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China fires back following Turkish criticism of Uighur abuses

Ethnic Uighurs in Europe protest the treatment of the Muslim minority in China [AFP]

Date of publication: 11 February, 2019

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China dismisses criticism by Turkey of its treatment of the Muslim Uighur people.
China on Monday rejected criticism from the Turkish government over the treatment of its ethnic Uighur population and denied a claim by Ankara that a famous poet from the Muslim minority group had died in custody.

"China has already made solemn representations toward Turkey. We hope the relevant Turkish persons can distinguish between right and wrong and correct their mistakes," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said during a daily press briefing.

This follows Turkey's condemnation on Saturday of China's treatment of its Muslim Uighur population as "a great embarrassment for humanity". Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy also claimed Uighur poet, Abdurehim Heyit, died while in prison.

China released a video on Sunday of a man who identified himself as Heyit to refute these claims. Hua called the claims an "absurd lie" and described the Turkish statement as "vile".  

The northwest Xinjiang region of China, where most Uighurs live, has been under heavy police surveillance in recent years.

Turkey called on the international community and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres "to take effective steps to end the human tragedy in Xinjiang region". 

Ankara is the first government voice to join recent criticism from rights groups over mass detentions of the Turkic-speaking minority.

Most Muslim countries have been silent on the issue, refraining from criticising the Chinese government which is an important trading partner.

Aksoy also said Turkey had learned of the "tragic" death of Abdurehim Heyit, an Uighur poet and musician who was sentenced to eight years in prison for his songs. Ankara claims he died on Saturday in his second year of imprisonment.

"This tragic incident has further strengthened the Turkish public's reaction to the serious human rights violations in Xinjiang Region," referring to the Uighur province of China.

Nearly one million Uighurs and other Turkic language-speaking minorities in China have reportedly been held in "re-education camps", according to a UN panel of experts.

Critics say China is seeking to assimilate Xinjiang's minority population and suppress religious and cultural practices that conflict with Communist ideology and the dominant Han culture.

Religious prosecution of the Uighur people in China includes the prohibition of wearing the burqa, growing beards, fasting during Ramadan and naming babies with Islamic names. Imprisonment is widespread.

"It is no longer a secret that more than one million Uighur Turks, - who are exposed to arbitrary arrests - are subjected to torture and political brainwashing in concentration centres and prisons," Aksoy said in the Turkish foreign ministry statement. 

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