By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) – The exiled leader of China’s minority Muslim Uighurs is pressing countries to cut trade links with Beijing, saying the time for business as usual is over.
Dolkun Isa, president of the Munich-based group the World Uighur Congress, was speaking after two leaked troves of classified Chinese government documents provided evidence of mass detention camps for Uighurs in its western Xinjiang region.
Beijing denies any mistreatment of the Uighurs or others in Xinjiang, saying it is providing vocational training to help stamp out militancy and separatism and teach new skills.
Isa is due to meet Swiss Foreign Ministry officials on Thursday to lobby the neutral country, which has a free trade agreement with China, where major Swiss banks and companies are active.
“These documents were leaked, there is no longer any excuse for silence. The documents show everything very clearly. The documents bring more international attention, more international pressure to the Chinese government,” Isa told Reuters on Wednesday.
“It is not time for business as usual,” he said. “So that’s why we express to the Swiss government to stop free trade cooperation with China and also it is not the right time that Swiss companies continue their business with China.”
U.N. experts and activists say at least 1 million Uighurs and members of other largely Muslim minority groups have been detained in camps in Xinjiang in a crackdown begun in 2017 that has been condemned by the United States and other countries.
Isa said some camps had expanded and may hold 3 million people in all. German scholar Adrien Zenz this week put the figure interned so far at up to 1.8 million.
The New York Times published the details of the first set of leaked Chinese government documents on the details its clampdown on Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang.
The government of Xinjiang condemned the 403 pages of documents as “fabricated” and prompted by “hostile foreign forces”.
The second leak of documents, published last Sunday by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, describe the inner workings of detention camps.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday the leaked documents confirmed China was committing “very significant” human rights abuses against Uighurs and other minorities.
Isa and fellow Uighurs have lobbied governments in Europe, Asia and North America for support.
“These countries should be changing their mind. Because all the time they have been asking for evidence. We knew what was going on for the Uighurs but it is difficult for us to bring some evidence,” he said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Alison Williams)