Dozens to give testimony to people’s tribunal in London, which China has dismissed as a ‘clumsy public opinion show’.
A London-based people’s tribunal investigating whether China’s treatment of its minority Uighur population amounts to genocide has begun hearing evidence from witnesses.
The “Uyghur Tribunal” has no state backing and any judgement will not be binding on any government, but it has drawn a furious response from Beijing, which branded the hearings a “machine producing lies”.
The first hearings take place over four days, from Friday to Monday and are expected to draw dozens of witnesses. A second set is expected in September.
Organisers hope the process of publicly laying out evidence of an alleged state-orchestrated campaign of repression against the Uighurs, a largely Muslim ethnic group, in China’s northwest Xinjiang province will compel international action against the country’s authorities.
The tribunal is chaired by prominent human rights lawyer Geoffrey Nice, who led the prosecution of ex-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and has worked on several cases brought before the International Criminal Court (ICC).
It was set up at the request of the World Uyghur Congress, an international organisation of exiled Uighurs.
The tribunal’s organisers said Chinese authorities had ignored requests to participate in the hearings.
‘I want my son to be freed’
According to the United Nations, at least one million Uighurs have been detained in internment camps in Xinjiang, which borders eight countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
Critics of the camps, including the United Kingdom and the United States, say inmates at the network of facilities have been subjected to human rights violations including arbitrary detention, forced labour, torture, forced sterilisation and the separation of children from their jailed parents.
Ahead of giving testimony to the tribunal via video link, three Uighurs who fled from China to Turkey, described their treatment by Chinese authorities.
One of them, named Rozi, said she was forced into an abortion when six and a half months pregnant. Her youngest son has been detained since 2015, when he was just 13, and she hopes the tribunal’s work will help lead to his freedom.
“I want my son to be freed as soon as possible,” she said. “I want to see him be set free.”
Another, a former doctor, spoke of draconian birth control policies.
And a third, a former detainee, alleged he was “tortured day and night” by Chinese soldiers while imprisoned in the remote border region.
Beijing denounces hearings
China denies the allegations of abuse at internment camps and claims the facilities are “re-education” centres.
Officials insist that mass “education and training” is necessary in Xinjiang in order to fight what they call the “three evil forces of extremism, separatism and terrorism”, and boost economic development there.
In March, the tribunal was among four UK entities and nine individuals sanctioned by Beijing for raising concerns about the treatment of the Uighurs.
China has also publicly condemned the tribunal.
“It is not even a real tribunal or special court, but only a special machine producing lies,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said last week. “It was founded by people with ulterior motives and carries no weight or authority. It is just a clumsy public opinion show under the guise of law.”