01/18/2024, 16.47
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Uyghurs urge tour operators to drop Beijing-sponsored travel

Ten years since the arrest of Ilham Tohti, the symbolic face of the repression against the Uyghur cultural identity, a report slams 18 European tour operators for offering travel packages in Xinjiang. Their “destinations are linked to genocide and crimes against humanity.”

Milan (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Ten years have passed since the Uyghur academic and blogger Ilham Tohti was arrested. A professor of economics, he was jailed on 15 January 2014 for speaking out against the religious and cultural persecution of ethnic Uyghurs, a Muslim ethnic minority living in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, northwestern China.

Sentenced to life imprisonment on 23 September of the same year on charges of promoting separatism after a two-day summary trial, Tohti - now 54 years old - has not been seen since 2017. For this reason, on the anniversary of his arrest, his daughter called on Chinese authorities to provide evidence that he is still alive.

Tohti was awarded the Sakharov Human Rights Prize in 2019 for his campaign against China’s repression against Uyghur cultural identity and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 2022, after years of delays caused by Beijing's actions, the United Nations High Commissioner published a report on human rights violations in Xinjiang, which confirmed allegations of torture, forced labour, and other forms of violence against Uyghurs.

The People's Republic of China has always denied these charges, as it will do again on 24 January, when the Human Rights Council in Geneva is set to examine the situation in China as part of the Fourth Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights Violations in the World.

But today this battle has to reckon with a powerful new weapon to spread a "sinicised" idea of Xinjiang, namely the promotion of tourism to the region as part of the People's Republic of China.

The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), one of the largest organisations for the defence of Uyghur rights, has recently undertaken a campaign against this by focusing on tour operators who promote this kind of travel.

The UHRP’s latest initiative is the release of a list of 18 European tour operators based in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands, currently offering tours in the region, in addition to five more based in North America, Great Britain, and Australia that came under fire in a similar report released in August.

“These tours take tourists to Kashgar, Turpan, and Ürümchi, all of these destinations are linked to genocide and crimes against humanity,” the UHRP insists.

“These connections arise from the repression of religious beliefs, the destruction of cultural heritage, racial profiling, surveillance, internment, and imprisonment of Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples.”

Critics have slammed "experiences" that include visits to Uyghur homes, to families rigidly selected by local authorities and certainly not in a position to freely offer a reliable view of the situation in Xinjiang.

The UHRP does not call for a ban on travel to East Turkestan, leaving the decision to visit the region to the conscience of individual travellers, but urges travel companies to end organised tours that have become a tool of Beijing's propaganda.


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