In retaliation for measures taken by the UK government on Monday over human rights abuses against the Uighur Muslim minority group, China has imposed sanctions on 9 UK citizens.
The group, including five MPs, are among the most vocal critics of China in the UK.
“Freedom to speak out in opposition to abuse is fundamental and I stand firmly with them,” said Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a tweet.
As per the foreign secretary, if Beijing wants to “credibly rebut” the claims, it should allow UN access to Xinjiang.
Those targeted by China include former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, two peers, a lawyer and an academic.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith said he would wear the sanctions “as a badge of honour”.
The response by China follows similar sanctions imposed on the European Union, which was part of the co-ordinated action on March 22, along with the UK, the US and Canada.
China has detained Uighurs at camps in the north-west region of Xinjiang, where allegations of torture, forced labour and sexual abuse have emerged.
It has denied the allegations of abuse, claiming the camps are “re-education” facilities used to combat terrorism.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, told a press briefing that China was forced to act “in self-defence” in response to UK sanctions “based on lies”.
As reported, the nine people facing sanctions are:
• Tory MPs Sir Iain, Nusrat Ghani and Tim Loughton, and peers Baroness Kennedy and Lord Alton, who are all members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China
• Tory MPs Tom Tugendhat and Neil O’Brien, who lead the China Research Group
• Lawyer Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, chair of the Uighur Tribunal, which is investigating atrocities against the minority group
• Newcastle University academic Jo Smith Finley, whose research focuses on the Uighurs
They will all be banned from entering China, Hong Kong and Macau, their property in China will be frozen and Chinese citizens and institutions will be prohibited from doing business with them.
Mr Tugendhat, who chairs the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, told the BBC: “I view this as a direct assault on British democracy and an attempt to silence the British people who have chosen me to speak for them – if that isn’t an assault on British sovereignty, I don’t know what is.”
Ms Ghani told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that she won’t be intimidated. “This has now made me even more determined to speak out about the Uighurs,” she said.