Turks swept up in China’s Uighur crackdown - Buzzfeed

At least six Turkish nationals — and possibly dozens more — have gone missing in recent years in China’s Xinjiang region, where Beijing has placed more than one million Muslim minority Uighurs in re-education camps, Buzzfeed News reported on Thursday.

On a routine business trip to China, a young Turkish man was surprised when Chinese immigration officials questioned him for hours and barred him from speaking to Turkish diplomats, according to Buzzfeed.

He was later shackled to a chair in an underground interrogation room in the Chinese city of Ghulja, where he had lived before he became a naturalised Turkish citizen. “You are not a Turk,” an officer told him, according to Buzzfeed. “You are from here. Don’t think you are special — we kill people like you so that others can live in peace.”

The young businessman, an enthic Uighur, ultimately endured 38 days of interrogations, hunger, sleep deprivation, and abuse in Chinese custody before finally being released and deported back to Istanbul, without ever being told of any charges against him, according to Buzzfeed.

“(China’s) government has subjected Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in the far-west region of Xinjiang to a sweeping campaign of mass surveillance and incarceration,” said Buzzfeed.

“BuzzFeed News has found that six Turkish nationals — and possibly dozens more — have gone missing in China’s Xinjiang region, including a pair of young children. None of their cases have been publicly acknowledged by the Turkish or Chinese governments, and are being reported here for the first time,” said the news site.

Turkish authorities gave the families of those detained little information on the status of their relatives, according to Buzzfeed. The families had no evidence that their loved ones had ever been allowed to speak to Turkish diplomats — “a privilege guaranteed to prisoners and detainees by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, to which China is a signatory. None of the six people hold dual citizenship with China, according to their families,” said Buzzfeed.

Uighur leaders in Istanbul said dozens more Turkish nationals have gone missing in Xinjiang, but BuzzFeed could not independently verify these cases.

The businessman who had spent more than a month in Chinese custody over the summer of 2017 became a Turkish citizen in 2011, giving up his Chinese citizenship, and was traveling in China on a tourist visa using his Turkish passport, according to Buzzfeed. He believes he was ultimately let go because of his citizenship.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is one of the few leaders of a Muslim-majority country to have criticised China’s treatment of ethnic Uighurs, which he described in 2009 as “genocide.” Soon after, the Turkish government went mostly quiet on the issue, as Turkey and China established closer economic and diplomatic ties.

That changed in February this year, when Turkey issued the strongest statement in years through its foreign ministry, calling on China to close the camps, which it viewed as a “shame for humanity”.

But the statement said nothing about its own citizens who have been sent to internment camps without charge or who have been missing, in some cases, for more than a year.

Pashahan Kuçar has a seven-year-old granddaughter and a six-year-old grandson, both Turkish citizens. They traveled last year to China on their mother’s Chinese passport, then disappeared in Xinjiang, said Buzzfeed. When their mother was taken away to an internment camp, a neighbour took the children in and explained the situation to Kuçar's family by text.

But then the neighbour stopped responding to messages. Kuçar hasn’t heard from her grandchildren in months. She has protested and spoken to Turkish officials, to no avail, according to Buzzfeed.  

Erkin Emet, an associate professor of language at Ankara University, is himself an ethnic Uighur and has researched the history and culture of his people.

“From China’s perspective, Turkey is the most dangerous place for Uighurs, because of the common culture and history we share with Turks,” he said. “It is also a place where, unlike in many other Muslim countries, we can easily form political parties and organisations.”