“This is the first recognition that they are really suffering great economic losses,” Zenz said. “Lawsuit against academics – there’s an element of despair there.”
The lawsuit comes as Zenz and other researchers building a case that Beijing’s treatment of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang meets the definition of “genocide” under the Geneva Conventions.
The United States imposed economic sanctions on Xinjiang over the past year in response to evidence documented by researchers, including Zenz, about mass campaign of detention i forced labor targeting Muslim Uighurs in the region. Sanctions include a that the ban on cotton from the region, which makes up 87 percent of cotton grown in China.
Zenz, who is German, began researching conditions in Xinjiang a few years ago as an independent scientist and, since 2019, as a senior member of the Memorial Foundation for Victims of Communism, a non-profit organization based in the United States.
Chinese state media Tianshannet reported late Monday that unnamed companies in Xinjiang have filed a lawsuit against Zenz. The Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed this on Tuesday.
“Many companies and residents of Xinjiang have suffered heavy losses after Zenz’s rumor of ‘forced labor’ came out of nowhere,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a routine briefing on Tuesday. “They loathe and loathe such malicious smears.”
Zenz doesn’t really have to worry about a lawsuit if it is held outside of China, said Donald Clarke, a law professor at George Washington University. But he may have to hire a lawyer if Xinjiang companies try to enforce the verdict against him abroad.
“He would have to look for a lawyer to make these arguments, which points to a real threat to litigation like this: their ability to harass,” Clarke wrote on the China Collection blog.
Tianshannet said the companies that filed the lawsuit were damaged by Zenz’s “rumors” of forced labor in the region and asked to apologize, restore their reputation and make up for their losses. More companies and individuals can join the lawsuit, Tianshannet said.