By Meliha Kesmer and Predrag Zvijerac
January 20, 2023
Former Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric arrives for a ceremony at a mosque in Sarajevo in 2012.
ARAJEVO -- The former grand mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina is facing accusations of helping to whitewash Beijing's human rights abuses in Xinjiang against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities after he visited China's western province and praised the Chinese Communist Party's policies.
As part of a government-organized visit on January 8 to Xinjiang in cooperation with the World Muslim Communities Council, a U.A.E.-funded organization, Mustafa Ceric, who served as grand mufti from 1999 to 2012 and held a variety of other influential roles within Bosnia's Islamic community, toured the region along with a delegation of more than 30 Islamic clerics and scholars from 14 countries.
The tour received widespread coverage from China's domestic and international media outlets, with a focus on comments made by Ceric where he praised China's growing global role and "the Chinese policy of fighting terrorism and de-radicalization for achieving peace and harmony in [Xinjiang]."
The comments echo Beijing's justification for its treatment of Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other Muslim groups in Xinjiang, which has been the site of a brutal crackdown launched by Beijing in recent years that swept up more than 1 million people in detention camps and prisons. The United States and several Western parliaments have said that China's abuses in Xinjiang amount to genocide and crimes against humanity, while the United Nations said in an August 2022 report that Beijing had committed "serious human rights violations."
Members of the World Muslim Communities Council attend a Uyghur performance in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, on January 8.
Leaders from Bosnia's Islamic community moved quickly to distance themselves from Ceric's statements as the delegation of Muslim scholars and clerics also faced international criticism from rights groups and the Uyghur diaspora for helping shield China from scrutiny.
"China, by inviting so-called World Muslim Communities Council leaders to [Xinjiang], is still trying to deceive the world," Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, wrote on Twitter following the delegation's tour. "It is a fact that China has been engaging in a genocidal policy toward Uyghurs, and at the same time, China declared war against Islam."
Mustafa Prljaca, adviser to Husein Kavazovic, Bosnia's current grand mufti, told RFE/RL's Balkan Service that the country's Islamic leadership had nothing to do with Ceric's visit and that the grand mufti's office did not agree with his statements about Chinese policies in Xinjiang.
"We have different views, based on the information that we have," he said.
Chinese riot police patrol a street in Urumqi.
In addition to Ceric, the trip was attended by Mevlud Dudic, the president of the governing body of the Islamic community in Serbia, who also praised Beijing's policies in Xinjiang.
As with Ceric, other Islamic leaders in Serbia sought to distance themselves from the comments and the tour as a whole, with Samir Skrijelj, secretary-general of the governing body of the Islamic community in Serbia, telling RFE/RL that the religious body has no affiliation with the delegation brought to Xinjiang and that Dudic went on the trip in his own personal capacity.
While China's policies in Xinjiang have received resounding criticism from Western capitals, many governments from Muslim-majority countries have refrained from criticizing Beijing or have even defended its actions, which analysts attribute to China's expanded economic and diplomatic power across the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia in the last decade.