Politicians and human rights groups across Europe have called for sanctions to be placed on a senior Chinese official implicated in the mass incarceration of Muslims in Xinjiang ahead of his visit to London and Brussels next week.
Erkin Tuniyaz, governor of the Xinjiang region of north-western China where about a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities have been detained in a widespread crackdown on the religion, is to hold a meeting with the Foreign Office next week.
Beijing has routinely denied the existence of human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and said its policies there are for economic development and counter-terrorism.
“The UK and EU should be investigating and imposing sanctions on Tuniyaz and other top Chinese officials for their role in crimes against humanity in Xinjiang,” said Yasmine Ahmed, UK director at advocacy group Human Rights Watch, on Friday.
While the UK imposed restrictions two years ago on some of the officials involved in Xinjiang’s mass detentions, it has so far avoided targeting the most senior leaders in the region, such as Tuniyaz.
The US, however, has put Tuniyaz and many more Chinese officials on its Magnitsky sanctions list, which freezes the global financial assets of alleged human rights offenders.
“There is incredulity across world parliaments that the UK and EU would allow a suspected atrocity criminal in for official meetings,” said Luke de Pulford, executive director of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, a cross-party group working towards changing countries’ policy towards China.
He added that the UK’s decision to receive Tuniyaz was a “profound insult” for the British Uyghur community who have “struggled for years to get a ministerial meeting”.
Leo Docherty, a Foreign Office junior minister, told the House of Commons on Thursday that Tuniyaz would meet officials, but not ministers, outside the premises of the Foreign Office.
The meeting would “make absolutely clear the UK’s abhorrence of the treatment of the Uyghur people”, he said.
In response, MPs from across the House have urged the government to reconsider its decision to offer a meeting to Tuniyaz.
Earlier this week, lawyers on behalf of Erbakit Otarbay, a Kazakh man who alleges he was tortured in Xinjiang, gave evidence to the London Metropolitan Police’s war crimes team and petitioned the attorney-general to arrest Tuniyaz upon his arrival in the UK.
Seven MPs, led by Sir Iain Duncan Smith, former leader of the Conservative party, wrote to the attorney-general Victoria Prentis KC MP urging her to give Otarbay’s request “serious consideration”.
“China is actively trying to rebuild its reputation and image, after disastrous years of international condemnation over its genocide and human rights record,” said Zumretay Arkin of the World Uyghur Congress, an international advocacy group.
She added that China is to be examined by a United Nations committee on cultural rights next week in Geneva.
Last August, a delayed UN investigation found evidence of “serious human rights violations” in Xinjiang that could constitute “crimes against humanity”.
Tuniyaz’s visit comes after the EU’s proposal to ban imports made using forced labour, and a UK High Court ruling that found “striking consensus” on the existence of abuse in Xinjiang’s cotton supply chain. Last year, the US banned all imports of content from Xinjiang.
The Chinese embassy in London was contacted for comment.