A massive donation for Christchurch shooting victims, raised by international associates of controversial businessman Zhang Yikun, should be returned, an Islamic group says.
Yikun, who was embroiled in the Jami-Lee Ross donations scandal, pledged $2.1 million at a function of Teochew delegates in Auckland.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff accepted an initial $500,000 cheque from the delegates at the event, and was asked to pass the money onto the Muslim community in Christchurch. The amount later grew as delegates from other countries gifted money.
The Khadija Leadership Network is calling for the donation to be returned, and instead be channeled into helping the persecuted Uighur people in China.
About a million Uighurs have been detained in Xinjiang Province, in the west of China.
China’s treatment of the Uighurs has concerned human rights watchers.
Over a million Muslim Uighurs, along with some ethnic Kazakhs and Kyrgyz are in detention facilities, which China initially denied existed, then labelled vocational training facilities.
'This is an opportunity for New Zealand Muslims to take leadership.'
The network’s founder Tayyaba Khan said the reason for wanting to return the money was simple.
“We have raised enough, if we don’t want Islamophobia here we don’t want it elsewhere.
“It would be wonderful to see Chinese diaspora communities calling out and putting money into the problem in China.”
So far, more than $8.5 million has been raised on the official Victim Support Givealittle page, with the Launch Good fundraising campaign gathering more than $2.5m, and other related fundraisers collecting thousands more for the families and those affected.
“This is an opportunity for New Zealand Muslims to take leadership,” Khan said.
In a letter to the Federation of Islamic Associations New Zealand (FIANZ), the network said the donation from the Teochew delegates was "a deeply heartfelt gesture”, but asked the money not be given to the Muslim community of New Zealand “given the ethnic cleansing and incarceration of Uighurs in China”.
“Though we understand this generous donation isn’t money from the Chinese government, we still firmly believe that the best assistance from any community that Muslims could receive is to call out Islamophobia, and stop the persecution of those practising the Islamic faith around the world.”
The network was yet to receive a response from FIANZ or Auckland’s mayor.
FIANZ public relations officer, and former president, Anwar Ghani said the federation had not yet had a chance to read the letter.
The top priority at the moment was the wellbeing of the families and the victims.
Down the line there would be a discussion about how the fundraising would be channelled and the best-practice, in terms of greatest need and visibility, Ghani said.
Goff’s office could not be reached for comment. Labour List MP Raymond Huo was also present at the Teochew event.
The call to use the money to help support China’s Uighur community comes as the Prime Minister plans to travel to China.
The trip, which has been put off in the past due to what she referred to as scheduling issues, has been cut back from what was originally planned to be a week-long trip.
On Monday, Jacinda Ardern said in the wake of the Christchurch attack, the visit - where she would meet with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang - would last one day.
Ardern would not confirm ahead of the meeting whether she planned to raise the human rights issues relating to the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang, but said she had raised the issue in the past.
“Almost always there’s some discussion around human rights issues,” she said.
Last year, the New Zealand Government did not put its name to a letter signed by 15 western diplomats. The letter was spearheaded by Canada and signed by British, French and Australian envoys, among others. At the time, Ardern said New Zealand did not need to sign the letter as she had raised her concerns directly with Premier Li, in a bilateral meeting in Singapore.
Khan said the issue of whether the money would make it to the Uighur people, should it be returned, was also a relevant and valid question, especially given China’s political regime and lack of a free press.
But it was important to try and do the right thing, and tackle Islamophobia everywhere in the world, not just in New Zealand.
Discussions about how to make sure the money made it to the Uighur community in China would be a question for the Teochew International Federation if it decided to take the money back, she said.
Khan also noted that the anti-Muslim monitoring group Tell MAMA said the number of hate crimes reported in the UK had increased 593 percent, since the Christchurch attack.
“We can think about ourselves, or we can show some leadership here,” she said.
The network planned to publish the open letter online, like a petition, so those people who wished to support the network’s call to action could do so.
The network had received messages from about a dozen people who wanted to put their name to the letter. The letter would remain online for a couple of weeks, and the network hoped to involve the Christchurch Muslim community.
Khadija Leadership Network is a Muslim women’s network, which was started about 18 months ago, and has about 2000 members across New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom.