Turkey takes on China over Uyghur abuse

Turkey takes on China over Uyghur abuse

Turkey has called China’s treatment of its ethnic Uyghurs people “a great embarrassment for humanity”, prompting a backlash from the Chinese embassy in Ankara.

Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said it was “no longer a secret” that China arbitrarily held more than 1 million Muslim Uyghurs in “concentration camps”.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan once accused China of “genocide” but has since established closer diplomatic and economic relations with China.

Practising Islam is forbidden in many parts of China, with Muslims caught praying, fasting, growing a beard or wearing a hijab facing arrest.

Most mainly Muslim countries have been less vocal on the issue than Turkey, not wishing to offend a key trading partner.

Almost a million Uyghurs and other Turkic language-speaking minorities in China have reportedly been held in re-education camps, according to a UN study.

China said the “vocational education centres” were to steer citizens away from terrorism and allow them to be reintegrated into society.

But the authorities are accused of seeking to assimilate Xinjiang’s Muslim population and suppress religious and cultural practices that conflict with the dominant Han culture and Beijing’s centralised philosophy.

China in January passed a law to “Sinicise” Islam and make it “compatible with socialism” within the next five years.

Xinjiang is home to around 10 million Uyghurs, an ethnic-Turkic group, which makes up around 45 per cent of the region’s population. The community has long accused the authorities of cultural, religious and economic discrimination.

Many Uyghurs have fled to Turkey.

Aksoy said the Turkic population faced pressure and “systematic assimilation” in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang.

He said Turkey was urging China at “all levels” to close the detention centres and respect the group’s human rights.

The death of Uyghur poet and musician Abdurehim Heyit in custody sparked the Turkish outburst.

The musician had been sentenced to eight years in jail over one of his songs.

“This tragedy has further reinforced the reaction of the Turkish public opinion toward serious human rights violations committed in the Xinjiang region,” Aksoy said.

“We expect this legitimate response to be taken into account by the Chinese authorities. We respectfully commemorate Abdurehim Heyit and all our kinsmen who lost their lives defending their Turkish and Muslim identity.

“We invite Chinese authorities to respect fundamental human rights of the Uyghur Turks and shut down concentration camps,” the spokesman said.


Kashgar. Uyghurs claim close kinship with the geographically distant Turks. Picture credit: Wikimedia





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