Xinjiang Religious Leader Says U.S. Lying About Human Rights Violations in Region, China

A Xinjiang Muslim religious leader said Thursday that the U.S. is lying about human rights violations in the region where China has been accused of human rights abuses and genocide against mostly Muslim ethnic Uyghurs.

Abdureqip Tomurniyaz, president of the Xinjiang Islamic Association, accused forces in the U.S. and other Western nations of lying a day after human rights groups and Western nations met to demand for U.N. human rights experts to visit Xinjiang, China. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized China for "crimes against humanity and genocide against Muslim Uyghurs."

"They want to sabotage Xinjiang's harmony and stability, contain China's rise and alienate relations between China and Islamic countries," Tomurniyaz said during a reception for the press and foreign diplomats.

He said the U.S. had its own human rights violations such as American involvement in Muslim conflicts in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan. He added that their was anti-Muslim discrimination in the U.S.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Supporters of China's Muslim Uyghurs
Supporters of China's Muslim Uyghur minority hold banners and wave flags of East Turkestan as they gather at the Fatih mosque on December 20, 2019, during a demonstration at Fatih in Istanbul, Turkey. On Thursday, a Xinjiang Muslim religious leader in China accused the U.S. of lying about human rights violations against Uyghurs. Ozan Kose/AFP via Getty Images

Muslim leaders from the Xinjiang region rejected Western allegations that China is suppressing religious freedom, speaking at a reception Thursday at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

The event was the latest in a series of moves by the Chinese government to counter accusations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang. The day before, Blinken condemned China during the release of an annual report on international religious freedom.

Xinjiang is a remote northwest region where China has been accused of mass incarcerations, forced labor and forced sterilization in recent years as it imposed a strict security regime after a series of militant attacks.

Echoing the government line, Tomurniyaz said China had eradicated the breeding ground for extremism by improving livelihoods, teaching people about the law and setting up vocational training and education centers. Foreign analysts say the centers are part of a detention system that has locked up an estimated 1 million people or more over time.

Tomurniyaz also heads the school for Islamic studies in Xinjiang.

Religious leaders from five mosques spoke at the 90-minute presentation, three in person and two by video. They all described prayers and feasting for Eid al-Fitr and rejected criticism of China's religious policies. Videos showed men praying inside mosques and people dancing in squares outside.

Mamat Juma, the imam of the historic Id Kah mosque in the city of Kashgar, said all ethnic groups in Xinjiang support the steps taken to combat terrorism. He said people are grateful to the ruling Communist Party for restoring stability and promoting economic growth.

At a daily briefing Thursday afternoon, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said Wednesday's meeting was based on "lies and political bias," and accused participating nations of ignoring their own histories of prejudice and racism.

"The conference was full of monstrous lies and disinformation, and was another clumsy performance and outright political farce by the United States and a few other countries that have no bottom lines," Hua said.

Hua said China was not denying unfettered access to Xinjiang for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights because it had anything to hide, but because of the likelihood that any resulting reports would be distorted.

"I would like to ask that if someone falsely accuses and frames you with lies and then brutally and unreasonably demands you open your door unconditionally and allow them to go to your home and rummage through your closet, will you allow? This is not about facts, but about sovereignty and dignity," Hua said.

"China welcomes all unbiased people from all countries to visit Xinjiang but is firmly opposed to so-called investigations that are based on rumors and lies and presumption of guilt," Hua said.

Ahead of the meeting, China's U.N. Mission sent notes to many of the U.N.'s 193 member nations urging them not to participate in the "anti-China event." And China's U.N. ambassador, Zhang Jun, sent text messages to the 15 Western co-sponsors of the meeting expressing shock at their support and urging them to "think twice" and withdraw it.

Zhang warned that if they didn't, it would be "harmful to our relationship and cooperation."

At the meeting, British U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward called the situation in Xinjiang "one of the worst human rights crises of our time."

"The evidence, from a growing number of credible sources—including satellite imagery, survivor testimony and publicly available Chinese government documents—is of grave concern," said Woodward, who previously was the U.K. ambassador in China.

"The evidence points to a program of repression of specific ethnic groups. Expressions of religion have been criminalized and Uyghur language and culture are discriminated against systematically and at scale."