Marriott hotel in Prague refused to host Uyghur conference due to 'political neutrality': report

A Marriott International location in Prague refused to host a Uyghur conference last month, citing "political neutrality," according to emails obtained by Axios.

The World Uyghur Congress is a Germany-based organization of exiled Uyghur people seeking to bring attention to the plight of Uyghurs in China's Xinjiang region. Zumretay Arkin, the advocacy manager for the group, told Axios that organizers began contacting hotels earlier this year for quotes on hosting the conference, which was held this month.

One representative for the group went to visit the Marriott in Prague. According to Arkin, the representative did not provide information on the group. However, soon after this visit, the Marriott sent the organization email stating they would not be able to offer the space for their conference.

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"Thank you very much for your visit today. Unfortunately, I have to inform you that we are not able to offer the premises," the events manager for the hotel wrote in an Oct. 1 email. "We consulted the whole matter with our corporate management. For reasons of political neutrality, we cannot offer events of this type with a political theme. Thank you once again for your time and understanding."

Arkin said this response was "shocking," and that nothing like this had never happened to her organization.

"We organize international events all the time and this is the first time we were given this excuse," Arkin said. "It is chilling because of the broader concept of how China is really disrupting Western democracies."

As Axios noted, the World Uyghur conference has repeatedly been condemned by the Chinese government, who have labelled the group a terrorist organization that fosters unrest in Xinjiang.

When reached by Axios, Marriott's senior vice president for global communications Melissa Froehlich Flood said her company would be "contacting the group to apologize, as the hotel's response was not consistent with our policies."

Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib attended the conference and said, "I hear that China is unhappy about this conference being held here in Prague. Well, I am unhappy there's a country in 2021 that has concentration camps."

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The Hill has reached out to Marriott International and the World Uyghur Congress for further comment.

In a statement to The Hill, Froehlich Flood said, "Marriott International is committed to giving a warm welcome to all. We are in the hospitality business, welcoming people from all around the world and from all walks of life representing many beliefs. The management team at the hotel is contacting the group to apologize, as the hotel’s response was not consistent with our policies. We are working with the hotel team to provide additional training and education on our longstanding practices of inclusion."

This incident is the latest in reports indicating China's growing influence beyond its borders, especially when it comes to Uyghur people.

In August, a Chinese woman claimed that the Chinese government was operating a detention center in Dubai where it held Uyghur people. Wu Huan, 26, told The Associated Press that she was abducted from her hotel in Dubai and taken to a villa where she was aware of at least two Uyghur people being held there.

The Chinese government's treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority has faced intense condemnation from the international community. Last year, the Trump administration labelled the treatment of Uighurs in China a "genocide."

Since 2017, the Chinese government has operated a network of "re-education camps" where Uyghur people — a largely Muslim community — are reportedly forced to take part in actions that go against their beliefs, such as drinking alcohol and eating pork. Uyghur women are also reportedly forcibly sterilized and forced to have abortions.

President BidenJoe BidenHouse passes 8B defense policy bill House approves bill to ease passage of debt limit hike Senate rejects attempt to block Biden's Saudi arms sale MORE specifically brought up China's treatment of Uyghurs with Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this week during an hours-long meeting. The Biden administration is reportedly considering a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympics due to concerns over human rights violations.

— Updated at 11:17 p.m.