Prague Mayor Calls on Global Community to Address Treatment of Uyghurs

Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib issued a call to the international community to "work toward ending" the alleged human rights abuses of Uyghurs in China during an episode of Newsweek's "The Diplomat" podcast released earlier this week.

Speaking with podcast host Jason Greenblatt, the White House envoy to the Middle East during former President Donald Trump's administration, Hřib touched upon his concerns for the Uyghur people as the world's focus was settling on Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, which begin in Beijing on Friday. Human rights concerns in China's Xinjiang region prompted U.S. President Joe Biden to decide late last year that his administration would not send diplomatic representation to the Games.

Allegations of human rights violations in China, including imprisonment and forced labor of members of the Uyghur community, raised concerns among independent human rights experts with the United Nations, who said last year that the allegations would, if found to be true, "constitute grave human rights abuses." A report released last June by Amnesty International estimated hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs, most of whom are Muslims, were allegedly "arbitrarily detained" in Xinjiang.

China has denied all human rights abuse allegations, calling them "a complete lie" and "political games that ignore facts and have hidden motives."

Zdenek Hrib Prague Uyghurs
Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib discussed his attendance at the World Uyghur Congress' conference last fall during a recent episode of Newsweek's podcast "The Diplomat." Above, Hřib is photographed speaking prior to a signing ceremony for the "Pact of Free Cities" at Central European University in Budapest on December 16, 2019. ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP via Getty Images

The Czech Republic's capital city once had "sister city" agreements with Shanghai and Beijing, partnerships traditionally set up so exchanges in trade, culture, education and more can be formalized. Prague's strengthening relationship with Taiwan in recent years was considered by China to be a violation of the "one China" policy included within those sister agreements, Hřib explained on the podcast, prompting both Shanghai and Beijing to cancel their agreements with Prague.

The World Uyghur Congress, which advocates on behalf of Uyghurs around the globe, held its 7th General Assembly in November in Prague, where Hřib has served as the city's mayor since late 2018. Hřib attended the conference, which was condemned by a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in the Czech Republic.

On the first day of the Congress' meeting last November, the embassy released a statement in which it alleged the organization was an "anti-Chinese separatist organization that has long been fabricating slander and sin against Xinjiang," as well as "spreading religious extremism" and "inciting terrorist and separatist activities."

Hřib addressed the comments while at the November meeting.

"I hear that China is unhappy about this conference being held here in Prague," Hřib said in a statement shared online by the World Uyghur Congress. "Well, I am unhappy there's a country in 2021 that has concentration camps."

During his conversation with Greenblatt, Hřib said he spoke at the conference "mainly about the necessity to speak up against violations of human rights in China," in addition to his thoughts on China's economic influence in Central and Eastern Europe, which he said "is very, very overrated."

"After that conference, I had the privilege to meet Uyghur survivors from the Xinjiang concentration camps," Hřib told Greenblatt. "And I was horrified to hear what they had experienced."

Hřib then put out a call to anyone who might be listening around the world.

"I would like to use this opportunity to call on the international community to work towards ending these concentration camps, the forced labor, the Uyghur genocide, and forced organ harvesting," he said.

Hřib went on to say the alleged human rights violations "have no place in civilized society," nor, he added, does the act of "turning a blind eye to these atrocities."