Turkey’s Uighurs fear extradition to China due to new treaty with Ankara

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Uighurs living in exile in Turkey fear extradition to China, where they face persecution, a concern that emerged after the two countries began to improve economic and political relations in 2016.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan launched a mass purge after an attempted coup in 2016, which alienated Ankara from Western governments. Investing billions in Turkey, Beijing has been an important partner since then. Erdoğan has changed his harsh rhetoric against China into a more diplomatic tone.

Turkey is among the few countries that have placed orders for China’s Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine.

Some Uighur activists and critics accuse Ankara of selling out Uighurs to China in exchange for coronavirus vaccines, the AP reported on Friday.

With tens of millions of vials of the Chinese vaccine not yet delivered, Turkish police raided and detained around 50 Uighurs in deportation centers last month, the report said.

Suspicions of a refoulement deal emerged when the first shipment of Chinese vaccines was held up for weeks in December. Critics asked if China was blackmailing Turkey over Uighurs.

Yıldırım Kaya, a lawmaker from Turkey’s main opposition party, told AP that China had delivered only a third of the 30 million doses it promised by the end of January.

Turkey is mainly reliant on the Chinese Sinovac to vaccinate its population against the virus, which has infected more than 2.5 million and killed over 26,000.

UIGHURS IN TURKEY ASK WHEREABOUTS OF THEIR FAMILIES

A group of Uighur activists demonstrated on Friday in front of the Chinese Embassy in Ankara. They were protesting Beijing over a crackdown on the Uighurs, a mostly Muslim Turkic minority in Xinjiang in northwestern China, AFP reported.

The group demanded to know their family members’ condition at “re-education camps” – as China calls them — complexes where reportedly more than a million people face torture, rape and disappearance.

On Wednesday the Turkish police prevented a group of Uighur protesters in Ankara from marching to and remaining outside the Chinese Embassy building, sparking anger among the Uighur activists.

“We’re not here to confront you; we are also Turks, we are here to save our honor and our families. Why won’t you let us?” an angry Turkish-speaking protestor is heard saying in a video published by the Uygur News website.

Some protestors told security officers blocking them from marching to the Chinese Embassy that they had not heard from their family members held in “concentration camps” for many years.

The Uighurs are a minority group numbering some 11 million in Xinjiang, 45 percent of the region’s population.

China has been widely accused of forcing Uighurs into camps where security officers and guards subject Uighur women to sterilization.

Women removed from their cells “every night” are being tortured and raped by one or more Chinese men, the BBC reported on Wednesday.

Researchers say the birth rate among Uighurs has plummeted in the past few years due to China’s crackdown on the Muslim minority.

Beijing is pursuing “demographic genocide” through the use of forced mass sterilization campaigns,” Adrian Zenz, a German scholar, told France 24.

Ankara has been strengthening its economic ties with China in recent years.

Some critics say President Erdoğan is avoiding any confrontation with China at a time when Ankara’s ties with the West have deteriorated and the Turkish economy has been suffering from high inflation.

On Thursday the United States said reports of systematic rape and torture of women were “deeply disturbing.”

Washington has demanded “serious consequences,” the BBC reported. China denied the allegations made by some former detainees of the camps in Xinxiang.

In January Uighur activists in Turkey faced growing pressure from Turkish authorities and accused Erdoğan of starting to bend to Chinese lobbying, according to a VOA report.

“On Turkish soil, you cannot raise a voice against China,” protestors lamented after the police briefly detained some of them in Istanbul for wearing T-shirts displaying pictures of their family members arrested by Chinese authorities.

Tens of thousands of Uighurs living in exile in Turkey fear what they call a policy change of Turkey’s Islamist party and its nationalist ally over criticizing China.

Until recent years, there were often mass protests in Turkey against the Beijing government, usually supported by ruling party officials and covered by the pro-government media.

Uighur activists are now complaining about being targeted by the Turkish authorities and accusing them of silencing any criticism of China.

Abdullah Metseydi, a Uighur in Turkey, told AP that Turkey’s anti-terror force wearing camouflage and carrying guns raided his apartment last month.

They asked if he had joined any movements against China and threatened to deport him and his wife. He was later taken to a deportation center amidst debates over whether Ankara would start deporting Uighurs systematically.

The Washington-based East Turkistan Government in Exile filed a complaint against China at the International Criminal Court in July 2020 which included allegations that a Uighur exile in Turkey was extradited to Tajikistan and then sent to China.

New reports accused Erdoğan’s government of covertly returning Uighurs to China via third countries.

Former prime minister and recently formed opposition Future Party leader Ahmet Davutoğlu claimed Turkey was engaged in efforts to send some 50,000 Uighurs first to Tajikistan and then to China.

In December 2020 China ratified an extradition treaty with Turkey signed in 2017 by the Erdoğan government.

The Turkish parliament has not yet ratified the treaty, but Uighurs living in Turkey live in fear of deportation.

“God willing, we hope our state will not approve such a thing,” Omer Farah, a Uighur with Turkish citizenship who said his children were detained in China, told AFP.

Often presenting himself as an advocate for oppressed Muslims worldwide, Erdoğan has recently failed to make any firm statement about the Uighurs despite the international condemnation over recent reports on China’s crackdown on the Muslim minority.

Erdoğan had denounced China’s policy towards Uighurs as “genocide” over a decade ago.

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