UK MPs call for the arrest of visiting Chinese governor at Foreign Office protest

People from the Uyghur community protested the visit of Xinjiang province's governor - who is accused of human rights abuses - at the Foreign Office on Monday. Credit: Uyghur Congress

Words by Will Tullis, ITV News

Members of Parliament have called on authorities to arrest a Chinese governor for alleged human rights abuses, should he visit the UK.

Conservative backbencher Iain Duncan-Smith joined members of the Uyghur community outside the Foreign Office (FCDO) in central London today at a protest against a visit by Erkin Tuniyaz, governor of Xinjiang province in China.

Mr Tuniyaz is accused of overseeing human rights abuses against the Uyghur people - a Turkic, mostly Muslim minority group - in China's Xinjiang province.

China has been accused of crimes against humanity and even genocide against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang province. Some accusations include arbitrary detention, imprisonment and torture of Uyghur people in the province - including in so-called "re-education" camps.

China denies all allegations. It has also claimed that its law and order policy in Xinjiang follows acts of terrorism in the province.

The FCDO confirmed that the governor was scheduled to visit the UK this week. It has also been reported that Mr Tuniyaz will visit European officials in Brussels in the coming days.

The FCDO could not confirm whether Mr Tuniyaz is now in the UK. Speaking to ITV News, Iain Duncan-Smith said the governor - who has been sanctioned by the United States - should be arrested if he does visit.

"The biggest, loudest message you can send is: you are not welcome here, and if you set foot here we will detain you", Mr Duncan-Smith told ITV News.

"Why aren't we sanctioning them like the Americans did? In which case he wouldn't be able to come here", he added.

"That sends a much stronger message than a quiet chat over a cup of tea."

Members of the Uyghur community demonstrated outside the Foreign Office in protest on Monday. Some of those present claim their family members have been imprisoned and tortured by the Chinese state in Xinjiang province.

Rahima Mahmut, UK Director of the group Uyghur Congress, said she is "incredibly hurt" about Erkin Tuniyaz's visit to the UK.

"For Uyghur people in this country like myself, who have been unable to speak to their loved ones for over six years and live with fear for the safety of our own family members back home every single day, this is an insult," Ms Mahmut said.

ITV News also spoke to a man who claims to have been detained and tortured in an alleged Chinese concentration camp. Yerbakyt Otarbay, who sought asylum following detention in Xinjiang joined calls for the governor of his home province to be arrested in the UK.

"I still carry physical and mental scars from my time in detention," Mr Otarbay told ITV News.

"I want [Erkin Tuniyaz] to be held accountable for the torture and violence this system has inflicted on me, and millions of my people," he added.

A Foreign Office spokesperson told ITV News that Mr Tuniyaz was invited by the Chinese Embassy in London and that the British government plays no role in the visit.

The Foreign Office said Mr Tuniyaz was not invited by the UK government - but by the Chinese Embassy in London. Credit: Uyghur Congress

Responding to Iain Duncan-Smith in Parliament last week, Leo Docherty MP - a Foreign Office Minister - said he expects Mr Tuniyaz will travel on a diplomatic passport. Mr Docherty assured MPs that "under no circumstances" would Xinjiang's governor be "dignified" with a ministerial meeting.

A prosecution request against Erkin Tuniyaz was made by Michael Polak, a barrister representing some Uyghur people who are victims of alleged human rights abuses in China.

"The UK authorities must act to show that their purported commitment to the prevention and punishment of atrocities is anything more than platitudes," Mr Polak told ITV News.

The Chinese government denies all accusations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has said that "the so-called forced labour and genocide in Xinjiang are entirely vicious rumours."

ITV News contacted the Chinese Embassy in London who are yet to confirm whether Mr Tuniyaz has gone ahead with the visit, or whether he is in the UK.

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