Uyghurs persecuted by China to elect a government in exile in Prague

In this photo released by the Taipei City Government, Taipei's Mayor Ko Wen-je bumps elbows with Prague's Mayor Zdenek Hrib during a meeting in Taipei, Taiwan on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020. (Taipei City Government via AP)
By Lucie Ctverakova
3 Min Read

Hundreds of Uyghurs, persecuted by China and living in the diaspora, gathered in Prague, which they consider one of the centers for human rights promotion. There, Uyghurs will elect their leadership for the next three years. The World Uyghur Congress, which begins on Friday, is stirring the local political waters, with discord mainly between senators and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“Political support for the event is relatively cautious. There are indications that the Chinese side’s reaction is coming,” a diplomatic source told the Lidové Noviny daily.

However, the mayor of Prague, Zdeněk Hřib, who has been criticizing China’s policies for a long time and has taken over the patronage of the congress, sees no problem. Relations between Prague and Beijing are at a freezing point anyway, which Hřib intends to mention at the conference.

“Representatives of China have already expressed concern about this event through the political council of the Chinese Embassy in the Czech Republic. In my opinion, any sensible person should be concerned that in 2021, there are concentration camps for religious and other minorities in China. As a doctor, I also have a problem with reports of forced organ harvesting,” said the mayor.

Originally, Hřib’s colleague from the Pirates Party, and an aspirant for the post of foreign minister, Jan Lipavský, was also to take part in the Uyghurs’ congress in Prague.

According to a source of Lidové Noviny, this would probably not please President Miloš Zeman, an advocate of Chinese investments in Czechia, who also nominates the proposed candidates for ministers.

“Moreover, if Lipavský really became foreign minister, he would have to reckon with the fact that he would get blacklisted by the Chinese and not let into the country, which would be a significant obstacle,” said the source.

In addition to Prague’s mayor, the senate also supports the Uyghurs’ conference, albeit indirectly. The upper house of parliament is not in China’s good graces, anyway. Senator Pavel Fischer will speak on Friday at the opening of the conference.

Fischer stated that Czechia, as a state based on the principles of democracy and civil rights, must express support for those who face systematic repression of these values. The senator also did not spare criticism towards Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhánek, who, according to Fischer, refused to provide assistance.

However, Kulhánek objected to the criticism, explaining that the congress is a private event in which the Ministry was not involved, nor was it asked to participate. The Ministry only dealt with the issue of visas for participants.

In general, Kulhánek noted, the timing of such a big event involving people from high-risk countries when there is a growing number of COVID-19 cases is also unfortunate.

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