China is protesting the attendance of the U.N. human rights chief at a ceremony honoring an imprisoned Chinese scholar and rights activist.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Wednesday that Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein had "confused right and wrong" and "blatantly supported terrorists."

That reflects China's contention that Ilham Tohti had been part of a criminal gang that sought to split the western region of Xinjiang from China.

Tohti was sentenced in 2014 to life in prison on separatism charges.

A member of the Turkic Muslim Uighur ethnic group, he was a critic of the government's ethnic policies in the far western region of Xinjiang.

On Tuesday, he was given the Martin Ennals Award bestowed by 10 rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch at a ceremony in Geneva.