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17-09-06, 02:29
China tries to stop Holyrood reception for oppressed group
By Paul Hutcheon, Scottish Political Editor

CHINESE government officials tried to block a reception in the Scottish parliament which drew attention to the plight of one of the communist regime’s oppressed minorities.

The diplomats, who were taking their orders from Beijing, asked UK ministers to stop an event attended by Uighur refugees. They feared the showcase would embarrass their leaders by publicising Chinese human rights abuses.

The row was caused when the parliament’s cross-party group on Tibet met last Wednesday. Organised under the banner of Forgotten Nation, the meeting focused on the conditions of the Uighur people in the Xinjiang region of China.

Amnesty International has raised concerns about Chinese mistreatment of the largely Muslim Uighurs in the region. The Uighurs have asked Beijing for self-determination, but have been rebuffed by the Chinese authorities.

News of the gathering alarmed China’s UK representatives, who tried to have the meeting cancelled. An official from the Chinese consul’s office in Edinburgh asked the Scottish parliament to intervene last Tuesday, the day before the event, a plea that was ignored.

The Chinese embassy also complained to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) about the event and demanded it be blocked, a call that was not supported.

In addition, the Sunday Herald understands the Executive was contacted about the cross-party group, but it too declined to help the Chinese authorities.

Amnesty has long criticised the Chinese government for its alleged human rights abuses in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. The organisation claims arbitrary arrests, torture of detainees and unfair trials are widespread.

It is also not the first time Chinese diplomats have attempted to interfere in the running of Scottish parliament events. The Dalai Lama’s visit to Holyrood last year, where he addressed the cross-party group on Tibet, led to Chinese consular officials asking organisers to cancel the event. They also lobbied the parliament about their concerns.

One insider said the Chinese officials made it clear to the cross-party group that last year’s reception would “damage” relations between China and Scotland.

Green MSP Chris Ballance, the cross-party group’s convener, criticised the Chinese officials for their interference.

“The Uighurs have been working hard for either devolution or independence for several decades now, so it seemed entirely appropriate to have them in the Scottish parliament. The Chinese don’t allow free speech in China, and they don’t seem to understand the concept of free speech in other countries. I’m very happy their attempt to stop the event failed,” he said.

A Scottish parliament spokesman confirmed that Chinese officials had contacted Holyrood about the event.

“The Scottish parliament advised the consul-general that, in keeping with the open and accessible culture of the Scottish parliament, cross-party groups are able to invite any individuals or representatives to attend their meetings.

“We also advised that, providing the parliament’s rules governing the conduct of cross-party groups are adhered to, the parliament has no locus to intervene. The same advice was relayed to the FCO.”

An FCO spokeswoman said of the row: “We can confirm that the Chinese embassy contacted us. We advised them that this was an event organised by a Scottish parliamentary cross-party group, which is able to invite any individuals or representatives to attend their meetings.”

A spokeswoman for the Chinese embassy declined to comment.


Copyright © 2006 smg sunday newspapers ltd. no.176088

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17-09-06, 07:39
The snake tries her best when she is almost dead!