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Turkey slams Chinese 'concentration camps'

February 10, 2019

Turkey has condemned China's treatment of its ethnic Uighur minority as "a great shame for humanity." The criticism comes after the death of a renowned Uighur musician in custody.

A woman walks with her two children past dozens of Chinese security personnel in Xinjiang
China has boosted security in the Uighur homeland region of XinjiangImage: picture-alliance/dpa/D. Azubel

Turkey's Foreign Ministry has called on China to end the mass detention of its Muslim Uighur minority and shut down a network of "concentration camps" in the country's northwest.

"The policy of systematic assimilation against the Uighur Turks carried out by the authorities of China is a great shame for humanity," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a statement on Saturday.

In a lengthy response posted online, the Chinese Embassy in Ankara called the remarks unacceptable and demanded Turkey "withdraw its accusations." 

Read more:  China rejects accusations of Uighur mass detentions in Xinjiang

China’s harassment of Muslims

Allegations of brainwashing

Beijing has stepped up surveillance and security measures in the Uighur homeland of Xinjiang, in China's northwest, since ethnic riots erupted there in 2009. As part of the crackdown, Chinese authorities have set up so-called "vocational education centers," which they say aim to combat religious extremism and help reintegrate people into society.

The UN has raised concerns that up to 1 million ethnic Uighurs and other Turkic language speakers are being held at the facilities against their will. Critics also warn that internees are subject to rights abuses and cultural indoctrination geared towards stamping out the Uighur language and identity.

"It is no longer a secret that more than 1 million Uighur Turks incurring arbitrary arrests are subjected to torture and political brainwashing in internment camps and prisons," Aksoy said.

Read moreUighur woman shares 'horrendous' China crackdown details with US Congress

China responds

The Chinese Embassy in Ankara defended Beijing's policies in Xinjiang and called the Turkish foreign minister's criticism "completely unacceptable."

"Both China and Turkey face the arduous task of fighting terrorism. We are opposed to maintaining double standards on the question of fighting terrorism," the statement said.

"We hope the Turkish side will have a correct understanding of the efforts made by China to legally deploy measures to effectively fight terrorism and extremism, withdraw its false accusations and take measures to eliminate their harmful effects."

Read moreHeiko Maas calls for China transparency over Uighur Muslims

Death of famed poet, musician

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

Most majority-Muslim countries have been reluctant to criticize the actions of the leadership in China — an important trading partner.

The comments from Turkey came after Uighur poet and musician Abdurehim Heyit died in custody in China.

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

Heyit was a master of the dutar, a long-necked, two-stringed instrument found in Iran and throughout Central Asia.

nm/aw (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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