Marriott apologizes to Uyghur advocacy group for refusing to host Prague conference – Radio Free Asia

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A Prague hotel that refused to host a recent Uyghur World Congress conference on grounds of “political neutrality” apologized to the group.

The Prague Marriott hotel declined to host the November 12-14 event, Axios reported Thursday, citing an October 1 email the hotel sent to a representative of the Uyghur World Congress (WUC).

The Germany-based WUC defends the rights of Uyghurs and has condemned China for its systematic abuses against members of the minority group in the western region of Xinjiang, where the government has detained up to 1.8 million people in a vast network of “re-education” camps and detention centers.

Ultimately, around 200 Uyghur exiles from 25 countries attended the meeting in Prague to discuss the current situation in China and elect new leaders.

China has denied the abuses and said the camps are vocational training centers where Uyghurs and other Turks learn skills in a bid to prevent religious extremism and terrorism in the region, where an estimated 12 million live. of Uyghurs, mostly Muslims.

Ahead of the Prague conference, the Chinese Embassy in the Czech Republic condemned the WUC, an anti-Chinese organization that had propagated religious extremism and incited terrorist and separatist activity.

Zumretay Arkin, WUC’s program and advocacy manager, told RFA on Friday that he believed Marriott had bowed to pressure from China.

“The reason given to us is not a valid reason as the hotel hosts political events,” said Arkin. “So we think there must have been Chinese pressure because the Chinese Embassy issued a statement condemning the accommodation [of WUC’s] congress in Prague. So, we think there was definitely Chinese pressure.

Arkin told Axios his group sent a representative to visit the Prague Marriott hotel to inquire about hotel rates. The hotel’s events manager then sent the rep an email refusing to host the conference.

“For reasons of political neutrality, we cannot offer events of this type with a political theme,” the message said.

No other hotel the group has contacted has expressed similar concerns, Arkin said.

Ben Gerow, Marriott’s corporate media relations manager, told RFA that “the hotel’s response was not in line with our policies.”

“We are in the hospitality business, welcoming people from all over the world and from all walks of life representing many beliefs,” he said in an email. “We are working with the hotel team to provide additional training and education on our long-standing inclusion practices. “

After the Axios story was published, a representative of the hotel chain called the WUC representative in Prague and apologized, he said.

Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, called the hotel’s refusal to host the conference “reprehensible, cowardly and discriminatory.”

“This is exactly why companies need to exercise human rights due diligence not only in their supply chains, business operations or investments, but also in their decisions about whether to who and under what circumstances they offer or refuse services, ”she said. RFA.

This was the second time Marriott “has visibly surrendered to what it sees as pressure from the Chinese government and made terrible business decisions as a result,” Richardson added.

In 2018, Marriott International apologized to China and condemned “separatists” there after the Beijing government shut down its website over an online questionnaire for guests who listed Tibet , Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao as countries, rather than regions of China.

Marriott International, which is based in Bethesda, Maryland, operates 56 hotels across its brand portfolio in China and has 44 other confirmed projects under development there.

Reported by Adile Ablet for RFA Uyghur Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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