China Has Put Sanctions On Brits Including Iain Duncan Smith Over Uyghur 'Lies'

The move came in retaliation to sanctions imposed by the UK, US, EU and Canada on Beijing for alleged human rights abuses.
Former leader of the Conservative Party Iain Duncan Smith is among the UK individuals who have been targeted with sanctions by China.
Former leader of the Conservative Party Iain Duncan Smith is among the UK individuals who have been targeted with sanctions by China.
NurPhoto via NurPhoto via Getty Images

China has put sanctions on a number of individuals and organisations in the UK, including former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, after accusing them of spreading “malicious lies and disinformation” about alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

The move came days after Britain imposed sanctions on Chinese officials over the treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority group in the north-west territory of China.

Who has been targeted?

Nine British individuals have been sanctioned:

  • Iain Duncan Smith, former Conservative leader and serving MP
  • Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee
  • Neil O’Brien, Tory MP
  • Tim Loughton, Tory MP
  • Nusrat Ghani, Tory MP
  • Lord David Alton
  • Baroness Helena Kennedy, Labour
  • Geoffrey Nice, barrister and chair of the Uyghur Tribunal
  • Joanne Nicola Smith Finley, a Newcastle University academic

As well as four British institutions:

  • China Research Group
  • The Conservative Party Human Rights Commission
  • Uyghur Tribunal
  • Essex Court Chambers

Smith, Ghani, Loughton, Baroness Kennedy and Lord Alton are all members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, while Tugendhat and O’Brien lead the China Research Group.

What do the sanctions involve?

As of Friday, those individuals sanctioned as well as their immediate family members will be prohibited from entering mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.

In addition, Chinese citizens and institutions will be prohibited from doing business with them and any property they have in China will be frozen. The Chinese ministry of foreign affairs said it “reserves the right to take further measures”.

How did it start?

On Monday the UK, US, EU and Canada imposed sanctions on Chinese officials deemed responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab announced a package of travel bans and asset freezes against four senior officials and the state-run Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau (XPCC PSB).

Speaking in the Commons, Raab said the alleged abuse of Uyghur Muslims in the north-west territory was “one of the worst human rights crises of our time” and the international community “cannot simply look the other way”.

“Over a million people have been detained without trial, there are widespread claims of torture and rape in the camps, based on first-hand survivor testimony,” he said.

“I’m sure the whole House will join me in condemning such appalling violations of the most basic human rights.”

According to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, estimates of the number Uyghur people “in long-term detention or who have been forced to spend varying periods in political ‘re-education camps’” range from tens of thousands of people to upwards of a million. However, there is no official data.

A photo of a facility believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, north of Akto in China's northwestern Xinjiang region.
A photo of a facility believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, north of Akto in China's northwestern Xinjiang region.
GREG BAKER via AFP via Getty Images

In response, China’s ministry of foreign affairs said the move was “based on nothing but lies and disinformation, flagrantly breaches international law and basic norms governing international relations, grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs, and severely undermines China-UK relations”.

In a statement on Friday, the ministry said it had summoned the UK’s ambassador to China, Caroline Wilson, “to lodge solemn representations, expressing firm opposition and strong condemnation”.

“China is firmly determined to safeguard its national sovereignty, security and development interests, and warns the UK side not to go further down the wrong path,” the Chinese ministry said. “Otherwise, China will resolutely make further reactions.”

Who are the Uyghurs?

Uyghurs are an ethnic minority group of mostly Muslims who live in China’s north-west region of Xinjiang, officially known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). There are an estimated 12m Uyghur people in the region, making up almost half of its total population.

Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities have been detained at what are said to be “re-education” camps in Xinjiang, where allegations of torture, forced labour, mass rape and forced sterilisation have emerged.

China has denied any mistreatment and accusations of genocide and crimes against humanity, claiming the camps are “vocational training centres” used to combat terrorism by Islamic separatists and give people new skills.

What response has there been?

In 2018, then-foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said British diplomats who visited Xinjiang had confirmed reports of mass internment camps were “broadly accurate”.

A small group of foreign diplomats including three from the EU were given permission to visit Xinjiang the following year, but since then there have been no visits from UK or EU officials.

A visit by EU ambassadors to the region which has been under discussion since 2019 stalled this month over requests for access to Ilham Tohti, a Uyghur academic imprisoned for life under charges of separatism.

Tohti was the 2019 recipient of the EU’s human rights award, the Sakharov Prize.

In response to Friday’s announcement, Dominic Raab said: “It speaks volumes that, while the UK joins the international community in sanctioning those responsible for human rights abuses, the Chinese government sanctions its critics.

“If Beijing want to credibly rebut claims of human rights abuses in Xinjiang, it should allow the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights full access to verify the truth.”

Tory MP Nusrat Ghani said she would not be “intimidated” and that the sanctions had made her “even more determined to speak out about the Uyghurs”.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, she said: “This is a wake-up call for all democratic countries and law makers that we will not be able to conduct our day-to-day business without China sanctioning us for just attempting to expose what’s happening in Xinjiang and the abuse against the Uyghurs.”


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