Statement by sanctioned scholar Jo Smith Finley

Dr. Jo Smith Finley, a Reader in Chinese Studies at Newcastle University, is one of the nine UK citizens recently put on a sanctions list by China in retaliation for her work on Xinjiang. She recently posted a statement on Twitter, which with her permission I’m re-posting here.

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March 27, 2021

I learned in the early hours of this morning via social media outlet Twitter that I have been sanctioned by the PRC (Chinese) government for ongoing research speaking the truth about human rights violations against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, Northwest China; in short, for having a conscience and standing up for social justice.

That the Chinese authorities should resort to imposing sanctions on UK politicians, legal chambers, and a sole academic is disappointing, depressing and wholly counter-productive.

I began my journey to become a “China hand” in 1987, when I enrolled at Leeds University to read modern Chinese studies. My first year spent in Beijing in 1988-89—during which I also experienced the Tiananmen inciden—ensured that China entered my bloodstream forever, and the city became my second home.

I later focused on the situation in the Uyghur homeland (a.k.a Xinjiang), to which I made a series of field trips, long- and short-term, between 1995 and 2018. Since taking up post at Newcastle University in 2000, I have worked tirelessly to introduce students from the UK, Europe and beyond to the world of Chinese society and politics, have prepared successive student cohorts for their immersion in Chinese culture, and have visited our students each year in situ across five Chinese cities. When China applies political sanctions to me, it thus stands to lose an erstwhile ally.

Since 2014, I have watched in horror the policy changes that led to an atmosphere of intimidation and terror across China’s peripheries, affecting first Tibet and Xinjiang, and now also Hong Kong and Inner Mongolia. In Xinjiang, the situation has reached crisis point, with many scholars, activists and legal observers concluding that we are seeing the perpetration of crimes against humanity and the beginnings of a slow genocide.

In such a context, I would lack academic and moral integrity were I not to share the audio-visual, observational and interview data I have obtained over the past three decades. As stated on Twitter, I have no regrets for speaking out, and I will not be silenced.

I would like to give my deep thanks to my institution, Newcastle University, for its staunch support for my work and its ongoing commitment to academic freedom, social justice and inter-ethnic equality.

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