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China's treatment of Uighurs is 'embarrassment for humanity', Turkey says

Almost one million Uighurs and other Turkic language-speaking minorities in China have reportedly been held in re-education camps
Boy wears mask with tears of blood during recent protest of ethnic Uighurs in Brussels asking EU to pressure China to close 're-education centres' (AFP/file photo)

Turkey on Saturday condemned China's treatment of its Muslim ethnic Uighur people as "a great embarrassment for humanity", adding to rights groups' recent criticism over mass detentions of the Turkic-speaking minority and breaking the silence on the issue by Muslim countries.

"The systematic assimilation policy of Chinese authorities towards Uighur Turks is a great embarrassment for humanity," Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a statement reported by AFP.

The northwest Xinjiang region of China, where most Uighurs live, has been under heavy police surveillance in recent years, after violent inter-ethnic tensions.

Almost one million Uighurs and other Turkic language-speaking minorities in China have reportedly been held in re-education camps, according to a UN panel.

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MEE reported last year that people showing any adherence to Islam in China's northwestern Xinjiang region- praying, fasting, abstaining from alcohol or pork, growing a long beard, or wearing Islamic clothing- have been detained by authorities and treated as though they suffer from a mental illness.

Taken from their homes to re-education camps, the detainees have been forced to comply with Communist Party propaganda, which includes singing party anthems and slogans and attending daily brainwashing sessions. If they fail to submit, detainees are subjected to torture, including sleep deprivation, solitary confinement and physical violence.

Treated as “enemies of the state” solely because of their religious identity, the detainees are held without charge and often without access to legal representation, human rights activists say.

During 2017, Uighurs accounted for 21 percent of all arrests in China, even though they make up just 1.5 percent of the population, MEE reported.

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Beijing says the "vocational education centres" help people steer clear of terrorism and allow them to be reintegrated into society.

Still, critics say China is seeking to assimilate Xinjiang's minority population and suppress religious and cultural practices that conflict with Communist ideology and the dominant Han culture.

“It is no longer a secret that more than one million Uighur Turks, - who are exposed to arbitrary arrests - are subjected to torture and political brainwashing in concentration centres and prisons,” Aksoy said in the Turkish foreign ministry statement.

“Uighurs who are not detained in the camps are also under great pressure," he added.

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

Most predominantly Muslim countries have not been vocal on the issue, not criticising the government in China, which is often an important trading partner.

China’s position as an immense economic power, able to wield tremendous political clout over governments is without question. But not one of the 49 Muslim-majority countries around the globe had asked for clarity or condemned the Chinese for the escalation of human rights abuses in Xinjiang, MEE reported earlier.

Aksoy also said Turkey had learned of the "tragic" death in custody on Saturday of Uighur poet and musician Abdurehim Heyit.

“We’ve learned with great sorrow that dignified poet Abdurehim Heyit, who was sentenced to eight years in prison for his compositions, died in the second year of his imprisonment,” he said.

“This tragic incident has further strengthened the Turkish public's reaction to the serious human rights violations in Xinjiang Region.”

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