MPs condemn ‘grotesque’ revelations that Uighur workers are sold online in China

Joanna Taylor
·3-min read
 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

MPs have condemned an “utterly grotesque” report revealing that Uighur labourers are being advertised in batches on the Chinese internet and made to work under “half-military management”.

Wealden MP Nusrat Ghani described “groups of Uighurs being sold like slaves for auction” as “horrific” and “utterly grotesque”.

Reacting to the report on Sky News, former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith said that there’s “no question” in his mind that the Chinese authorities are engaged in genocide.

“The truth is that the Chinese authorities are engaged in – absolutely no question now, in my mind – in genocide,” he said. “They’re trying to eradicate an ethnic group.”

The report, produced by Sky News correspondent Tom Cheshire, says that there are dozens of adverts on websites hosted by Baidu advertising Uighur labourers in batches of 50 to 100 workers.

One agent who posted such an advert reportedly told Sky News that workers from Xinjiang are subject to a “political examination” by the local government of their receiving province and that they are placed under “half-military management” while working.

The Xinjiang government says in its 2019 five-year plan that its “labour transfer programme”, which Baidu allegedly facilitates, is aimed at providing “more employment opportunities for the surplus rural labour force”.

It has described claims from human rights groups that Uighur Muslims are actually subject to forced labour as “the lie of the century”.

China’s government has also described allegations that it is carrying out a genocide of Uighur Muslims at “re-education camps” in Xinjiang as “ridiculously absurd” and a “complete lie”.

A report released by the Washing DC-based Newlines Institute for Strategy think tank concluded last month that China’s government “bears responsibility for committing genocide” and that it has violated every provision of the United Nation’s Genocide Convention in its actions towards the Uighurs in Xinjiang.

The House of Commons will debate the “mass human rights abuses and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region” on 22 April, in a motion led by Ms Ghani.

The debate may be followed by a non-binding vote on whether to declare China responsible for genocide. Such a vote could further strain diplomatic ties between the UK and China, a key trading partner.

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Duncan Smith cast doubt that the British government will be willing to condemn China.

“The government refuses to say that this is genocide because they say that only a competent court can do so,” he said. “But the problem we’ve got is, the only competent court that can call a genocide a genocide concerning a national purpose are actually either the International Criminal Court or the International Court of Justice.

“China’s not a signatory to the Criminal Court and the Court of Justice gets blocked at the UN in the Security Council, of which they are a member.”

In response to Sky News’s report and Mr Duncan-Smith’s comments, a Foreign Office spokesperson toldThe Independent: “The evidence of widespread human rights violations in Xinjiang cannot be ignored – including mass detention and invasive surveillance and reports of torture and forced labour.

“The UK has taken robust action in response, including targeted sanctions against those responsible as well as introducing measures to help ensure UK organisations are not complicit in these violations.

“The international community will not look the other way and will hold the Chinese authorities to account for their actions.”

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