China denies role in disrupting McMaster speech but praises 'patriotic' actions

The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa says what happened at McMaster had "nothing to do with the Chinese Embassy and Chinese Consulate General in Canada."
Activist Rukiye Turdush says she believes the Chinese government was involved in the disruption of a presentation she was giving at McMaster University. The Chinese government has issued a statement denying her claim. (Rukiye Turdush/Facebook)

Chinese officials in Canada are denying any role in disrupting a speech at McMaster University by an activist critical of that government's treatment of Uighurs, while applauding the "patriotic" actions of those who took part in the  incident.

Rukiye Turdush, an Uighur activist, was speaking about the internment of Muslims in Northwest China on Feb. 11 during a talk organized by the Muslim Student's Association and Muslims' for Justice and Peace.

She alleges she was filmed and shouted at during her talk, and says the students who did so were directed by the Chinese government.

The allegation led to a statement from the university saying it was concerned about possible surveillance of students and that staff would look into what happened.

But the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa says what happened at McMaster had "nothing to do with the Chinese Embassy and Chinese Consulate General in Canada.

"We strongly support the just and patriotic actions of Chinese students," the statement continues.​

For her part, Turdush is adamant the government played a role.

"I heavily suspect and believe that these students have a strong connection with the Chinese consulate, and they are instructed by the Chinese consulate," she said in a video posted online.

"A few Chinese students tried to disturb me during my speech and one of them actually verbally insulted me during the discussion period."

David Mulroney, who served as Canada's ambassador to China from 2009 to 2012, told CBC News students have been reporting for years that Chinese diplomats are "overly interested" in what goes on in western schools.

"I'm not surprised that Chinese diplomats are involved in this," he said, referencing Turdush's speech. "It's entirely inappropriate, but unfortunately it's a fact of life given the way China monitors the way it's perceived in the west."

Similar incident in Toronto

In its statement the Chinese government also denied involvement in a campaign of online abuse toward a Tibetan activist who was elected student president at the University of Toronto's Scarborough campus.

"Since the 'Tibet-independence' and Xinjiang separatists forces are allowed to have freedom of speech, people who oppose them should also be entitled to enjoy freedom of speech," the embassy claims, adding the Chinese government follows the law by supporting religious freedom and rights of all ethnic groups.

"We resolutely oppose the use of these issues by some people to blame the Chinese government out of groundless accusations and stir up anti-China sentiment," the statement adds. "We hope that the Canadian people could correctly view the relevant issues and will not be misled by the wrong information."