Uighurs are urging the Chinese ambassador to sit down and hear their testimonies of abuse, saying a press briefing on Wednesday was staged to “deceive” Australians about human rights violations in the Xinjiang region.
Community leaders have also blasted the Australian government’s failure to prevent the propaganda presentation at the Chinese ambassador’s residence in Canberra as “shameful”.
In the heavily choreographed press briefing for political journalists, China’s ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye attempted to counter negative media attention and claims China is committing genocide against the ethnic minority Uighurs in Xinjiang as “fake news”.
It’s estimated China has detained more than one million Uighurs. Chinese authorities have also been accused of forced labour, forced sterilisation, sexual abuse and rape against the Muslim minority group.
The ambassador’s presentation featured a propaganda video spruiking Xinjiang as a “wonderful land” with happy residents and pristine, natural landscapes. It played video testimony from Xinjiang residents who claimed that they were thriving in the region.
“It shows that the Chinese government is ramping up external propaganda on Xinjiang,” Yun Jiang, a senior research officer at the Australian National University told SBS News.
Uighur leader Nurmuhammad Majid said he felt sick when he heard about the Canberra event.
“It’s insulting,” Mr Majid told SBS News. “It is a well-orchestrated, well-planned mission to deceive the Australian public, the Australian government and Australian media.
“Allowing the Chinese government to spread such a falsified propaganda mission in this country is actually a shameful act, knowing that there’s 3000 Uighur residents (here) who are connected to the ‘concentration camp’ policy of the Chinese government, and are suffering heavily.”
Mr Majid said several of his family members, including his elderly mother and late father, spent time in detention camps.
He said he recently learnt his older brother and younger sisters have been sentenced to 15 years in jail for alleged “incitement” offences.
The Australian government had failed both in helping Australians of Uighur background, and of speaking out clearly against China’s policies in Xinjiang, Mr Majid added.
“It is a shame for us, shame for our values, shame for our democracy.”
Community groups are also calling on the ambassador to meet with them to prove the press briefing was not a propaganda exercise.
“We should have been part of that press conference, and he should sit down and talk to us and give us the facts as to what is happening with the Uighurs in the region,” Ramila Chanisheff, from the Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Women’s Association told SBS News.
Ms Chanisheff said the press briefing was “farcical”, “bizarre” and the video “cringeworthy”.
“They’re scrambling – absolutely scrambling and scared and trying to save face, but people aren’t silly,” she said.
“They’re educated. They know what’s going on, and the evidence speaks for itself.”
Ms Chanisheff questioned why the Chinese government wasn’t allowing investigators into the region.
“If they (the Chinese government) are claiming this is all true, why is Xinjiang all closed off – why aren’t they allowing journalists, the UN, or independent organisations to see for themselves?”
It’s not the first time that China has broadcast the “Xinjiang is a wonderful land” video to a foreign audience.
In late March, the Chinese embassy in London displayed the video in a press conference after Beijing imposed retaliatory sanctions on British institutions critical of the situation in Xinjiang.
In a similar message to that of Mr Cheng, China’s ambassador to the UK Yang Xiaoguang also warned that China “never provokes” but would “keep company” those that turned to confrontation.
On Wednesday, Mr Cheng said: “Any country should not have any illusion that China will swallow the bitter pill of interfering or meddling in China’s internal affairs.
“We will not provoke but if we are provoked, we will respond in kind.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Foreign Minister Marise Payne’s office have been contacted for comment.