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A woman reacts after being pepper-sprayed by riot police as Hong Kong protesters marched in Hong Kong on December 21.

Police in Hong Kong skirmished with protesters on December 22 at a rally of several hundred people in support of China's Uyghur minority, millions of whom have reportedly been victims of an internment scheme in the northwestern Chinese territory of Xinjiang.

AP reported that police arrested two protesters who were trying to burn a Chinese flag at the rally.

International pressure has mounted on Beijing as accounts leak of an alleged mass crackdown on Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

Hong Kong has been rattled by months of protests by citizens fearing the encroachment of central Chinese authority and demanding greater democracy in their specially administered region.

Some of the Hong Kong demonstrators have found common cause with persecuted Uyghurs, sometimes waving the blue-and-white flag of an independence movement in Xinjiang.

Chinese officials have insisted that they are holding no political prisoners and that the so-called internment camps -- which remain shrouded in secrecy -- are providing professional training and are part of an effort to deter extremism.

Based on reporting by AP
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe embraces her daughter Gabriella in Damavand following her release from prison for three days on August 23, 2018.

Iran has rejected a request by the lawyer of an Iranian-British woman convicted of spying charges in Iran that she be released after serving half of her sentence, the state-run IRNA news agency reported on December 22.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in April 2016 and sentenced to five years in prison later that same year in a case that has been condemned internationally.

The report by IRNA quoted her lawyer, Mahmoud Behzadi Rad, as saying that he had submitted a request for what Iran's judiciary calls “conditional release” -- when a convict has served half his or her sentence, the person can apply for such a release and the courts have the power to grant it for “good behavior.”

“According to the law, she is entitled to apply for a conditional release,” the lawyer said.

IRNA did not say why the request was denied.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe went on a 15-day hunger strike in June, to call attention to her plight. In July, she was moved to the mental health ward of Imam Khomeini hospital under the control of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.

The Free Nazanin Campaign said in a statement at the time that it does not know what treatment she is receiving or how long she is expected to remain in the hospital.

Amnesty International has campaigned for her release, calling Zagharia-Ratcliffe a "prisoner of conscience."

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

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