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Government Condemns China’s "Attempt to Silence" MPs Who Have Criticised The Country

Government Condemns China’s 'Attempt to Silence' MPs Who Have Criticised The Country

Tory MPs Neil O'Brien, Nus Ghani and Tom Tugendhat are among those facing sanctions (Parliament.uk)

5 min read

Boris Johnson has condemned China’s decision to impose sanctions on five MPs over their staunch criticism of the country’s treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority.

It comes after the UK, US, EU and Canada imposed a coordinated set of sanctions against Beijing on Monday over human rights violations against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, where it’s believed at least 1 million are being detained in camps.

In response, the country’s foreign ministry announced on Friday it was banning nine citizens and four organisations of UK origin from the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Macau, having already imposed sanctions against the EU bloc. 

Those affected would also have any assets in China frozen, and Chinese citizens will be prohibited from doing business or associating with them.

The statement claimed those named had “maliciously spread lies and disinformation” about the country which “flagrantly breaches international law and basic norms governing international relations”. 

The Prime Minister has condemned the sanctions. "The MPs and other British citizens sanctioned by China today are performing a vital role shining a light on the gross human rights violations being perpetrated against Uyghur Muslims," Boris Johnson said.

"Freedom to speak out in opposition to abuse is fundamental and I stand firmly with them."

And foreign secretary Dominic Raab commented: “It speaks volumes that, while the UK joins the international community in sanctioning those responsible for human rights abuses, the Chinese government sanctions its critics,” he said. 

“If Beijing want to credibly rebut claims of human rights abuses in Xinjiang, it should allow the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights full access to verify the truth.”

He added on Twitter: “We condemn China’s attempt to silence those highlighting human rights abuses, at home and abroad, including UK MPs and peers.”

MPs affected by the sanctions include Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Nusrat Ghani and Tim Loughton, as well as peers Baroness Kennedy and Lord Alton — all of whom are members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China.

“The imposition of tit for tat sanctions is a crude attempt to silence criticism. But the CCP needs to learn that you can’t silence the whole world and that the first duty of a parliamentarian is to use their voice on behalf of those whose voices have been silenced,” said Lord Alton, who leads the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, said in a statement. 

He added: “British Parliamentarians will go on speaking truth to power, and truth to tyranny, using their freedoms and raising their voices on behalf of those who are denied such rights and privileges.”

Foreign affairs committee chair Tom Tugendhat and Tory MP Neil O’Brien are also on the list alongside the China Research Group, a parliamentary organisation they both lead.

"It is tempting to laugh off this measure as a diplomatic tantrum," the pair said in a statement. 

"But in reality it is profoundly sinister and just serves as a clear demonstration of many of the concerns we have been raising about the direction of China under Xi Jinping.

"Other mainstream European think tanks have also been sanctioned this week and it is telling that China now responds to even moderate criticism with sanctions, rather than attempting to defend its actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang."

Other individuals and groups named include Newcastle University academic Jo Smith Finley, whose research focuses on Uyghur Muslims; Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, chair of the Uighur Tribunal, which is investigating human rights abuses against the minority group; and the Conservative party’s own Human Rights Commission.

Commenting on the news, Ms Ghani told the BBC’s Today programme: "This is a wake-up call for all democratic countries and lawmakers that we will not be able to conduct our day-to-day business without China sanctioning us for just attempting to expose what's happening in Xinjiang and the abuse against the Uighurs."

She added: "I won't be intimidated. This has now made me even more determined to speak out about the Uighurs."

Iain Duncan Smith said he would wear the sanctions against him as a “badge of honour”.

"It is our duty to call out the Chinese governments human rights abuses in Hong Kong and their genocide of the Uighur people," he said. 

"Those of us who live free lives under the rule of law must speak for those who have no voice.

Smith Finley, of Newcastle University, wrote on Twitter that she had “no regrets for speaking out” about the treatment of the Uighurs and that she “will not be silenced”.

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