Chinese officials tried to pressure a human rights research institute to cancel an event at Concordia University in Montreal that featured an exiled Uighur Muslim leader, one of the event’s organizers says.
Kyle Matthews, executive director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia, said he was contacted by the Chinese consul general in Montreal on March 25 regarding a conference planned for the next day about the repressed Uighur Muslim sect in China’s Xinjiang region, reports CBC.
The event featured a discussion with Dolkun Isa, a Xinjiang student activist and president of the World Uyghur Congress. Isa, a German national since 2006, is wanted by the Chinese regime.
The email to Matthews, written in French, said vice consul general Wang Wenzhang requested an “urgent meeting” to “communicate our points of view,” According to the National Post.
Matthews chose not to respond to the email and the event went ahead as planned. A few dozen people attended the event, including students, journalists, and representatives from human rights like Amnesty International, the National Post reported.
Matthews said he later found out that the consul general also contacted others in Montreal in an attempt to put pressure on the university to cancel the event.
“I think that’s problematic. It goes against freedom of speech, it goes against the rights of universities to talk about complex issues and contemporary issues,” Matthews said in an interview with Radio Canada International on March 27.
“This I think it shows that a university event attracting 30 people was deemed to be a major foreign policy priority for the Chinese government to disrupt and try to end.”
The Chinese consulate in Montreal and Chinese embassy in Ottawa could not be reached for comment.
Human rights organizations report that between one and two million Uighurs are being detained in so-called “re-education” camps in Xinjiang. There are also reports that families have been separated, and those not in camps live under constant surveillance, are forced to deny their faith, and must pledge allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party.
The Chinese regime claims the intent of its de-radicalization program is to crack down on extremists in the region, but human rights activists are calling it a “cultural genocide” and Turkey has openly called out China’s behaviour.
“It is no longer a secret that more than one million Uighur Turks incurring arbitrary arrests are subjected to torture and political brainwashing in internment camps and prisons,” said Hami Aksoy, spokesperson for the Turkish foreign ministry. “Uighurs who are not detained in these camps are under heavy pressure.”
In its 2017/2018 report on China, Amnesty International said that “repression conducted under ‘anti-separatism’ or ‘counter-terrorism’ campaigns remained particularly severe in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and Tibetan-populated areas.”
Amnesty also said national security-related laws and regulations continued to be created to give authorities greater powers to silence dissent and censor information.
Two other incidents earlier this year also raised concerns over allegations China attempted to interfere with Ontario universities, though the Chinese embassy has denied involvement.
Rukiye Turdush, a Uighur activist, gave a speech earlier this month at McMaster University that was critical of the regime’s treatment of Uighurs. Her speech was interrupted by filming and shouting by Chinese students in what Turdush said was an attempt by the regime to suppress her message.
She said that according to WeChat messages, the students were instructed by someone, and believes it was someone from the Chinese consulate. However, she said she doesn’t have explicit proof.
In another instance, University of Toronto student Chemi Lhamo, 22, a Canadian citizen of Tibetan descent, received thousands of hate messages after being elected student-union president in February. According to the CBC, many of the messages, posted to her Instagram account, contained hateful, often anti-Tibet, rhetoric. Some were even threatening.
Toronto police are investigating whether some of the messages received by Lhamo constitute criminal threats, reports the Ottawa Citizen.
At the time, Lhamo wondered whether there was someone coordinating the harassment, though she said she had no proof that Chinese officials were involved in the backlash against her.