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Far-right presidential candidate criticized for downplaying China’s repression of Uyghurs

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Sinan Oğan, a far-right presidential candidate representing a bloc of four parties, is experiencing a backlash for suggesting that China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority in northwestern Xinjiang province is not as severe as claimed.

Human rights groups estimate that approximately 1 million Uyghurs have been arbitrarily detained in prison camps, with reports of forced sterilization, systematic torture and rape.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) denies committing atrocities and abuses against the Uyghurs despite a growing body of evidence.

Oğan spoke about China’s treatment of the Uyghurs during a political debate program released on the “Babala TV” YouTube channel on Monday.

“There is cruelty and pressure there, but this pressure is not as bad as they claim. Why are they exaggerating it? Because America sees it as the soft underbelly of China. … [But] yes, there is persecution in East Turkestan,” Oğan said.

Salih Gergerlioğlu, son of pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lawmaker and prominent human rights activist Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, on Tuesday accused Oğan of being oblivious to the persecution of Uyghurs in China.

“Mr. Oğan, what exaggeration are you talking about? Have you ever talked to Uyghurs in Turkey? Have you followed their struggles? Many can’t even hear from their families. Thousands of people are in captivity there,” he said in a tweet.

Uyghur journalist and activist Selahaddin Kaşgarlı also criticized Oğan’s comments, saying in a series of tweets that calling the “genocide” committed by the Chinese administration in East Turkestan, which is known to the whole world, “an exaggeration,” was “shameful” and “unacceptable.”

Kaşgarlı said he had lived away from his parents for 18 years, learned that his 70-year-old grandmother was killed in a prison camp a year after it happened and is still unable to hear from his family because of the persecution that Oğan calls an “exaggeration.”

Oğan, a former member of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), an ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), will run in the presidential election slated for May 14 as the candidate of ATA Alliance, a bloc of four parties – the Victory Party (ZP), Justice Party (AP), My Country Party (ÜP) and Turkey Alliance Party (TÜİP) – known for their nationalist stances.

Turkey has been a destination for thousands of Uyghurs fleeing China and home to a sizable Uyghur diaspora, numbering some 50,000 and the largest Uyghur diaspora in the world. But a Turkey-China extradition treaty signed in 2017 that is still awaiting ratification by the Turkish parliament has led to fears that it could be used to target Uyghurs in Turkey.

The Uyghurs have sought refuge in Turkey because of their shared cultural ties. Turkey, however, has become less vocal about the plight of the Uyghurs in recent years as it has developed economic ties with China.

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