Xinjiang is a lovely place with no genocide, say Dutch professors

·2-min read
A Uyghur woman and her children stand in the outskirts of Kashgar, Xinjiang - Lorenz Huber
A Uyghur woman and her children stand in the outskirts of Kashgar, Xinjiang - Lorenz Huber

A top Dutch university has been forced to give up hundreds of thousands of euros in Chinese funding and take down a department website after professors from its human rights centre called Xinjiang “lovely” and dismissed claims of genocide as “rumours”.

Vrije Universiteit (VU) in Amsterdam, the Netherlands' fourth-largest university, has promised to reject further cash from Chongqing's Southwest University of Political Science and Law and will repay handouts it recently received.

The move came after an investigation by Dutch broadcaster NOS revealed VU's Cross Cultural Human Rights Centre (CCHRC) had received between €250,000 (£210,000) and €300,000 each year from the Chinese institution in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

NOS reported that the CCHRC has used the money to fund a regular newsletter, organise seminars and maintain its website, which has published a number of articles denouncing criticism of China's human rights record.

A number of academics with ties to CCHRC even visited four cities in the Xinjiang province and concluded there was "definitely no discrimination of Uyghurs or other minorities in the region".

Peter Peverelli, an assistant professor at CCHRC, was quoted dismissing reports of forced labour camps as "rumours".

"Xinjiang is just lovely," he said, according to NOS. "Lovely people, breathtaking nature, great food. And no forced labour, no genocide, or whatever other lies the Western media might come up with."

Researchers estimate more than one million Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other ethnic Muslim minorities have been detained since 2017, some for merely praying at home, growing a beard or contacting people abroad. Former detainees have told the Telegraph stories of horrific physical torture and political indoctrination.

But professor-doctor Tom Zwart, of Utrecht university and president of the CCHRC, told Chinese state television that human rights in China "must be seen in the context of domestic circumstances, and cannot copy the West".

In a statement, CCHRC conceded that not all of the online posts were "compatible with its vision" of human rights. Its website was taken offline on Tuesday while the establishment checked there was "sufficiently clear distinction" between publications made on its behalf and "opinions and observations made in a personal capacity".

Robbert Dijkgraaf, the Dutch education minister, said he was "very shocked" by the revelations.

He added: "Academic freedom, integrity and independence must always be guaranteed. It is important that institutions remain alert to the risks of undesired influence, especially when it comes to human rights."

Prof-Dr Zwart told NOS that the website was a platform for free speech and posts did not necessarily reflect CCHRC's research.

Mr Peverelli told NOS that statements from staff members are not intended to deny what is happening in Xinjiang, but rather as an "attempt to engage in dialogue".

In a statement, VU said: "Even the appearance of research not being independent is unacceptable."

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