Marriott apologizes to Uyghur advocacy group for declining to host Prague conference

A hotel in Prague that refused to host a recent World Uyghur Congress conference on grounds of “political neutrality” has apologized to the group.

The Prague Marriott Hotel declined to host the Nov. 12-14 event, Axios reported Thursday, citing an Oct. 1 email message the hotel sent to a World Uyghur Congress (WUC) representative.

The Germany-based WUC advocates for Uyghur rights and has condemned China for its systematic abuse of members of the minority group in the western region of Xinjiang, where the government has held up to 1.8 million people in a vast network of “re-education” camps and detention centers.

Ultimately, about 200 Uyghur exiles from 25 countries attended the meeting in Prague to discuss the ongoing situation in China and to elect new leaders.

China has denied the abuse and said the camps are vocational training facilities where Uyghurs and other Turkic people learn skills in an effort to prevent religious extremism and terrorism in the region, where about 12 million mostly Muslim Uyghurs live.

Prior to the Prague conference, the Chinese Embassy in the Czech Republic condemned the WUCs an anti-China organization that had spread religious extremism and incited terrorist and separatist activities.

Zumretay Arkin, WUC’s program and advocacy manager, told RFA on Friday that she believed Marriott bowed to pressure from China.

“Its reason given to us is not a valid reason because the hotel does host political events,” Arkin said. “So, we believe there must have been Chinese pressure because the Chinese Embassy issued a statement condemning the hosting [of WUC’s] congress in Prague. So, we think there was definitely Chinese pressure.”

Arkin told Axios that her group had sent a representative to visit the Prague Marriott Hotel to inquire about hotel rates. The hotel’s event manager subsequently sent the representative an email declining to host the conference.

“For reasons of political neutrality, we cannot offer events of this type with a political theme,” the message said.

No other hotel the group reached out to expressed similar concerns, Arkin said.

Ben Gerow, Marriott’s corporate media relations manager, told RFA that “the hotel’s response was not consistent with our policies.”

“We are in the hospitality business, welcoming people from all around the world and from all walks of life representing many beliefs,” he said in an email. “We are working with the hotel team to provide additional training and education on our longstanding practices of inclusion.”

After the Axios story was published, a representative from the hotel chain called WUC’s representative in Prague and apologized, he said.

Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, called the hotel’s refusal to host the conference “reprehensible, cowardly and discriminatory.”

“It’s exactly the reason why companies need to do human rights due diligence not just of their supply chains or their business operations or their investing, but of their decisions about to whom and under what circumstances they’re offering or withholding services,” she told RFA.

This was the second time that Marriott “has visibly capitulated to what it sees as Chinese government pressure and made terrible business decisions as a result,” Richardson added.

In 2018, Marriott International apologized to China and condemned “separatists” there after the Beijing government shut down its website over an online questionnaire for guests that listed Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau as countries, rather than regions of China.

Marriott International, which is based in Bethesda, Maryland, operates 56 hotels across its brand portfolio in China and has another 44 confirmed projects under development there.

Reported by Adile Ablet for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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