Several Western countries have imposed sanctions on officials in China for human rights violations against the Muslim Uyghur minority.
China is accused of detaining Uighurs in camps in the northwestern Xinjiang region, and systematically torture them, as well as forced labor and sexual assault.
The sanctions were adopted as a coordinated effort by the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada, while the Chinese response was to Beijing imposing sanctions in turn on European officials.
China denies the abuse allegations, asserting that the camps are “re-education” facilities used to combat terrorism.
But the British Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, said that the treatment of the Uighurs amounted to “appalling violations of the most basic human rights.”
The European Union has not imposed any sanctions on China for human rights violations since the crackdown on the famous Tiananmen Square in 1989, when security forces in Beijing fired on pro-democracy protesters.
What do we know about sanctions?
Sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, target senior Xinjiang officials accused of committing serious human rights violations against Uighur Muslims.
- Chen Mingo, director of Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, local police force
- Wang Mingshan, a member of the Communist Party Standing Committee in Xinjiang, who the European Union says “holds a key political position responsible for overseeing the detention of Uyghurs.”
- Wang Junzheng, party secretary of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a state-owned economic and paramilitary organization
- Former vice chairman of the Communist Party of Xinjiang, Zhou Hailun, accused of holding a key political position in overseeing camp administration
- The Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau, responsible for implementing the Corps’ policies on security matters, including the administration of detention centers.
Raab described the violation of the rights of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang as “one of the worst human rights crises of our time.”
“I think it is clear that by working with our partners – 30 of us in total – we are sending the clearest message to the Chinese government, that the international community will not turn a blind eye to such serious and systematic violations of basic human rights and told his fellow parliamentarians, ‘We will work in coordination to hold those responsible accountable.’”
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a statement that China was committing “genocide and crimes against humanity.” The United States said it had imposed sanctions on Wang Junqing and Chen Mingo for their association with “arbitrary detention and severe physical violations, among other serious human rights violations.”
“The mounting evidence points to systematic human rights violations committed by the state by the Chinese authorities,” the Canadian Foreign Ministry said.
The sanctions came amid growing international scrutiny over Chinas treatment of Uighurs.
What is China accused of?
It is estimated that more than a million Uighurs and other minorities are held in camps in Xinjiang.
Xinjiang is located in northwest China and is the largest region in the country. Like Tibet, it is autonomous, which means – in theory – that it has some powers of self-government. In practice, however, both face significant restrictions imposed by the central government.
Uighurs who live in the region speak their own language, and perceive them to be culturally and ethnically close to the countries of Central Asia.
The Chinese government has been accused of conducting forced sterilizations of Uyghur women and separating children from their families.
A BBC investigation, published last February, included direct testimonies of systematic rape, sexual assault and torture of detainees.
One woman testified that women were taken out of their cells “every night” and raped by one or more masked Chinese men. A former guard in one of the camps, speaking on the condition of anonymity, described the torture and deprivation of food for inmates.
China has banned BBC World News television due to its coverage of the Uyghur and coronavirus issues.
The state initially denied the existence of the camps, before defending them as a necessary measure against terrorism. She denied the allegations of human rights violations.
How has China responded to the sanctions?
China said on Monday that the sanctions – initially announced by the European Union – “are based on nothing but lies and misinformation.”
In return, it said it would impose sanctions on ten people and four entities in Europe that “severely damage Chinas sovereignty and interests and spread malicious lies and disinformation” in response. Those affected by Chinas sanctions are banned from entering or dealing with the country.
German politician Reinhard Botecover, who heads the European Parliament delegation to China, was among the most well-known officials on the China list. It also targeted Adrian Zenz, a prominent expert on China’s politics in Xinjiang, and Swedish researcher BjOrn Girden.
Zenz has provided extensive reports on the alleged violations in Xinjiang. His report last year on the forced sterilization of Uyghurs sparked international calls for the United Nations to investigate. State media described him as a “notorious anti-China” figure and accused him of spreading lies.
Dutch MP Sjord Schurdsma, who has been placed on the Chinese sanctions list, said the retaliatory measures “prove that China is sensitive to pressure.”
“Let this be an encouragement to all my European colleagues: speak up,” he wrote on Twitter.