Uyghur Canadian Mehmet Tohti says remarks like those from the Chinese ambassador to Canada last week denying mounting evidence of a probable Uyghur genocide suggest Beijing realizes their attempts to cover up their actions are being “unravelled.”

In an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson, the executive director of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project said it is clear Chinese officials, including the ambassador, “are trying to defend the indefensible.”

“You have seen nervousness from the top officials,” said Tohti.

“They are trying to spread other lies, and I understand that they failed miserably and they are unsuccessful to defend their systematic crime with distortion … their orchestrated lies in defending these heinous crimes are being unraveled one by one.”

In a rare press conference last week, Chinese ambassador to Canada Cong Peiwu reacted to the recent vote in the House of Commons calling on the government to declare China’s treatment of the Uyghurs as a genocide.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the cabinet abstained from that vote.

No one voted against it.

Cong claimed the mounting evidence that China is committing genocide and using Uyghurs for forced labour in sprawling work camps in its northwest province is the “lie of the century.”

The United Nations has deemed the reports of such activities “numerous and credible.”

UN estimates suggest as many as one million Uyghurs are being held in the facilities, which human rights groups say are actually sites of forced labour that represent rampant human rights abuses against the Muslim minority group carried out under the claim of counterterrorism.

The Associated Press reported last year of widespread efforts by the Chinese state to slash birth rates among Uyghurs by forced sterilization, forced birth control and forced abortions.

A legal opinion issued by senior U.K. barristers last month determined that “there is a very credible case that acts carried out by the Chinese government against the Uighur people in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region amount to crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide.”

The BBC reported that opinion was commissioned — but not paid for — by the Global Legal Action Network, the World Uyghur Congress and the Uyghur Human Rights Project.

Tohti said he has been threatened for trying to speak out against the abuses taking place.

He said that three hours before testifying about the concerns before the House of Commons human rights subcommittee in July 2020, he got what he described as a “chilling” message on Twitter.

“It said, your ‘eff’ mother is dead,” he said.“I read this message in two ways: one is, probably, they killed my mother, and a second way is probably … just to stop me to go ahead to testify.”

Tohti said he hasn’t been able to communicate with his mother since Oct. 23, 2016, and despite repeated inquiries about her and his other family members still in Xinjiang, he says he has gotten no answers.“Where is my mother? Where are my family members?” he said.

“So far, the Chinese government failed to give any answer … if everything is OK, why in this modern age of communication, we cannot just make a phone call to our loved ones?”

He said the campaign of abuse against Uyghurs spreads to those abroad, describing a “widespread and systematic” level of threats being made against activists in other countries.

Tohti said abstaining from votes like the one on genocide isn’t the answer.

“Instead of abstaining from voting, we should stand up and we should do something to bring those responsible officials to justice,” he said, urging the government to pass legislation restricting the import of products manufactured in Xinjiang — meaning, products likely made using forced Uyghur labour.“This is our moral obligation and we don’t have any piece of legislation to address that,” he added.“Otherwise, as Canadians, we are — indirectly without knowing, or directly by knowing — now contributing to Chinese crime of genocide and crimes against humanity by purchasing those products and sending our pocket money to China.”

Written by: Amanda Connolly
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