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China-owned tower in New York City reportedly wouldn’t let Amnesty International move in

Amnesty International has widely protested the Chinese treatment of predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in Xinjiang. Here, a protester is confronted by supporters of Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang on Oct.16, 2018 in The Hague, Netherlands.

Pierre Crom | Getty Images

A state-owned Chinese shipping company refused to lease an office space in New York City to human rights group Amnesty International U.S.A, The New York Times reported on Monday.

Cosco Shipping acquired Orient Overseas in 2017, and took ownership the company’s real estate investments, including the office building in question, called Wall Street Plaza.

A spokeswoman for Amnesty International U.S.A. said the organization was told that it is “not the best tenant” for a building owned by a Chinese state-owned firm, according to The New York Times.

Amnesty, a non-governmental organization, regularly calls attention to human rights abuses in China. Recently that has included calls for the United Nations to establish an international fact-finding mission in China’s Xinjiang territory: A 2018 Amnesty International report documents how China runs detention camps in the region where up to a million people are held and tortured for breaking a “highly restrictive and discriminatory” law supposedly aimed at “de-extremification” of Muslim ethnic groups.

“Open or even private displays of religious and cultural affiliation, including growing an ‘abnormal’ beard, wearing a veil or headscarf, regular prayer, fasting or avoidance of alcohol, or possessing books or articles about Islam or Uighur culture can be considered ‘extremist’ under the regulation,” the group said.

The Chinese government is sensitive about allegations of human rights abuses. It works hard within its own borders to squelch information about such accusations, both online and offline.

“We were planning to sign the lease until we were told a week ago by our contact at Orient Overseas — who owns the building — that his bosses were declining,” Robyn Shepherd, a spokeswoman at Amnesty International U.S.A. told the Times.

“His response was along the lines that we weren’t the best tenant for a building owned by a Chinese (state-owned enterprise), and that we probably wouldn’t want to be a tenant there anyway, given the owners.”

The New York Times reported that it didn’t hear back from Cosco Shipping. The company did not immediately reply to a CNBC request for comment.

Shepherd told the Times that Amnesty International U.S.A. is exploring other lease options in New York.

Read more about China and Amnesty International U.S.A in The New York Times’ report.

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