Uygurs enjoy the same legitimate rights as all other ethnic groups in China, and it is groundless to label them as "persecuted people", a spokesman from the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region's government said on Wednesday.
Ilijan Anayt said at a news conference held in the autonomous region that a claim in Pope Francis's new book calling Uygurs in China "persecuted people" was not supported by facts or evidence.
Ilijan said that China protects the lawful rights and interests of all ethnic groups. He added that Uygurs enjoy the same legal status and rights as all other ethnic groups in China, including the right to vote and stand for elections, the right to participate in the administration of State affairs and freedom of religion.
The Xinjiang government devotes 70 percent of its annual general public budget to improving people's livelihoods through a series of projects in employment, culture, education and medical care, ensuring that all ethnic groups in the region enjoy full rights to subsistence and development, Ilijan said.
The government has formed a mechanism to guarantee that at least one person in every family gets employed, he said. It has also conducted the integrative development of rural-urban education, bringing the enrollment rate of children in compulsory education to 99.9 percent.
In terms of healthcare, all residents in Xinjiang can access free physical examinations, and all impoverished people also have basic medical insurance, major illness insurance and an old-age pension.
Moreover, Xinjiang has lifted all rural people out of poverty, and all people in the region, including Uygurs, have shared the fruits of development, Ilijan said.
All citizens in Xinjiang enjoy the same rights to policy, economy, society, culture and more, and citizens are completely free to believe in any religion. In addition, the laws and regulations in China provide sound legal grounds for protecting all citizens' freedom of religion rights, he said.
Ilijan explained that Xinjiang now has 10 Islamic institutions and 103 Islamic associations, which are in charge of coordinating and resolving Islamic affairs. All normal religious activities conducted by believers in accordance with customary religious practices at venues or their own homes, including attending religious services, fasting and celebrating religious festivals, are protected by law, with no organizations or individuals able to interfere.
Efforts made by Xinjiang to protect freedom of religion have won acclaim across the international community, including from Islamic countries. Everyone who respects the facts cannot deny that, he added.