Dozens of Uyghurs assembled near the Chinese Embassy in Turkey on Tuesday, demanding information about family members they fear are being kept in detention camps in China, The Associated Press reported.
The protesters held photographs of relatives they say they have not heard from in months. More than a million Uyghurs and other largely Muslim minorities have been swept into prisons and detention camps in China, in what China calls an anti-terrorism measure.
Police kept the protesters some 300 meters away from the embassy and also tried to prevent journalists from covering the protest. Four of the protesters were escorted into a police van, although police insisted they were not being detained.
Uyghurs, a Turkic group native to China’s far west Xinjiang region, have sought refuge in Turkey for decades because of their shared cultural ties with the country. Turkey, however, has become less vocal about the plight of Uyghurs in recent years as it has developed economic ties with China.
China recently ratified an extradition treaty with Turkey that was signed years ago, raising fears among the Uyghur community that they could be sent back to the country they fled. Turkey has yet to ratify the agreement.
According to a Nordic Monitor report, the text of the treaty contains ambiguous phrases that might trigger the extradition of scores of Uyghurs from Turkey and violate extradition mechanisms regulated by the European Convention on Extradition (ECE), to which Turkey is a party.
Both Turkish and Chinese authorities insist that the extradition bill does not aim to target Uyghurs for deportation.
According to human rights activist and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, the Turkish government is silent about the suffering of Uyghurs due to the commercial and political relations they have established with China.
“The entire world has stood up about this issue, but unfortunately there is no substantial criticism from Turkey,” Gergerlioğlu said. “Yes, China is a powerful, wealthy country, but they are committing genocide. According to our estimates, there are nearly 3 million Uyghurs in concentration camps.”
An investigation published by the BBC last Wednesday contained first-hand accounts of systematic rape, sexual abuse and torture of female detainees by police and guards. The reports of systematic rape were condemned by the US, UK and Australian governments.
One woman told the BBC that women were removed from their cells “every night” and raped by Chinese men. Tursunay Ziawudun, who fled the region after her release, said she was tortured and later gang-raped on three occasions, each time by two or three men.