China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang on Monday condemned a report by NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) on the suppression of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, saying that it was full of prejudice and distorted facts.

The report – released earlier on Monday – detailed the systematic detention and surveillance of the region’s predominantly Turkic Muslim population under President Xi Jinping’s “strike hard” campaign against “ethnic separatism.”

Geng shuang
China Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang. Photo: China gov’t.

Speaking during a regular press conference, Geng criticised the NGO, saying: “This organisation has always been full of prejudice and distorting facts about China.”

He added that he did not want to make any specific remarks about the accusations in HRW’s report.

The 117-page document outlined the Chinese government’s oppressive mandate to eradicate ethnic minority identities in the region by holding residents in extrajudicial “re-education” centres and forcing detainees to attend political indoctrination meetings.

Xinjiang police in Urumqi
Armed police in Ürümqi, Xinjiang. Photo: Wikicommons.

According to the United Nations human rights committee in Geneva last month, 1 million ethnic minorities are being held in the detention centres. Beijing vehemently denied all allegations, adding that tough measures are necessary to combat extremism in the far-west region.

‘Ethnic separatist activities’

Geng reiterated the government’s view that the people of Xinjiang live harmoniously among other ethnic groups: “Xinjiang is enjoying overall social stability, sound economic development and harmonious co-existence of different ethnic groups.”

“The series of measures implemented in Xinjiang are meant to improve stability, development, solidarity and people’s livelihood, crack down on ethnic separatist activities and violent and terrorist crimes, safeguard national security, and protect people’s life and property.”

He added that the government protects citizens’ right to freedom of religious belief and practice in accordance with the law.

Kashgar Xinjiang
Kashgar, Xinjiang in 2017. File photo: David Stanley, via Flickr.

However, according to the Human Rights Watch report, Xinjiang residents face detention for arbitrary reasons – a Urumqi man was reportedly arrested for setting his watch two hours behind Beijing time, in accordance with the natural daylight schedule in the western region. Other residents were reportedly detained for having foreign communication software, such as Whatsapp, installed on their phones.

Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said on Monday: “The Chinese government is committing human rights abuses in Xinjiang on a scale unseen in the country in decades… The campaign of repression in Xinjiang is a key test of whether the United Nations and concerned governments will sanction an increasingly powerful China to end this abuse.”

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.