China rejects Turkey’s criticism on Uighurs, denies poet’s death

Updated February 12, 2019


Beijing releases video of man identifying himself as Abdurehim Heyit saying he is alive and well. — Photo courtesy: BBC
Beijing releases video of man identifying himself as Abdurehim Heyit saying he is alive and well. — Photo courtesy: BBC

BEIJING: China hit back on Monday at Turkish criticism over its treatment of Uighurs and denied Ankara’s claim that a renowned poet from the Muslim minority had died in custody, calling it an “absurd lie”.

Turkey’s foreign ministry had released a statement on Saturday severely criticising China’s mass detentions of its Turkic-speaking Uighurs, and claiming that poet Abdurehim Heyit had died serving an eight-year Chinese prison sentence imposed as punishment over “one of his songs”.

But China on Sunday released a video showing a man who identified himself as Heyit and saying that he was alive and well.

“China has made solemn representations toward Turkey. We hope the relevant Turkish persons can distinguish between right and wrong and correct their mistakes,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said during a daily press briefing. She called the Turkish statement “vile” and urged Ankara to withdraw its “false accusations”.

“I saw his (Heyit’s) video online yesterday, showing that he is not only alive but also very healthy,” she said.

A UN panel of experts has said that nearly one million Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking minorities had been herded into “re-education camps” in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region, where most of the country’s more than 10 million Uighurs live. Turkey had said China’s treatment of Uighurs was “a great embarrassment for humanity” — perhaps the strongest condemnation yet from a Muslim country.

The Muslim world has been conspicuously quiet on the Uighur issue, possibly to avoid Chinese diplomatic or economic retaliation.

The plight of China’s Uighurs is closely followed in Turkey due to shared linguistic, cultural and religious links and the presence of tens of thousands of ethnic Uighurs there.

In its statement on Saturday, Turkey did not say how it had learned that Heyit died, but said the “tragedy has further reinforced the reaction of the Turkish public opinion towards (the) serious human rights violations” in Xinjiang.

But state-controlled China Radio International (CRI) released a 26-second video on its Turkish service on Sunday.

“My name is Abdurehim Heyit. Today is February 10, 2019,” the man in the video says, according to the English subtitles.

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2019