Turkey cracks down on Uighur activists - report

Turkish authorities have cracked down Uighur activists following complaints by China, VOA News said on Friday.

China has come under growing international pressure over its treatment of Uighurs following reports that up to a million have been interned as part of a “re-education“ programme.

Turkey is home to one of the largest Uighur diaspora communities, which have held regular protests outside the Chinese Embassy in Ankara and the Chinese Consulate in Istanbul.

However, Turkish police recently banned the demonstrations citing COVID-19 and security concerns, detaining some of those involved, VOA said.

"The police arrested four of us including me, kept us in their van and took us to a station to sign papers and released us to our hotel," Uighur activist Jevlan Shirmemet told the news outlet.

The arrests came after the Chinese Embassy criticised the protests on social media, Shirmemet said.

Turkey has previously sought to champion the rights of China’s Uighur community, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group with Turkic links.

In 2009, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan described the persecution of Uighurs in China’s northwestern Xinjiang province as a “genocide”. 

But Turkish officials have taken a more cautious approach in recent years to avoid damaging increasingly important economic relations with Beijing, analysts say.

"Turkey has also chosen to obtain COVID-19 vaccines from China, creating an additional dependence," Kemal Kirisci, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution told VOA.

Following the detention of Uighur activists in February, Turkish Interior Süleyman Soylu warned the protestors not to become embroiled in a "planned international conflict that comes beyond the ocean". 

Soylu’s comments aimed to deflect domestic criticism by implicating wider international concerns, VOA said, citing Mustafa Akyol, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Cato Institute.

"(Turkey's) line is, 'yes, Uighurs face some hardships, but we will silently do what we can, while not confronting China, against which an American conspiracy is being cooked up,'" Akyol said.