West and rights groups accuse China of massive Uyghur crimes

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A tour guide stands near a display showing images of people at locations described as vocational training centers in southern Xinjiang at the Exhibition of the Fight Against Terrorism and Extremism in Urumqi in western China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on April 21, 2021. Human rights groups and Western nations led by the United States, Britain and Germany accused China of massive crimes against the Uyghur minority and demanded unimpeded access for U.N. experts at a virtual meeting on Wednesday, May 12, 2021 denounced by China as "politically motivated" and based on "lies." (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

CAMEROON – Human rights groups and Western nations led by the United States, Britain and Germany accused China of massive crimes against the Uyghur minority and demanded unimpeded access for U.N. experts at a virtual meeting on Wednesday denounced by China as “politically motivated” and based on “lies.”

China’s U.N. Mission sent notes to many of the U.N.’s 193 member nations last week urging them not to participate in the “anti-China event.” And China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun sent text messages to the 15 Western co-sponsors of the meeting expressing shock at their support, urging them to “think twice” and withdraw it.

He warned that if they don’t, it will be “harmful to our relationship and cooperation.”

At the meeting, Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward called the situation in Xinjiang “one of the worst human rights crises of our time.”

“The evidence, from a growing number of credible sources — including satellite imagery, survivor testimony and publicly available Chinese Government documents — is of grave concern,” said Woodward, who previously was the UK ambassador in China. “The evidence points to a program of repression of specific ethnic groups. Expressions of religion have been criminalized and Uyghur language and culture are discriminated against systematically and at scale.”

In recent years, an estimated 1 million people or more have been confined in camps in Xinjiang, according to foreign governments and researchers. Most are Uyghurs, a largely Muslim ethnic group. Authorities have been accused of imposing forced labor, systematic forced birth control and torture.

The Chinese government has flatly rejected the allegations. It has characterized the camps, which it says are now closed, as vocational training centers to teach Chinese language, job skills and the law in order to support economic development and combat extremism. China saw a wave of Xinjiang-related terrorist attacks through 2016.

Organizers said there were 152 participants in Wednesday's event, including 51 countries, and speaker after speaker called on China to end its abuses against the Uyghurs.