Twitter locks account of China's US embassy over Uighur post

Security guards at the gates of what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, in a file photo taken in September 2018. The entrance is adorned with Chinese flags and features giant prints of Ch
Security guards at the gates of what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, in a file photo taken in September 2018. The entrance is adorned with Chinese flags and features giant prints of Chinese landmarks. PHOTO: REUTERS

SHANGHAI • Twitter has locked the account of China's US embassy for a tweet that defended China's policy towards Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang, which the US social media platform said violated its stand against "dehumanising" people.

The Chinese embassy account, @ChineseEmbinUS, posted a tweet this month that said that Uighur women had been emancipated and were no longer "baby-making machines", citing a study reported by state-backed newspaper China Daily.

The tweet was removed by Twitter and replaced by a label stating that it was no longer available.

Although Twitter hides tweets that violate its policies, it requires account owners to manually delete such posts. The Chinese embassy's account has not posted any new tweets since Jan 9.

"We've taken action on the tweet you referenced for violating our policy against dehumanisation, where it states: We prohibit the dehumanisation of a group of people based on their religion, caste, age, disability, serious disease, national origin, race, or ethnicity," a Twitter spokesman said yesterday.

China has repeatedly rejected accusations of abuse in Xinjiang, where a United Nations panel has said at least a million Uighurs and other Muslims had been detained in camps.

China has maintained that it is fighting separatism and extremism in the region.

Twitter's suspension of the embassy's account came a day after the Trump administration, in its final hours, accused China of committing genocide in Xinjiang, a finding endorsed by the incoming Biden administration.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying yesterday said authorities were "puzzled" about why Twitter restricted the account, calling it the embassy's responsibility to correct "fake reports and information related to Xinjiang".

"We hope Twitter can adhere to objective and fair principles and not display double standards on this issue," she said at a briefing in Beijing.

Last year, a report by German researcher Adrian Zenz, published by the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation think-tank, accused China of using forced sterilisation, forced abortion and coercive family planning against minority Muslims. China said the allegations were groundless and false.

Twitter's move also follows the removal of the account of former US president Donald Trump, which had 88 million followers, citing the risk of violence after his supporters stormed the US Capitol this month.

Twitter locked Mr Trump's account, asking for deletion of some tweets, before restoring it and then removing it altogether after the former president violated the platform's policies again.

After the Chinese embassy in Sri Lanka's account was suspended last year, it argued its "freedom of speech" must be honoured, even though Twitter posts are blocked in the mainland.

Last month, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison demanded an apology after Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian tweeted a fake photo depicting one of his nation's troops holding a bloody knife to an Afghan child's throat.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2021, with the headline 'Twitter locks account of China's US embassy over Uighur post'. Subscribe