A British lawyer prosecuting a case against Hong Kong pro-democracy activists under the Chinese territory’s notorious national security law has been branded mercenary by foreign secretary Dominic Raab.
Asked about the decision of barrister David Perry QC to act on behalf of authorities against nine activists facing seven-year jail sentences for unlawful assembly, Mr Raab said he could not understand how anyone could, in good conscience, take on such a case.
Mr Raab also said it was disgraceful for the Chinese Embassy in the US to say that the Beijing government’s activities in Xinjiang province were eradicating extremism and ensuring Uighur women would no longer be treated as “baby-making machines”.
He issued a challenge to Beijing to allow the UN Human Rights Commissioner to visit Xinjiang’s network of “re-education” camps, in which up to 1 million members of China’s Muslim Uighur minority have been detained in what Amnesty International says is an attempt to enforce loyalty to the Communist Party regime.
Mr Perry has so far refused to comment on why he took the unlawful assembly case, though his defenders claim he is acting under the “cab rank” principle requiring him as a part-time member of the Hong Kong bar to take cases as they come up.
But Mr Raab – himself an international lawyer who led on human rights cases at the Foreign Office before entering parliament – told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “I don’t understand how anyone in good conscience, from the world-leading legal profession that we have, would take a case where they will have to apply the national security legislation at the behest of the authorities in Beijing, which is directly violating, undermining the freedom of the people of Hong Kong, and I understand, in the case of Mr Perry, in relation to the pro-democracy activists.
“From Beijing’s point of view, this would be a serious PR coup. There’s no doubt in my mind that under the bar code of ethics a case like this could be resisted and, frankly, I think people watching this would regard it as pretty mercenary to be taking up that kind of case.”
Ridge asked Mr Raab to comment on a tweet by the Chinese embassy in Washington – deleted after it provoked widespread outrage – which said: “In the process of eradicating extremism, the minds of Uighur women in Xinjiang were emancipated and gender equality and reproductive health were promoted, making them no longer baby-making machines.”
China has denied allegations that women in the far-western province have been subjected to forced abortion and birth control.
Mr Raab said: “It’s absolutely disgraceful. It’s appalling and shocking in the modern world, in a leading member of the international community, and, no, this isn’t enough.
“What China says is this is all lies cooked up by the West, and Britain a leading member amongst them.
“What we say is if you dispute the allegations and the claims and the reports, there’s a simple way to clear this up: allow the UN Human Rights Commissioner to visit and access and see these sites.
“We are pushing for an authoritative third party, like the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN, to conduct that visit.”
Asked whether the treatment of the Uighurs amounted to genocide, Mr Raab said: “I think it’s for a court to decide whether the very complex definition of genocide is met.
“But what is clear, frankly, whatever legal label you put on it, is that there are convincing and persuasive third party authoritative reports of serious violations of human rights on an appalling industrial scale.”
Mr Raab said the government had recently announced measures that would make sure there were no British businesses that were supplying to or profiting from the internment camps.
“I think it’s a shocking, truly shocking, set of circumstances in Xinjiang, against the Uighur Muslims,” he said.
Mr Raab said 38 other countries had followed the UK’s lead in criticising and condemning human-rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.