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Turkey raises Uighur issue with China as protesters throng streets

ANKARA, Turkey: Turkey has raised the issue of Uighur Muslims during talks with China’s foreign minister in Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said, as hundreds of Uighurs protested against the treatment of their ethnic kin in China.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met Cavusoglu and later President Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday, as about 1,000 protesters gathered in Istanbul, chanting “Dictator China” and “Stop Uighur genocide, close the camps”.

Some waved blue-and-white flags of the independence movement of East Turkestan, the name by which the movement refers to Xinjiang.

“We are here to ask about our families. Why can’t we get in touch with our families? Are they dead or alive? Where are they? Are they at camps or outside?” said Imam Hasan Ozturk, a Uighur protester.

Beijing approved an extradition treaty between the two nations in December and with the deal awaiting ratification by the Turkish parliament, activists among some 40,000 Uighurs living in Turkey have stepped up efforts to highlight their plight, holding regular protests in the capital Ankara and the largest city Istanbul.

Cavusoglu has denied that the extradition agreement between the two countries would lead to Uighurs being sent back to China, describing it as a routine accord similar to the ones Turkey has with other countries.

He said after meeting Wang he had conveyed “our sensitivity and thoughts on Uighur Turks”, adding that Ankara and Beijing would enhance cooperation against the Covid-19 pandemic and on vaccines.

Uighurs’ worries have been fuelled by Ankara’s dependence on China for COVID-19 vaccines, having received 15 million doses from Sinovac Biotech and ordered tens of millions more. This week, Turkey received 1.4 million doses of the vaccine developed by Germany’s BioNTech, the first significant batch of non-Chinese vaccines.

UN experts estimate at least a million Uighurs and other Muslims are held in detention centres in northwest China’s Xinjiang.

China has previously rejected allegations of any rights abuses in Xinjiang, including that authorities forcibly sterilise women and impose forced labour, saying the camps have been “extremely effective” in reducing “religious extremism” in the region.

The United States government and the Canadian and Dutch parliaments have labelled Beijing’s actions against the Uighurs “genocide”, and Washington has imposed sanctions on several Chinese officials over Xinjiang.

China has rejected the genocide charge and warned Western countries not to interfere in its internal affairs.

A Chinese embassy spokesperson said last month that Uighurs who have been holding regular protests near China’s diplomatic premises in Turkey in recent months were trying to deceive Turkish people and damage relations.