Muslim leaders from China's Xinjiang region have rejected Western allegations that China is suppressing religious freedom at a media event with foreign diplomats at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Thursday's reception was the latest in a series of moves by the Chinese government to counter accusations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
It came a day after rights groups and Western nations demanded unfettered access for UN human rights experts to the region. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned China for “crimes against humanity and genocide against Muslim Uyghurs” during the release of an annual report on international religious freedom.
The Uyghurs are a mostly Muslim ethnic group in Xinjiang, a remote northwest region where China has been accused of mass incarcerations, forced labour and forced sterilisation in recent years as it imposed a strict security regime after a series of militant attacks.
Echoing the government line, the president of the Xinjiang Islamic Association said China had "eradicated the breeding ground for extremism by improving livelihoods, teaching people about the law and setting up vocational training and education centres".
Foreign analysts say the centres are part of a detention system that has locked up an estimated one million people or more.
Abdureqip Tomurniyaz, who heads the association and the school for Islamic studies in Xinjiang, accused anti-China forces in the US and other Western nations of spreading rumours and lies.
“They want to sabotage Xinjiang's harmony and stability, contain China's rise and alienate relations between China and Islamic countries,” he said.
He also said the US is turning a blind eye to its own human rights violations, citing Washington's involvement in conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and other Muslim countries, as well as claims of domestic anti-Muslim discrimination.
Religious leaders from five mosques spoke at the 90-minute presentation, describing prayers and feasting for Eid al-Fitr and rejecting criticism of China's religious policies.
However, the Uyghur Human Rights Project, a US-based group, said in a report on Thursday that it had documented at least 630 religious figures who have been detained or imprisoned in Xinjiang, most since 2014, over charges including illegal preaching and teaching religion to children, which is outlawed in China.
Mamat Juma, the imam of the historic Id Kah mosque in the city of Kashgar, said all ethnic groups in Xinjiang support the steps taken to combat terrorism. He said people are grateful to the ruling Communist Party for restoring stability and promoting economic growth.
At a daily briefing Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said Wednesday's meeting of human rights groups and Western nations was based on “lies and political bias", and accused participating nations of ignoring their own histories of prejudice and racism.
“The conference was full of monstrous lies and disinformation, and was another clumsy performance and outright political farce by the United States and a few other countries that have no bottom lines," Hua said.
Hua said China was not denying unfettered access to Xinjiang because it had something to hide, but because of the likelihood that any resulting reports would be distorted.
“I would like to ask that if someone falsely accuses and frames you with lies and then brutally and unreasonably demands you open your door unconditionally and allow them to go to your home and rummage through your closet, will you allow? This is not about facts, but about sovereignty and dignity," Hua said.
“China welcomes all unbiased people from all countries to visit Xinjiang but is firmly opposed to so-called investigations that are based on rumours and lies and presumption of guilt."
Ahead of the meeting, China's UN Mission sent notes to many of the 193 member nations urging them not to participate in the “anti-China event”.
Beijing's ambassador to the UN, Zhang Jun, sent text messages to the 15 Western co-sponsors of the meeting expressing shock and urging them to withdraw their support, warning that failure to do so would be “harmful to our relationship and cooperation”.