Lawyer asks to prosecute Xinjiang governor in the UK | UK news

A lawyer representing a Kazakh man who has alleged severe human rights violations perpetrated by the Chinese state has requested permission from the UK attorney general to prosecute a Xinjiang governor expected to arrive in Britain on Sunday.

On Wednesday, the Foreign Office shocked cross-party opponents of the Chinese treatment of Uyghur people and other Turkic groups who called it “incomprehensible” that the Xinjiang governor, Erkin Tuniyaz – who has been sanctioned by the US – is planning to visit the UK next week.

Tuniyaz, whom MPs allege has played “a central role in the persecution of Uyghurs”, also plans to make trips to other European countries to meet “stakeholders” to “discuss the situation in Xinjiang”, according to an email from the Foreign Office.

The prosecution request over Tuniyaz’s role in alleged human rights violations perpetrated against Uyghur people and other Turkic groups in China over the crime of torture was made by the barrister Michael Polak on behalf of Erbakit Otarbay, a Kazakh camp survivor now living in the UK. Polak sent the request to the attorney general late on Wednesday night and hopes to receive a response later on Thursday.

“Because the client is in the United Kingdom and an alleged victim of torture, he’s entitled to bring a case against Mr Tuniyaz,” said Polak. “Of course, Mr Tuniyaz is entitled to a fair trial … and he can reject or fight the allegations.”

In 2021, Ortabay submitted a statement to the Uyghur Tribunal, an independent and unofficial tribunal that found Uyghur people living in Xinjiang province had been subjected to crimes against humanity directed by the Chinese state.

In May 2017, Ortabay said his passport was confiscated by Chinese authorities on his way back to visit his father in China. He emigrated to Kazakhstan with his family in 2014.

In July 2017 he was arrested, interrogated, detained and accused of watching illegal videos about Islam on his phone. Ortabay alleges he was held in prison and “training” camps and subjected to forced labour in a clothing factory until his release in 2018.

“I was punished several times during my stay in the camps and prisons,” said Ortabay, who is ethnically Kazakh. During his time in camps and prisons, Ortabay said they were given very little food and at times had to drink urinal water to survive.

“I have scars on my head, face and hands. They often beat me with a stick or electric baton,” said Ortabay.

Responding to an urgent question regarding Tuniyaz’s visit in the House of Commons on Thursday, the Foreign Office minister Leo Docherty said he had not been invited by the UK government or the Foreign Office. Docherty added there was no confirmation Tuniyaz would in fact travel.

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“Our expectation is that he will travel on a diplomatic passport, and therefore he has not yet been granted a visa. If he does visit, I assure this House that under no circumstances will he be dignified with a ministerial meeting,” Docherty said. “China’s actions in Xinjiang are abhorrent and we will not legitimise them in any way.”

The Tory MP Iain Duncan Smith responded to Docherty by calling the Foreign Office response “a very weak turn”, saying it “hides something”. “It is not that it has invited him here, but it has made it clear that when he comes, he will be welcome to see officials. Whether or not the Foreign Office is tough, this is a propaganda coup for the Chinese government,” Duncan Smith said in the Commons.

The attorney general has been approached for comment.

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