SHANGHAI (Reuters) - The United States should reject "prejudice" and respect facts instead of vilifying China's record on religious rights, the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily said on Saturday after fresh criticism of China's treatment of ethnic Muslims.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo branded China's treatment of its Uighur minority in the far northwestern region of Xinjiang the "stain of the century" on Thursday. He also accused Beijing of pressuring countries not to attend a U.S.-hosted conference on religious freedom.
Beijing has been accused of persecuting Uighurs, with at least a million believed to be detained in what China insists are vocational centers aimed at reducing the spread of extremism.
But the People's Daily said China respected religious rights and accused some in the United States of having "ulterior motives" and using religion as a pretext to vilify China.
"They even use so-called freedom of religious belief as an excuse to undermine China's national harmony and interfere in China's internal affairs," the editorial said.
It said the critics "know nothing about the real situation" in Xinjiang, and the vocational training system had already become an effective way of protecting the region's population from terrorism and extremism.
An open letter signed by dozens of scholars and religious officials from the region has accused Pompeo of making "false accusations" about the treatment of Uighur Muslims.
The letter, published by the Xinjiang government's official website late on Friday, said there was "no evidence" to show China was trying to destroy Uighur culture or religion, and urged Pompeo to "stop fabricating lies and slanders about Xinjiang".
Earlier this month, nearly two dozen countries called on China to halt its mass detention of Uighurs in Xinjiang, the first such joint move on the issue at the U.N. Human Rights Council.
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Nick Macfie and Himani Sarkar)