The Uyghur Muslims, predominantly Turkic-speaking ethnic group from China’s Xinjiang province have been subject to religious and ethnic persecution by the Chinese communist government with over one million people being held in detention camps or re-education camps as per the United Nations.
Most Islamic nations especially the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation countries have been denounced by various human right experts for being silent over China’s crackdown on the Uyghurs. Egypt, which is keen to attract Chinese investments went so far as to allow Chinese police to come and interrogate Uyghur refugees on its soil in 2017.
Pakistan, which claims to be a champion of the human right of Kashmiris and Rohingyas – has been mum on the Uyghur persecution as the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative advances in the country. In February 2019, Saudi Arabia expressed its “respect” for Chinese leader Xi Jinping before signing major commercial contracts with the country.
Turkey has been the only country which had stood against the might of the Chinese and lambasted Beijing for the persecution of Muslims in China. However, Uighurs who had sought refuge in the country now fear that Chinese pressure on Turkish authorities is gradually increasing resulting in the detention even in Turkey, NPR reported.
Many Uighurs have historically seen Turkey as a champion for their rights and a place of refuge from the authoritarian Chinese rule. But the story has changed now. Uighurs have been arrested by Turkish police and sent to deportation centres for months at a time with no evidence or reasoning, NPR said.
Abdurehim Imin Parach, a 44-year-old ethnic Uighur, was detained last year in an Istanbul restaurant and forced to sign a declaration. “At the police station, they tried to get me to sign a statement saying I was a terrorist. They beat me, but I wouldn’t sign it. Then they sent me to a deportation centre,” Parach was quoted by NPR.
After three months, Parach was freed without any explanation and was told not to speak out against China. Beijing has detained the ethnic minority community on an extensive scale and accused many Uighurs of being “terrorists” and “separatists”.
Parach came to Turkey more than five years ago after escaping Xinjiang where he was arrested several times, and he speculates that Beijing authorities were behind his arrest as he has been an outspoken critic of the Chinese government and published a book of poetry in 2018 describing China’s persecution of Uighurs. “When you stand against China,” he said, “you are a threat wherever you are.”
One Uighur activist told NPR he had counted at least 200 such arrests since January 2019, while a lawyer said he had helped more than 400 Uighurs who faced imprisonment in the past year. All interviewees speculated that China was behind the spate of detentions.
According to Amnesty International’s regional director for East and Southeast Asia Nicholas Bequelin, Beijing wants Uighurs back in China in order to silence them, and the situation is becoming harder for Uighurs in Turkey. “The [Turkish] government seems more and more willing to placate Beijing by taking harder actions against Uighurs,” Bequelin was quoted by NPR as saying. “But that’s not going to be popular with Turkish people.”