Chinese sanctions on Newcastle academic 'counter-productive'

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image captionNewcastle University said academic freedom underpinned its research

A Newcastle academic has called sanctions imposed on her by the Chinese government "wholly counter-productive".

Dr Jo Smith Finley is one of nine UK citizens targeted for spreading what China called "lies and disinformation".

The move is in retaliation for measures taken by the UK government over human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims.

Dr Smith Finley, whose work focuses on the minority group, said she had been sanctioned for "having a conscience and standing up for social justice".

"That the Chinese authorities should resort to imposing sanctions on UK politicians, legal chambers and a sole academic is disappointing, depressing and wholly counter-productive," she said.

The others facing sanctions include five MPs and two peers who are among the most vocal critics of China in the UK.

The sanctions include a ban on entering China, Hong Kong and Macau, the freezing of property in China and the prohibition of doing business with Chinese citizens and institutions.

'Slow genocide'

Dr Smith Finley spent a year in Beijing in the late 1980s and said China had "entered my bloodstream".

She later made a series of field trips to Xinjiang, which is home to about 12 million Uighurs.

"Since 2014, I have watched in horror the policy changes that led to an atmosphere of intimidation and terror across China's peripheries, affecting first Tibet and Xinjiang and now also Hong Kong and Inner Mongolia," she said.

"In Xinjiang, the situation has reached crisis point, with many scholars, activists and legal observers concluding that we are seeing the perpetration of crimes against humanity and the beginnings of a slow genocide.

"I have no regrets for speaking out and I will not be silenced."

image copyrightReuters
image captionChina has created a sprawling network of detention camps for minorities in the Xinjiang region

Newcastle University said it fully supported Dr Smith Finley in her work.

One of her roles at the university involves managing student exchange programmes in China, preparing "successive student cohorts for their immersion in Chinese culture".

"When China applies political sanctions to me, it thus stands to lose an erstwhile ally," Dr Smith Finley said.

The Chinese government said it had retaliated over measures taken by the UK government, including travel bans and asset freezes targeting senior officials in Xinjiang who have been accused of serious human rights violations against Uighur Muslims.

Hua Chunying, from the Chinese foreign ministry, told a press briefing China was forced to act "in self-defence" in response to UK sanctions "based on lies".

A spokesman from the Chinese embassy in London criticised the UK's use of sanctions adding that China "never provokes confrontation", but if others do "we are ready to keep them company".

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