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UN claims of detaining Uighurs in internment camps 'untrue,' China says

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This photo taken on February 19, 2018, shows a shepherd watching his flock near the village of Artux in China's western Xinjiang region. (Photo by AFP)

China has strongly defended its human rights record at the United Nations, rejecting as “completely untrue” claims that more than one million Uighur Muslims may be held in internment camps in the country’s volatile west.

Hu Lianhe, a spokesman for China's United Front Work Department, told the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on Monday that authorities in the far western Xinjiang region respected freedom of religion and protected the full rights of all citizens equally.

“The argument that 1 million are detained in re-education centers is completely untrue,” Hu told the UN panel on the second day of its regular review of China’s human rights record.

“On freedom of religious belief, Xinjiang guarantees citizens’ freedom of religious belief and protects normal religious activities,” he said. “Those deceived by religious extremism ... shall be assisted by resettlement and re-education. They are not subject to any arbitrary detention or ill treatment there.”

Hu made the remarks days after Gay McDougall, vice chairwoman of the Geneva-based committee, said she had received credible reports that over one million ethnic Uighurs in China were held in what resembles a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy, a sort of no rights zone.”

Speaking after the Chinese delegation, McDougall said on Monday that more evidence from Beijing was needed to counter the accusations leveled in the reports.

“To say that they don’t violate rights of minorities does not prove anything. We have to more than a denial of allegations,” she said.

“I notice that you didn’t quite deny that these re-education or indoctrination programs don’t take place,” McDougall added, seeking clarification on the number of people from the Turkic-speaking Muslim Uighur minority that undergo re-education.

In response to McDougall’s comments, Hu said China had cracked down on “extremist and terrorist crimes” in Xinjiang in accordance with the law and had no intention of targeting any particular ethnic minority.

This photo taken on February 17, 2018, shows local police paroling a village in Hotan in China's western Xinjiang region. (Photo by AFP)

Xinjiang has for decades been devastated by outbreaks of violence.

China has accused what it describes as exiled Uighur separatist groups of planning attacks in the resource-rich region and Uighurs, in turn, claim they face cultural and religious repression and discrimination there.

Last March, Chinese President Xi Jinping called on military forces to erect a “Great Wall of Steel” around the restive region.

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