Chinese Embassy advert in Estonian paper denounces Uighur genocide claims

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An advert published by the Chinese Embassy in Estonia's Õhtuleht newspaper. Source: ERR

The Chinese Embassy in Estonia paid for a full-page advert in Thursday's edition of the newspaper Õhtuleht which says the allegations of genocide and forced labor carried out by China against the Muslim Uighur minority in Xinjiang are false.

The advert titled "Xinjiang: The truth triumphs over lies" was written by the Chinese Ambassador to Estonia Li Chao who wrote that Xinjiang's previous backwardness has now been replaced by prosperity and progress.

"Economic prosperity and social development have been impressive, and people live and work in peace and happiness. Now, words such as 'concentration camp', 'genocide' and 'forced labor' are used in relation to Xinjiang, and they have attracted a lot of attention," he wrote.

Li Chao said these are "the most ridiculous lies and rumors of the century", and the accusations of genocide are being made by malicious political manipulations. The ambassador praised countries such as Pakistan, Nepal, Armenia and Tajikistan which have supported China.

This is not the first time the Chinese Embassy in Estonia has paid for adverts in Estonia newspapers denouncing China's mistreatment of the Uighur minority.

Additionally, the embassy criticized the Estonia Foreign Intelligence Service's annual report and said that it misleads the public. "[The report] is full of hearsay and patchwork, and smears China by citing sources which 'cannot be commented [on]', spreads fake news publicly, and misleads the public with ulterior motives," the embassy said in a statement sent to ERR News.

Estonian officials have previously criticized or signed joint statements against China's treatment of the Uighurs as well as its attitude towards Hong Kong and Tibet.

Last year Estonia and 38 countries made a statement at the United Nations which said: "On Xinjiang, we are gravely concerned about the existence of a large network of "political re-education" camps where credible reports indicate that over a million people have been arbitrarily detained. We have seen an increasing number of reports of gross human rights violations. There are severe restrictions on freedom of religion or belief and the freedoms of movement, association, and expression as well as on Uyghur culture. Widespread surveillance disproportionately continues to target Uighurs and other minorities and more reports are emerging of forced labor and forced birth control including sterilization." 

Kaja Kallas criticized China for its treatment of the Uighurs and said:
"It is terrible what China is doing to the Uighur people. The parallels one can draw with Nazi Germany and the Jews are frightening."

MEPs have called for Estonia to leave the 17+1 cooperation format between China and 17 European countries.

Estonia has expelled a Chinese diplomat and last month it was reported that Estonia had sentenced an Estonian marine scientist to prison for spying for China.

Postimees and Eesti Päevaleht refuse to publish "Chinese propaganda"

Two of Estonia's biggest newspapers Postimees and Eesti Päevaleht (EPL) said on Thursday they will refuse to publish similar adverts if offered to them by the embassy.

Mart Raudsaar, the editor-in-chief of Postimees, told: "We do not publish such communist propaganda. As a country, we also have certain values."

Urmo Soonvald, editor-in-chief of EPL, made the same point.

"We have categorically said that we will no longer publish such content and such stories have not been offered anymore," Soonvald told ERR. "We make value-based decisions and do not want to contribute to propaganda that ignores and suppresses the most basic human rights."

Raudsaar said Postimees' policy has been in place since the start of 2021 and it would not publish articles justifying repression. An advert the company refused to publish was then published in EPL on February 4.

Mihkel Luks, the advertising director of Ekspress Meedia, which publishes EPL, told BNS at the time the advert did not meet content standards and had been published due to an "unfortunate organizational error".

Õhtuleht editor apologizes

Õhtuleht's editor-in-chief Martin Šmutov on Thursday afternoon apologized for publishing propaganda and said the newspaper had gone against its values.

"Õhtuleht publishes advertisements in accordance with the law, but in addition, we have tried to ensure the adverts correspond to the company's values. In this case, we have gone against these values ​​and apologize," Šmutov told ERR.

"We will make organizational changes to avoid similar mistakes in the future," Šmutov added.

The newspaper has previously run adverts from the Chinese Embassy in June and October 2020.

Editor's note: This article was updated to add comments from Mart Raudsaar and Urmo Soonvald, and again to add comments from Martin Šmutov.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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