Newcastle University lecturer among nine banned from entering China in Xinjiang row

The sanctions have been imposed over criticism of alleged human rights abuses of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region.

Ella Williams
26th March 2021
Image: Newcastle University
A Newcastle University lecturer and researcher is among nine individuals and four institutions sanctioned by China over criticism of its mass internment campaign in Xinjiang. The sanctions ban the individuals and their families from entering China or doing business with Chinese citizens or institutions.

Others involved in the sanctions include former leader of the Conservative party Iain Duncan Smith and MPs Tom Tugendhat, Nus Ghani, Neil O'Brien, and Tim Loughton. 

This move follows Britain, the US, Canada, and the European Union imposing sanctions on Monday, aimed at four Chinese officials responsible for alleged human rights abuses against the Uyghur Muslim community in the region. 

The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, called the treatment of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang "one of the worst human rights crises of our time".  Responding to Raab’s decision, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the move was “based on nothing but lies and disinformation” and “flagrantly breaches international law”.

Dr. Jo Smith Finley, reader in Chinese Studies at Newcastle University, writes op-eds for the international media and gives frequent interviews to investigative journalists. According to the University website, she serves as an “expert country witness” in Uyghur asylum cases in the UK, in the context of the “ongoing human rights crisis in Xinjiang”. 

"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." Dr. Smith Finley told The Courier.

Dr. Smith Finley described how her first year in Beijing in 1988-89 "ensured that China entered my bloodstream forever, and the city became my second home." This was followed by research and field trips to China between 1995 and 2018, her employment at Newcastle University beginning in 2000.

"Since taking up my post at Newcastle University, I have worked tirelessly to introduce students from the UK, Europe and beyond to the world of Chinese society and politics, have prepared successive student cohorts for their immersion in Chinese culture, and have visited our students each year in situ across five Chinese cities. When China applies political sanctions to me, it thus stands to lose an erstwhile ally." Dr. Smith Finley added.

"In Xinjiang, the situation has reached crisis point... we are seeing the perpetration of crimes against humanity and the beginnings of a slow genocide." Dr. Smith Finley asserts. "I would lack academic and moral integrity were I not to share the data I have obtained over the past three decades."

A statement tweeted by the University called Dr. Finley “a leading voice in this important area of research on the Uyghurs” and said that “academic freedom underpins every area of research at Newcastle University, and is essential to the principles of UK higher education”. 

Duncan Smith said that he would wear the sanctions as a “badge of honour”.

Julia McGee-Russell contributed reporting to this article.

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