On Eid, Xinjiang imams defend China against US criticism

BEIJING (AP) — Muslim leaders from the Xinjiang region rejected Western allegations that China is suppressing religious freedom, speaking at a reception Thursday for foreign diplomats and media at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

The event was the latest in a series of moves by the Chinese government to counter accusations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang. It came a day after human rights groups and Western nations demanded unfettered access for U.N. human rights experts to the region and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned China for “crimes against humanity and genocide against Muslim Uyghurs” during the release of an annual report on international religious freedom.

The Uyghurs are a mostly Muslim ethnic group in Xinjiang, a remote northwest region where China has been accused of mass incarcerations, forced labor and forced sterilization in recent years as it imposed a strict security regime after a series of terrorist attacks.

Echoing the government line, the president of the Xinjiang Islamic Association said China had eradicated the breeding ground for extremism by improving livelihoods, teaching people about the law and setting up vocational training and education centers. Foreign analysts say the centers are part of a detention system that has locked up an estimated 1 million people or more over time.

Abdureqip Tomurniyaz, who heads the association and the school for Islamic studies in Xinjiang, accused anti-China forces in the U.S. and other Western nations of spreading rumors and lies.

“They want to sabotage Xinjiang’s harmony and stability, contain China’s rise and alienate relations between China and Islamic countries,” he said.

He also said the U.S. is turning a blind eye to its own human rights violations, citing the U.S. involvement in conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and other Muslim countries and anti-Muslim discrimination at home.

Religious leaders from five mosques spoke at the 90-minute presentation, three in person and two on video. They all described prayers and feasting for Eid al-Fitr and rejected criticism of China’s religious policies. Videos showed men praying inside mosques and people dancing in squares outside.

Mamat Juma, the imam of the historic Id Kah mosque in the city of Kashgar, said that all ethnic groups in Xinjiang support the steps taken to combat terrorism. He said that people are grateful to the ruling Communist Party for restoring stability and promoting economic growth.