Ambassadors condemn China’s treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang

More than 20 countries have written to top United Nations human rights officials condemning China´s treatment of Uighur and other minorities in the western Xinjiang region, in a letter released Wednesday.

UN ambassadors from 22 states — including Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Japan — co-signed the text sent to the Human Rights Council president, Coly Seck, and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet. China is reportedly holding one million people, mostly ethnic Uighurs, in internment camps in Xinjiang. Rights groups and former inmates describe them as “concentration camps” where mainly Muslim Uighurs and other minorities are being forcefully assimilated into China´s majority ethnic Han society. The letter expresses concern “about credible reports of arbitrary detention... as well as widespread surveillance and restrictions, particularly targeting Uighurs and other minorites in Xinjiang.”

It calls on China to stop arbitrary detention and allow “freedom of movement of Uighurs and other Muslim and minority communities in Xinjiang.” The authors, who include ambassadors from across the EU as well as Switzerland, requested that the letter become an official document of the Human Rights Council, which ends its 41st session in Geneva on Friday.

Diplomats rarely send open letters to the 47-member council to criticise a country´s record, but the move may have been the only available option to spotlight Xinjiang, with China likely having enough support to vote down a formal resolution.

White House confirms Imran’s meeting with Trump

US President Donald Trump will meet with Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House in Washington DC on July 22, the White House confirmed on Wednesday.

"President Donald J. Trump will welcome Prime Minister Imran Khan of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to the White House on July 22, 2019," the White House said in a statement.

"The visit will focus on strengthening cooperation between the United States and Pakistan to bring peace, stability, and economic prosperity to a region that has seen far too much conflict," said the statement. It added that the two leaders would discuss several issues during their meeting, including "counterterrorism, defence, energy, and trade, with the goal of creating the conditions for a peaceful South Asia and an enduring partnershipbetween our two countries".

The press release on Wednesday evening helped clarify the confusion earlier created by statement from a US State Department spokesperson, who said the White House had not confirmed reports of a meeting between the two heads of state.

Earlier, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development Zulfikar Bukhari also confirmed the prime minister's visit to the US. Bukhari said the prime minister would depart for the US on July 20.

Imran Khan will be visiting the US for three days where he will be meeting with President Trump along with other top officials of the administration. Pakistan's embassy here also has not issued any meeting schedules, but the prime minister is supposed to address the diaspora and meet with the business community as well.

Global media watchdog slates curbs on media
A global media watchdog has slammed Pakistani authorities over the removal of three television channels from the country´s airwaves, saying the move was "indicative of disturbing dictatorial tendencies." The statement from Reporters Without Borders (RSF) comes days after AbbTakk TV, 24 News, and Capital TV all had their broadcasts cut. Pakistani authorities say the channels were unavailable due to "technical issues", but RSF described the outage as an act of "brazen censorship". "Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled to learn that three Pakistani TV news channels have been suspended from cable networks at the behest of the authorities in reprisal for broadcasting an opposition leader´s news conference," the watchdog said late Tuesday. A senior official with knowledge of the case confirmed the move against the channels, saying the broadcasters had violated Pakistan´s "code of conduct." The Reporters Without Borders also said that it had visited Saudi Arabia to seek freedom for 30 jailed journalists amid sustained Western criticism of Riyadh. The RSF, had not publicised its April visit, which it called unprecedented, in hopes that the authorities would pardon the detainees during the holy month of Ramazan. Secretary-General Christophe Deloire led the delegation, which met Saudi officials including the ministers of justice and media, the minister of state for foreign affairs, the public prosecutor and the head of the state-backed human rights commission. The Saudi government communications office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the visit and the status of the detainees.

Britain’s US ambassador resigns after Trump spat
Britain´s ambassador to Washington resigned Wednesday after being targeted by US President Donald Trump over the leak of highly critical diplomatic cables that put the allies´ relationship on edge.

Outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May had offered her support to Kim Darroch after it was revealed he described the Trump administration as “inept”. But the man tipped to replace her in Downing Street this month, former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, declined to back the diplomat, instead emphasising the need to maintain strong ties with the US.

In a series of confidential cables revealed by a British newspaper at the weekend, Darroch called the Trump administration “uniquely dysfunctional” and said the president was “radiating insecurity”. Trump hit back with a torrent of angry tweets, saying he would not deal with Darroch again, describing him as a “very stupid guy” and a “pompous fool”.

He also criticised May´s “foolish” policies and said it was a good thing she would soon be replaced. Darroch has been in Washington since January 2016 and was due to stay until the end of the year. But in a statement he said: “The current situation is making it impossible for me to carry out my role as I would like.”

Darroch has received support from across the political spectrum in Britain and after he resigned, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “It should never have come to this.” Hunt, who is vying with Johnson to replace May as leader of the ruling Conservative party and as prime minister, on Tuesday condemned Trump´s outbursts as “disrespectful and wrong”. But Johnson declined several opportunities in a TV debate Tuesday night to back Britain´s ambassador. “I don´t think it was necessarily the right thing for him to do,” he said of Trump´s tweets. “But our relationship with the US is of fantastic importance.” Reports suggest it was at this point that Darroch decided to resign. Yet Johnson himself has previously assailed the US president. As mayor of London in 2015, he said Trump was “out of his mind” for suggesting parts of the UK capital were “so radicalised” that even the police stayed away. “I think he is betraying a quite stupefying ignorance that makes him frankly unfit to hold the office of president of the United States,” Johnson said at the time.

May expressed “great regret” that Darroch was leaving, saying: “Good government depends on public servants being able to give full and frank advice.” Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative chairman of parliament´s foreign affairs committee, warned the incident could have far-reaching implications. “If the UK can´t protect diplomatic communications and that costs people their careers... we will degrade the quality of our envoys, diminish our influence and weaken our country,” he said. Simon McDonald, the civil servant who heads Britain´s Diplomatic Service, said he had contacted all ambassadors “stressing that unvarnished, honest analysis is what we need”. “This is a personal tragedy for a friend and colleague,” he told Tugendhat´s committee, adding it would “make us look at our ways of working again.” Branding the leak “the worst breach of trust in our service” in his decades-spanning diplomatic career, he vowed to find the culprit “with all means at our disposal”. But McDonald said he was “braced” for the possibility of further unauthorised disclosures. “I fear there may be more,” he added.

The British government has contacted police and launched its own investigation into the leak, which comes at a hugely sensitive time in US-UK relations. Trump was given the red-carpet treatment during a state visit to Britain last month, but there are tensions over his policies towards Iran and China.

Iranian boats 'tried to intercept British tanker'

Iranian boats tried to impede a British oil tanker near the Gulf - before being driven off by a Royal Navy ship, the Ministry of Defence has said.

HMS Montrose moved between the three boats and the tanker British Heritage before issuing verbal warnings to the Iranian vessels, a spokesman said. He described the Iranians' actions as "contrary to international law".

According to reports in US media, quoting US officials, boats believed to belong to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) approached the British Heritage tanker and tried to bring it to a halt as it was moving out of the Gulf into the Strait of Hormuz.

Guns on HMS Montrose, the British frigate escorting the tanker, were reportedly trained on the Iranian boats as they were ordered to back off. They heeded the warning and no shots were fired.

A UK government spokesman said: "Contrary to international law, three Iranian vessels attempted to impede the passage of a commercial vessel, British Heritage, through the Strait of Hormuz.

"We are concerned by this action and continue to urge the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region."

Iran appears to have been attempting to make good on its threat against British-flagged vessels in the wake of the seizure of an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar.

But though this incident has a specifically bilateral dimension, it is also a powerful reminder that the tensions in the Gulf have not gone away.

And with every sign that the dispute over the nuclear agreement with Iran is set to continue, things may only get worse.

The episode may add some impetus to US-brokered efforts to muster an international naval force in the Gulf to protect international shipping.

But most worrying of all, it shows that elements within the Iranian system - the Revolutionary Guard Corps's naval arm, or whatever - are intent on stoking the pressure.

This inevitably plays into President Trump's hands as Britain and its key European partners struggle to keep the nuclear agreement alive.

Quoting the public relations office of the IRGC's Navy, the Guards-linked Fars news agency said, in a tweet, the IRGC "denies claims by American sources" that it tried to seize HMS Montrose.

Last week, British Royal Marines helped the authorities in Gibraltar seize an Iranian oil tanker because of evidence it was heading to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.

The Trump administration - which has pulled out of an international agreement on Tehran's nuclear programme - has reinforced punishing sanctions against Iran.

Its European allies, including the UK, have not followed suit.

Nonetheless, the relationship between the UK and Iran has also become increasingly strained, after Britain said the Iranian regime was "almost certainly" responsible for the attacks on two oil tankers in June.

The UK has also been pressing Iran to release British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe who was jailed for five years in 2016 after being convicted for spying, which she denies.