Turkey 'deporting' Uighur Muslims to China via third countries

Turkey 'deporting' Uighur Muslims to China via third countries
Increasing economic dependence on Beijing has forced Turkey to weaken its criticism of China's treatment of Uighur Muslims, a new report alleges.
4 min read
27 July, 2020
China has reportedly requested the extradition of hundreds of Uighurs [Getty]
Uighur Muslims living in Turkey, previously believed to be a safe haven for refugees fleeing repression in China, are increasingly at risk of detention and deportation to third party countries, where they can then be potentially handed over to Beijing.

Ankara has deported a number of Uighurs to third countries where it is easier for China to secure their extradition, such as Tajikistan, The Sunday Telegraph reported.

There have been reports of Uighur refugees disappearing from Turkey despite Ankara's outspoken stance against China's treatment of the Muslim minority.

At least one million Muslims, most of them members of the Uighur ethnic minority, are thought to be held captive in detention camps across the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang.

Beijing is also accused of operating a wider system of repression to curtail expressions of Muslim and Uighur identity, as well using the detainees in forced labour.

The Chinese government contends that these camps are "re-education centres" designed to steer Muslims away from Islamic extremism and Uighur separatism. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan emerged in recent years as an outspoken defender of the Uighurs as news of their mistreatment and detention leaked.

Last year, Ankara described their detention as a "great cause of shame for humanity", with foreign ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy accusing Beijing of subjecting the minority to "torture and political brainwashing" in the camps.

But activists claim that Ankara's economic ties with China have forced it to comply with Chinese extradition requests, albeit not directly.

Increasingly ostracised by the West over its warming ties with Russia and alleged rights abuses at home, Turkey has become increasingly dependent on Chinese investment.

Beijing has reportedly invested billions in the country as part of its Belt and Road Initiative. 

Read more: China forces birth control on Uighurs to suppress Muslim population

Bilateral agreements with China force Ankara to investigate complaints raised by Beijing against Chinese nationals resident in Turkey.

Chinese intelligence briefings sent to Turkey as part of extradition requests and seen by The Sunday Telegraph describe the targeted Uighurs as "terrorist suspects".

Dozens of Uighurs have spent months in Turkish detention and deportation centres as a result of such Chinese extradition requests, The Sunday Telegraph report claims. 

The British newspaper confirmed that some have been deported to third countries like Tajikistan, as Ankara refuses to deport Uighurs directly to China.

"No Uighurs will be extradited directly to China. I don't think this will change any time soon. So they [China] try to make their lives as miserable as they can, and get them sent to other countries where possible," Ibrahim Ergin, a lawyer specialised in deportation cases, told The Sunday Telegraph. "As China and Turkey's relations have got better, it's the Uighurs who have lost."

Chinese extradition requests targeting Uighurs are often based in falsified testimonies, Ergin alleged.

In one case seen by the lawyer, three of five witnesses testifying against a suspect had been reportedly executed in Chinese detention camps.

"I have a list of 200 Uighur academics in Turkey. In one way or another, China is making demands on all 200 of them," Ergin said, describing how some extradition requests come not directly from Beijing but through third countries or Interpol.

Activists also claim China is pressuring Ankara to put an end to Uighur activism in Turkey.

Read more: Just Do It: Stop forced labour of Uighur Muslims in China

"There are people working for China inside our community. We used to campaign and raise awareness outside all the big mosques... They don't let us anymore," said Ilsan Aniwar, a well-known Uighur campaigner in Turkey.

Aniwar told The Sunday Telegraph that hhis activism had seen him arrested by Turkish authorities multiple times over the past year. He alleges that guards had attempted to trick him into signing a voluntary deportation agreement during his most recent arrest.

Ankara has previously denied returning Uighur refugees to China.

In May, Turkey's ambassador to Washington lashed out after a US senator accused Ankara of "assisting China in violating Uighur human rights". 

Ambassador Serdar Kilic said reports of Turkey deporting Uighurs to China were a "mere fabrication".

Ankara did not respond to requests for a comment on the deportation reports.

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