Exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer sharply criticized the Frankfurt Book Fair for inviting China as its guest this year, arguing that the country should not be honored given its poor human rights track record.
It is just not right to welcome a country, where executions are a daily occurrence and human rights are treated with disrespect, Kadeer, a former businesswoman who now leads the exile group the World Uighur Congress, said at the book fair on Sunday, the last day of the fair.
Before the Olympic Games, the world was of the opinion China would be forced to respect human rights more as the world turned its attention to the games in China, said Kadeer, her long grey hair in her signature braids and wearing a traditional four-cornered Uighur cap.
Amnesty International in a report last year criticized China for failing to honor vows to improve rights that officials made in lobbying for the Games, and said it did not live up to commitments as an Olympic host in 2008.
Instead of drawing lessons from that event, the book fair invited China as its guest...but what happened on July 5 demonstrates how China treats human rights and its citizens, Kadeer said, referring to violent unrest in July that shook China's northwest region of Xinjiang, home to Muslim Uighurs.
China says Kadeer orchestrated the ethnic violence in July in which 200 people were killed. She denies the allegation.
Along with Tibet, Xinjiang is one of the most politically sensitive regions in China and in both places the government has sought to maintain its grip by controlling religious and cultural life while promising economic growth and prosperity.
Book Fair organizers defended their controversial choice.
We condemn limitations of human rights and limitations of freedom of speech, fair director Juergen Boos said. Not talking about unpleasant subjects has not helped in the past, we have to be open and deal with them, he added.
The fair, the largest of its kind, often courts controversy. Last year's guest country, Turkey, also came under fire for its long tradition of limiting free speech.
The Book Fair provides a cultural platform for discussion with clear rules. But it is not the United Nations, Boos said, adding: Our theme is literature. We can draw attention to conflicts, but we cannot solve them.
Around 7,000 exhibitors from 100 countries came to Frankfurt this year, around the same number as last year.
Next year's guest will be Argentina.