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BEIJING: China targeted sanctions at British lawmakers and lobby groups Friday, widening a chasm between Beijing and Western powers critical of alleged rights violations in Xinjiang. The EU, UK, Canada and US sanctioned several members of Xinjiang’s political and economic hierarchy this week in a coordinated action over allegations of widespread abuse in the northwestern region.

At least one million Uyghurs and people from other mostly Muslim groups have been held in camps there, according to rights groups, who accuse authorities of forcibly sterilising women and imposing forced labour.

Beijing insists Xinjiang is an “internal affair” and has gone into attack mode as Western opprobrium mounts, putting sanctions on individuals from the European Union and Britain who have taken up the Uyghur cause.

It has also fuelled a social media PR war against several Western brands operating inside China, which has seen calls for boycotts and celebrities drop endorsements.

On Friday China announced sanctions against nine UK individuals and four entities, saying they had “maliciously spread lies and disinformation” over Beijing’s treatment of Uyghurs.

Those sanctioned included Iain Duncan Smith, former leader of Britain’s Conservative party, as well as other lawmakers chairman of the foreign affairs committee Tom Tugendhat. Duncan Smith said on Twitter it is “our duty to call out” the Chinese government’s “human rights abuse” in Hong Kong and the “genocide of the Uyghurs”. “Those of us who live free lives under the rule of law must speak for those who have no voice. If that brings the anger of China down on me, I’ll wear that badge of honour,” he said.