The Marriott hotel in Prague refused to host a conference this month aimed at drawing attention to alleged human rights abuses in China, the hotel chain confirmed to CNN on Friday.
The Prague Marriott cited “reasons of political neutrality” for its decision to decline to host the World Uyghur Congress, according to an email first reported by Axios.
In a statement, Marriott International (MAR), Inc. said the Prague hotel’s response to the group was “not consistent with our policies.” Marriott said the Prague hotel’s management team has reached out to the group to apologize.
“We are working with the hotel team to provide additional training and education on our longstanding practices of inclusion,” Marriott said.
Marriott confirmed that last month, the Prague Marriott sent an email to the activist group explaining that the planned November conference would not be held at the location – after consulting with corporate management.
“Unfortunately, I have to inform you that we are not able to offer the premises. We consulted the whole matter with our corporate management. For reasons of political neutrality, we cannot offer events of this type with a political theme,” the email said.
Marriott International told CNN this was a “hotel-level decision” and the reference to “corporate management” refers to the management of the Prague hotel.
Activists find Marriott’s response “chilling.”
Based in Germany, the World Uyghur Congress is made up of exiled Uyghurs and those seeking to draw attention to allegations of genocide in the Xinjiang region of China. An independent report by more than 50 global experts released in March found the Chinese government “bears state responsibility for an ongoing genocide against the Uyghur” in violation of the United Nations’ Genocide Convention.
Chinese state media has called the World Uyghur Congress a terrorist group. China has also denied human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Tibet and has called the allegations of genocide “preposterous.”
Zumretay Arkin, a program and advocacy manager for the World Uyghur Congress, confirmed that Marriott did reach out to the group’s representative in Prague. “But I’m still waiting for an official apology,” Arkin said on Twitter.
In an interview with Axios, Arkin said Marriott’s response was “shocking.”
“We organize international events all the time and this is the first time we were given this excuse,” Arkin told Axios. “It is chilling because of the broader concept of how China is really disrupting Western democracies.”
In its statement to CNN, Marriott said it is committed to “giving a warm welcome to all.”
“We are in the hospitality business, welcoming people from all around the world and from all walks of life representing many beliefs,” the company said.
The incident is the latest misstep for Marriott involving China, a major and fast-growing market for the hotel chain.
In 2018, Chinese authorities blocked the Marriott website and app after the company listed Tibet, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan as separate “countries” in its emails and app. Marriott apologized profusely and insisted it respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China.