The Prime Minister said he “stands firmly” with MPs and other British citizens who have been slapped with Chinese sanctions for speaking out against “gross human rights violations” against the Uighur people.
China has hit British institutions and MPs, including senior Tories Sir Iain Duncan Smith and Tom Tugendhat, with sanctions in response to similar moves by the UK over the treatment of people in Xinjiang.
The Far East powerhouse retaliated after Britain, the US, Canada and the European Union on Monday placed sanctions on Chinese officials deemed responsible for human rights abuses in the country’s autonomous north-west territory.
Boris Johnson tweeted: “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 Uighur Muslims.
“Freedom to speak out in opposition to abuse is fundamental and I stand firmly with them.”
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.
Freedom to speak out in opposition to abuse is fundamental and I stand firmly with them.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) March 26, 2021
This comes after a campaign to raise awareness of persecution of Uyghur Muslims by China, with reports of forced sterilisation, forced labour, and up to one million people being detained in ‘re-education camps’.
A Jewish News-led petition signed by 150 parliamentarian was handed in to Number 10 by Tory backbencher Nus Ghani MP last year, urging action on the issue.
Mr Tugendhat, chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said the decision by China to sanction him and six parliamentarians were the actions of a “vulnerable and weak” state that was “lashing out”.
“I view this as a direct assault on British democracy and an attempt to silence the British people who have chosen me to speak for them – if that isn’t an assault on British sovereignty, I don’t know what is,” the senior MP told BBC News.
Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said he considered being the target of Chinese sanctions as a “badge of honour” and argued it was the duty of those elected to speak out against human rights abuses in Hong Kong and China’s “genocide of the Uighur people”.
“Those of us who live free lives under the rule of law must speak for those who have no voice,” the ex-cabinet minister said.
“If that brings the anger of China down upon me, then I shall wear that as a badge of honour.”
The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), which counts five of the seven sanctioned parliamentarians as members, said it would be seeking “urgent representations” to ministers to ensure those listed were “protected from danger or harm as a result of the (Chinese) Communist Party’s bullying”.
IPAC member and Tory MP Nusrat Ghani told the BBC China’s reaction was a “wake-up call” but that she would not be “intimidated”.
“This has now made me feel even more determined to speak about the Uighur,” she said.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab this week called the abuse of the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang “one of the worst human rights crises of our time” and announced a package of travel bans and asset freezes against four senior officials and the state-run Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau (XPCC PSB).
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement early on Friday the move by Mr Raab was “based on nothing but lies and disinformation”.
The ministry said it had sanctioned nine people and four British institutions “that maliciously spread lies and disinformation”.
A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in the UK said “lies of the century” were being spread about what was going on in Xinjiang in order to “demonise China” and that it “strongly” opposed British sanctions.
Sir Iain, Mr Tugendhat, Tory MPs Neil O’Brien, Tim Loughton and Ms Ghani, Lord David Alton, Labour’s Baroness Helena Kennedy, barrister Geoffrey Nice and academic Joanne Nicola Smith Finley were the individuals sanctioned.
The groups were the China Research Group, the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, Uyghur Tribunal and Essex Court Chambers.
Mr Raab, reacting to China’s announcement, said: “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.
“If Beijing wants 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.”
Labour shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said China would “not succeed” in silencing British criticism of human rights abuses.
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