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China dismisses pope's comments about 'persecuted' Uighurs

China dismisses pope's comments about 'persecuted' Uighurs
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Chinese officials are dismissing Pope FrancisPope FrancisPope to miss three upcoming events due to sciatic leg pain Pope says he prays God guides Biden's reconciliation efforts Pope Francis gets COVID-19 vaccine MORE's description of the Uighur ethnic minority as "persecuted," saying their rights are protected.

Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said in a media briefing on Tuesday that the remarks by Francis in his new book are "groundless,” according to Reuters.  In “Let Us Dream: The Path to A Better Future,” Francis writes that he “think[s] often of persecuted peoples: the Rohingya, the poor Uighurs, the Yazidi.”

“The Chinese government has always protected the legal rights of ethnic minorities equally,” Zhao added.

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The comments are in line with Beijing’s frequent denials of human rights abuses against the Uighurs. 

More than 1 million Uighurs are detained in camps in China’s Xinjiang region that Beijing claims are part vocational education and antiterrorism deradicalization efforts.

Detainees have been subject to forced sterilizations and abortions, however, according to a June report from The Associated Press.

Human rights activists have long urged the pontiff to describe Uighurs as a persecuted people, Reuters noted. He has spoken up on behalf of the Yazidi and Rohingya on prior occasions. The Vatican renewed a pact with Beijing concerning appointment of bishops in September, and Francis was widely speculated to be reluctant to criticize the Chinese government before the renewal.

The Rohingya are a stateless, predominantly Muslim ethnic group that have been targeted by ongoing acts of genocide by the Myanmar government since 2017. At least 24,000 Rohingya have been killed, according to Ontario International Development Agency.

The Yazidi, a religious and ethnic minority living predominantly in northern Iraq, have been the victim of various ethnic cleansing campaigns. The most recent such campaign was conducted by the Islamic State, which killed up to 5,000 Yazidis, according to the United Nations, which has recognized the killings as a genocide.