Uyghurs have urged UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to avoid falling victim to a public relations stunt as her trip to China enters a delicate new phase on Tuesday with a visit to the remote Xinjiang region.
The ruling Communist Party is accused of detaining more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the Far West region as part of a years-long security campaign that the United States has called “genocide.”
China vehemently denies the accusations, calling them the “lie of the century.”
Bachelet is expected to visit the cities of Xinjiang, Urumqi and Kashgar on Tuesday and Wednesday as part of a six-day tour.
“I hope she can also ask the Chinese government about my mother’s whereabouts,” Jevlan Shirememet said, adding that he had not been able to contact her for four years.
The 31-year-old based in Turkey, from the far north of the province near the border with Kazakhstan, also said he hoped Bachelet would venture beyond her itinerary.
“I don’t know why he can’t visit these places,” he told AFP.
Nursimangul Abdureshid, another Uyghur living in Turkey, “didn’t have much hope that her trip would bring any change.”
“I ask you to visit the victims as members of my family, not the scenes previously prepared by the Chinese government,” he told AFP.
“If the UN team can’t have unlimited access in Xinjiang, I won’t accept their so-called reports.”
– ‘Unrestricted access’ –
The regional capital, Urumqi, with a population of four million, is home to major government agencies believed to have orchestrated the province-wide campaign that China has described as a crackdown on religious extremism.
It is home to a significant Uyghur community and was the scene of deadly ethnic clashes in 2009, as well as two terrorist attacks in 2014.
Meanwhile, Kashgar, home to 700,000 people, lies in the Uyghur heartland of southern Xinjiang.
An ancient city on the Silk Road, it has been a major target of Beijing’s crackdown, researchers and activists say, with authorities accused of smothering the cultural hub in a high-tech security blanket while demolishing Uyghur homes and religious sites. .
The outskirts of both cities are filled with what are believed to be detention camps, part of an extensive network of recently built facilities that stretches across the remote province.
Activists have raised concerns that Chinese authorities will prevent Bachelet from conducting a thorough investigation into alleged rights abuses and instead give her a stage-led tour with limited access.
The United States has said it is “deeply concerned” that it has not gotten assurances about what it will see, adding that it is unlikely to get an “unmanipulated” picture of China’s human rights situation.
Speaking in Guangzhou, where she met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Monday, Bachelet said she would be “discussing some very important and sensitive issues.”
“I hope this will help us build trust and allow us to work together,” he added.
Bachelet also gave guarantees about her access to detention centers and rights defenders during a virtual meeting Monday with the heads of dozens of diplomatic missions in China, according to diplomatic sources in Beijing.
Caroline Wilson, the UK ambassador to China, was on the call, saying it emphasized “the importance of unrestricted access to Xinjiang and private conversations with its people.”
“There is no excuse to prevent UN representatives from completing their investigations,” Wilson wrote on Twitter.
Bachelet’s office has also said she will meet with civil society organizations, business representatives and academics.
In addition to mass arrests, Chinese authorities have waged a campaign of forced labor, forced sterilization and destruction of Uyghur cultural heritage in Xinjiang, researchers and activists say.
Overseas Uyghurs have staged demonstrations in recent weeks pressing Bachelet to visit relatives believed to be detained in Xinjiang.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)