A Marriott hotel in the Czech Republic declined to host a conference of activists fighting for the human rights of the Uyghur people, according to a new report. Many commentators have suggested that the company capitulated to the Communist China regime, but the hotel claims that it canceled the conference in an effort to maintain "political neutrality."
The World Uyghur Congress is an international organization based in Germany that "represents the collective interest of the Uyghur people both in East Turkistan and abroad." The group planned on holding a conference at a Marriott hotel in Prague. Approximately 200 delegates from 25 countries gathered in Prague for the meeting. However, hotel management reportedly denied the use of the facilities.
Axios obtained an email to the World Uyghur Congress from the events manager at the Marriott location in Prague.
"Thank you very much for your visit today. Unfortunately, I have to inform you that we are not able to offer the premises," the events manager wrote in an Oct. 1 email. "We consulted the whole matter with our corporate management. For reasons of political neutrality, we cannot offer events of this type with a political theme. Thank you once again for your time and understanding."
Axios noted that the Chinese government has condemned the World Uyghur Congress repeatedly – including classifying the group as a terrorist organization for allegedly inciting unrest in Xinjiang, where the Chinese government operates "re-education camps." However, the group is not on any international terrorist lists.
The World Uyghur Congress says its goal is to "promote democracy, human rights and freedom for the Uyghur people and use peaceful, nonviolent, and democratic means to determine their political future."
The World Uyghur Congress has been extremely outspoken against the Chinese Communist Party for operating internment camps that have detained Uyghurs. The group has posted more than 35 articles bringing awareness to the Uyghur internment camps in China, as well as several videos.
In 2018, the United Nations said there are a million ethnic Uyghurs held in what resembles a "massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy" in China.
Marriott's senior vice president for global communications — Melissa Froehlich Flood — said that the decision made by the hotel "was not consistent with our policies."
"Marriott International is committed to giving a warm welcome to all," Flood told The Hill. "We are in the hospitality business, welcoming people from all around the world and from all walks of life representing many beliefs."
"The management team at the hotel is contacting the group to apologize, as the hotel's response was not consistent with our policies," Flood added. "We are working with the hotel team to provide additional training and education on our longstanding practices of inclusion."
Zumretay Arkin, a program and advocacy manager for the World Uyghur Congress, told Axios, "We organize international events all the time and this is the first time we were given this excuse. It is chilling because of the broader concept of how China is really disrupting Western democracies."
Many reactions to the hotel denying the human rights group space to hold the conference asserted that the hotel was bending the knee to China.
Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib said, "I hear that China is unhappy about this conference being held here in Prague. Well, I am unhappy there's a country in 2021 that has concentration camps."
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) reacted by saying, "Marriott refused to host a Uyghur conference. And tonight Senate democrats are suddenly objecting to my Uyghur forced labor prevention bill they all voted for just a few weeks ago. Sad to see American companies & leaders fighting for #China."
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) wrote on Twitter, "Corporations that kowtow to Beijing Communists have no right to lecture American citizens about anything. The profiteers of slave labor and genocide have no moral standing."
Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) exclaimed, "Marriott in Prague turned away a conference of political leaders from China's Uyghur diaspora this month, under the guise of 'political neutrality.' Shameful. In the face of genocide and human suffering, Marriott has caved to Communist Chinese interests."
Travel intelligence startup founder Rafat Ali said, "These decisions are a lot more decentralized than this story makes it out to be. That said, terrible that the hotel caved in to what likely was lobbying pressure from Chinese."
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) noted, "In 2018, @MarriottIntl apologized to China for listing Taiwan & Hong Kong as separate nations. Now they refuse to host a group China is committing genocide against for 'political neutrality.' This company has lost all credibility to talk about democracy & human rights. Shameful!"
In 2018, the Marriott International hotel chain had its website and booking applications shut down for a week by the Chinese government for suggesting in a customer survey that some regions in the country were separate nations – including Hong Kong, Tibet, and Taiwan.
Marriott quickly apologized for the error, "Marriott International respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China. We don't support separatist groups that subvert the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China," the company said in a statement. "We sincerely apologize for any actions that may have suggested otherwise."
In August, Marriott International announced its 100th hotel in China.