The Prime Minister praised the nine critics for “shining a light” on the gross human rights violations and stressed that he stood “firmly with them”. China’s hardline action is widely seen as a tit-for-tat retaliation for UK sanctions over Beijing’s treatment of Uighur Muslims. Relations cooled further when China’s ambassador to Britain was summoned on Friday to explain the revenge sanctions.
It comes four days after Britain, the US, Canada and the European Union placed sanctions on Chinese officials deemed responsible for human rights abuses against the persecuted minority in the country’s autonomous Xinjiang.
Former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, one of those targeted, said he would wear the sanctions as a “badge of honour”.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “The ambassador here will be summoned and we will explain in very clear terms the position both in relation to the MPs and other figures who have spoken out, but also that we will not be silenced in terms of speaking out about these human rights abuses.
And I think you’ll see – as we saw only this week with 30 countries, including the UK, united in imposing sanctions on those abusing the Uighur Muslims and others in Xinjiang – that pressure continues to grow and to rise.”
Mr Raab announced a package of travel bans and asset freezes against four senior officials and the state-run Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau (XPCC PSB) earlier this week.
He said the abuse of Uighur Muslims was “one of the worst human rights crises of our time” and the global community “cannot simply look the other way”.
But China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Mr Raab’s move was based on “nothing but lies and disinformation, flagrantly breaches international law and basic norms governing international relations, grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs, and severely undermines China-UK relations”.
The Ministry said it had sanctioned nine people and four British institutions “that maliciously spread lies and disinformation”.
Tory MPs Sir Iain, Neil O’Brien, Tim Loughton, Nusrat Ghani and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Tugendhat were sanctioned, along with crossbench peer Lord Alton, Labour’s Baroness Kennedy, barrister Geoffrey Nice and academic Jo Smith Finley.
Taking aim at China on Twitter Mr Johnson said: “The MPs and other British citizens sanctioned by China today are performing a vital role shining a light on the gross human rights violations being perpetrated against Uighur Muslims.
“Freedom to speak out in opposition to abuse is fundamental and I stand firmly with them.”
Sir Iain, a fierce critic of the Chinese regime, said: “It is our duty to call out the Chinese government’s human rights abuses in Hong Kong and their genocide of the Uighur people.
“Those of us who live free lives under the rule of law must speak for those who have no voice. If that brings the anger of China down upon me then I shall wear that as a badge of honour.”
And Ms Ghani told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This is a wake-up call for all democratic countries and lawmakers that we will not be able to conduct our day-to-day business without China sanctioning us for just attempting to expose what’s happening in Xinjiang and the abuse against the Uighurs.
“To sanction MPs who are just doing their jobs here in the UK is extraordinary. I know I won’t be intimidated, this has now made me feel even more determined to speak about the Uighur.”
A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in the UK said “lies of the century” were being spread about what was going on in Xinjiang and criticised the UK’s deployment of sanctions.
The nine people blacklisted in China are:
Sir Iain Duncan Smith – former leader of the Conservative Party
Nusrat Ghani – Former Minister who has been outspoken on China’s treatment of the Uighur population. Was elected as Tory MP in 2015.
Tim Loughton – Former Minister and Tory MP since 1997.
Tom Tugendhat – Tory Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and joint leader of the China Research Group of MPs.
Neil O’Brien – Elected as Conservative MP in 2017. Joint leader of the China Research Group.
Baroness Kennedy – Labour Peer who is a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China.
Lord Alton – Crossbench Peer who is a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China.
Sir Geoffrey Nice QC – A lawyer and chair of the Uighur Tribunal, which is investigating atrocities against the minority group
Jo Smith Finley – Newcastle University academic whose research focuses on the Uighurs