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Chinese ambassador to Ireland claims footage of blindfolded, cuffed Uighur Muslims is 'fabricated'

The ambassador also hit out at concerns expressed by the UK and the US over China’s growing control over Hong Kong.

Ambassador He
Ambassador He

THE CHINESE AMBASSADOR to Ireland has insisted that widely-shared footage reportedly showing large numbers of the Uighur Muslim population in Xinjiang province of China blindfolded and brought to internment camps is “fabricated” despite the footage being authenticated by international experts. 

The footage which emerged on social media in recent days shows hundreds of men with shaved heads handcuffed and blindfolded, and led to a train which is reported to bring them to a Uighur concentration camp. 

The video was authenticated by academics and cyber experts who used landmarks and the position of the sun to conclude that it was real. 

China has long been criticised for these camps, and in November the China Cables documents emerged – a project which documented the treatment of hundreds of Muslims in the camps – and pointed to significant human rights violations. 

“It’s very clear that religious practice is being targeted,” said Darren Byler, a University of Colorado researcher studying Xinjiang. “They want to fragment society, to pull the families apart and make them much more vulnerable to retraining and reeducation.”

Asked whether Xinjiang is targeting religious people and their families at the time, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said: “This kind of nonsense is not worth commenting on.”

In an interview on RTÉ’s Radio 1′s Today with Sarah McInerney this morning, Chinese Ambassador to Ireland He Xiangdong doubled down on that response, claiming the footage has been manipulated for political gain. 

“A lot of information is totally false. A lot of those media clips are fabricated or edited for political purposes. I think that all the fabrications are absurd, it’s very unfortunate people are basing their perceptions or judgements on very questionable stuff,” he said. 

Some countries have raised concerns at the UN Human Rights Council but Ambassador He pointed to members of the council who have not spoken of such concerns when asked if he was concerned by the international reaction.

“It depends on how you define the word of International,” he said. “In the UN Human Rights Council, which was held several days ago, I think that a lot of media from the UK and US and even here in Europe are saying that 27 countries stand out against China on the issue of Xinjiang. They call it international but there are more than 50 countries who have a stake in the UN Council.”

“If you call it a concentration camp, absolutely it is not.”

Hong Kong

China has also come under fire over its treatment of Hong Kong – a special administrative region that up until recently enjoyed freedoms not available to residents on mainland China. 

A one country, two system structure is in place since Hong Kong was handed back to China by the UK but a controversial new security law now allows for residents to be brought to the mainland if China deems they have broken the law. 

One piece of legislation allows for anyone who damages public transport in Hong Kong to be tried as a terrorist in China. It follows mass protests from pro-democracy demonstrators in public spaces of Hong Kong over the past year. 

“We are doing the right thing to protect the sovereignty of China and we are doing it to protect the freedom and ability and prosperity of Hong Kong,” he said. 

“In the past few years, especially since last year we have seen many rows and violence in Hong Kong so I think that situation cannot be there for too long because in fact, that will have an effect on the welfare of the people there in Hong Kong, including for residents.”

The UK in response has made provision to allow Hong Kong residents a pathway to British citizenship, while the US has also moved to “suspend or eliminate” any preferential treatment of Hong Kong, adding that it is no longer seen as an autonomous region separate to China. 

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“I think that from the UK or the US, and some parts of the rest of the world, regarding the situation in Hong Kong, I think we have heard some sensational stories about what happened in Hong Kong and what is going to happen in Hong Kong and I think in any freedom there is a limit.”

On concerns that the new legislation will limit freedom of speech in Hong Kong, he said: “In the past 20 years, since the return of Hong Kong to China, there is  a lot of demonstrations in Hong Kong and I think that in the future we’re going to feel a need to protect the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly in Hong Kong.

“That any freedom of speech or freedom of assembly should be subjected to law and order. 

“The articles of the national security law will see more detail in the coming months but you can rest assured that the purpose of the law is to maintain the one country, two system, to make it sure that Hong Kong can demonstrate a high degree of autonomy.

“So I think a lot of the reports published by the UK media have been exaggerated.”

Some Irish politicians have also called for Ireland to suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong as a result of the security bill. 

“That agreement is between Ireland and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government regarding the return of fugitive offenders is to manage the mutual business of handling of fugitive offenders,” he said.

“I don’t think many Irish people will like to see those rioters who are extremists, who are terrorists, come to Ireland and take Ireland as a safe haven for them.”

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