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Qatar 'withdraws signature' from pro-China statement defending Uighur detentions

While welcoming the move, Uighurs question motives behind Qatar's decision to remove its name from letter defending 're-education' camps
Several Muslim-majority countries have endorsed a statement supporting China's internment of Uighur Muslims (AFP)

Uighur activists welcomed Qatar's decision to remove its name from an open letter supporting China's imprisonment of Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang province.

Correspondence seen by Bloomberg and revealed on Wednesday showed that Doha had requested the United Nations Human Rights Council withdraw Qatar's name from the July letter, days after it was announced at the UN.  

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The messages quoted Ali Khalfan al-Mansouri, Qatar's permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, as stating that Doha intended to "maintain a neutral stance".

"Taking into account our focus on compromise and mediation, we believe that co-authorising the aforementioned letter would compromise key priorities," Mansouri said in the correspondence dated 18 July. 

The letter, signed by several Muslim-majority countries including Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, was published on 12 July.    

Qatar did not respond to repeated requests for comment on why it had not gone public about its decision to withdraw its signature from the pro-China statement.  

Uighurs welcome Qatari move 

Despite welcoming Qatar's decision, Uighur activists questioned why the Gulf state had not gone public with it. 

"Surprised but glad that Qatar has made this important move. It is the right decision but I do not understand why they had not gone public sooner," Halmurat Harri, a Uighur activist who now lives in Finland, told Middle East Eye.  

"Now that they have gone public, they should use this opportunity to expose the hypocrisy of other countries like Saudi Arabia, who signed the statement and are seeking closer ties with China."

John Fisher from Human Rights Watch echoed Harri's sentiments and said it "spoke volumes" that countries like North Korea, Syria and Venezuela had endorsed the pro-China letter. 

"Many Muslim-majority states, including Qatar, have rightly declined to lend their voices in support of China’s mass detention and sweeping abuses directed against Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang," Fisher told MEE. 

"We urge these states to speak out in support of an independent assessment by the High Commissioner for Human Rights so that the UN Human Rights Council can receive objective information and consider appropriate action.”

Questioning Qatar's motives 

China was Qatar’s third-largest trading partner in 2018, with some $13bn in total trade, according to Bloomberg. 

Revelations that Qatar had withdrawn its signature from the pro-China letter comes weeks after a Uighur was threatened with deportation to China from Doha airport. 

Earlier this month, Ablikim Yusuf was on the verge of being deported to China. Fearing for his life, Yusuf posted a video on Facebook urging people to help him.

Arslan Hidayat, a Uighur activist born in Australia and now based in Turkey, helped translate Yusuf's plea and put English-language subtitles on his video.

He praised Qatar for taking a stand against China but questioned the Gulf state's motivations behind removing its name from the letter. 

"It's very brave of Qatar to be the first Muslim country to withdraw its signature from the letter in support of the camps and I hope many others follow," Hidayat told MEE.  

"But it'll be interesting to see whether this is a genuine gesture from Qatar - i.e. are they doing this to boost their economy or to support their Muslim brothers?" 

China has defended its use of "re-education" camps to intern millions of Uighurs in the Xinjiang province, which is home to 22 million members of the Muslim minority.