BEIJING — China on Wednesday protested the attendance of the U.N. human rights chief at a ceremony honoring an imprisoned Chinese scholar and rights activist, saying the official had ignored Beijing’s contention the man was a “violent terrorist.”

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein had “confused right and wrong” and “blatantly supported terrorists,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters at a daily briefing.

The statement reflected China’s contention that Ilham Tohti had been part of a criminal gang that sought to split the western region of Xinjiang from China.

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.

Referring to the rights groups, Geng said they had “turned a blind eye on crimes committed by separatists and violent terrorists against Chinese people and taken every means to cover their behavior.”

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

A member of the Turkic Muslim Uighur ethnic group, he was an outspoken economics professor in Beijing and a critic of the Communist Party’s ethnic policies in the far western region of Xinjiang.

Zeid made no direct mention of Tohti in his address at the ceremony, but praised the Martin Ennals Award as a “powerful example of that advocacy for human rights defenders and civil society actors around the world.”

“It takes moral courage, but like the human rights defenders we are here to support and honor, we can stand up for others, voice the common good, act to support inclusion, equality, and human dignity,” he said.

Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten contributed to this story from Geneva.