministers would not meet Tuniyaz but had approved a meeting with Foreign Office officials as part of a policy he described as “robust pragmatism” to ensure continued dialogue with China.

“The judgment of ministers has been that these opportunities are useful in their ability to offer a chance to express a very forthright condemnation of the outrages in Xinjiang.” (Int’l News Desk)

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