Mayor of Prague calls on global community to address treatment of Uyghurs

Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib appealed to the international community to “work to put an end” to alleged human rights abuses against Uyghurs in China during an episode of Newsweekit is Podcast “The Diplomat” released earlier this week.

Speaking to podcast host Jason Greenblatt, the White House envoy to the Middle East under former President Donald Trump’s administration, Hřib spoke about his concerns for the Uyghur people as the world focused on Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics, which begin in Beijing. Friday. Human rights concerns in China’s Xinjiang region prompted US President Joe Biden to decide at the end of last year that his administration would not send diplomatic representation to the Games.

Allegations of human rights abuses in China, including the imprisonment and forced labor of members of the Uyghur community, have raised concerns among independent United Nations human rights experts, who have said last year that the allegations, if true, “constitute serious violations of human rights”. A report released last june Amnesty International has estimated that hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs, most of whom are Muslims, have been “arbitrarily detained” in Xinjiang.

China has denied all allegations of human rights violations, calling them a “complete lie” and “political games that ignore the facts and have ulterior motives”.

Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib discussed his attendance at the World Uyghur Congress conference last fall during a recent episode of Newsweek’s podcast “The Diplomat.” Above, Hřib is pictured speaking ahead of a signing ceremony for the “Pact of Free Cities” at the Central European University in Budapest on December 16, 2019.
ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP via Getty Images

The capital of the Czech Republic once had “twin city” agreements with Shanghai and Beijing, partnerships traditionally established to formalize trade, cultural, educational and other exchanges. Prague’s strengthening of relations with Taiwan in recent years has been seen by China as a violation of the “one China” policy included in those sisterly agreements, Hřib explained on the podcast, prompting Shanghai and Beijing to cancel their agreements with Prague.

The World Uyghur Congress, which represents the interests of Uyghurs around the world, held its 7th General Assembly in November in Prague, where Hřib has been the city’s mayor since late 2018. Hřib attended the conference, which was condemned by a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in the Czech Republic.

On the first day of the Congress meeting last November, the Embassy issued a statement in which it alleged the organization was an “anti-China separatist organization that has long fabricated slanders and sins against Xinjiang”, as well as “spreading religious extremism” and “inciting terrorist and separatist activities”.

Hřib responded to comments at the November meeting.

“I hear that China is unhappy with holding this conference here in Prague,” Hřib said in A declaration shared online by the World Uyghur Congress. “Well, I’m upset that there’s a country in 2021 that has concentration camps.”

During his conversation with Greenblatt, Hřib said he spoke at the conference “mainly about the need to expose human rights abuses in China”, in addition to his thoughts on China’s economic influence in Central and Eastern Europe, which he says “is very, very overrated.”

“After this conference, I had the privilege of meeting Uyghur survivors of concentration camps in Xinjiang,” Hřib told Greenblatt. “And I was horrified to hear what they had been through.”

Hřib then appealed to anyone around the world who could listen.

“I would like to take this opportunity to call on the international community to work to end these concentration camps, forced labor, Uyghur genocide and forced organ harvesting,” he said.

Hřib went on to say that alleged human rights violations “have no place in civilized society”, nor, he added, “turning a blind eye to these atrocities”.

Berta D. Wells