China has hit back at claims by Turkey over its treatment of Uighur people, and denied reports a prominent poet and musician from the ethnic Muslim minority was tortured to death in prison.
The Chinese embassy in Turkey said in a statement that the poet, 57-year-old Abdurehim Heyit, was in good health after reports claimed he had died while serving an eight-year prison sentence.
State-owned China Radio International released a 25-second video of the pale-faced Heyit, dated 10 February, where he said he was being investigated for “allegedly violating national laws”.
“I’m now in good health and have never been abused,” he said, according to the subtitled video.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a briefing on Monday that the video proved Heyit was alive.
“The Turkish side has made a very bad mistake, quite irresponsible,” she said. “How could they say he was dead?”
“We hope the relevant Turkish persons can distinguish between right and wrong and correct their mistakes”.
‘Shut down concentration camps’
In a statement on Saturday, Turkey’s foreign ministry pressed China to respect the human rights of the Uighur minority and close “concentration camps” imprisoning the Turkic Muslim population.
“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,” Hami Aksoy, the spokesman of the ministry of foreign affairs, said.
“We invite Chinese authorities to respect fundamental human rights of the Uighur Turks and shut down concentration camps.”
China’s Xinjiang region is home to around 10 million Uighurs. The Turkic Muslim group, which makes up around 45 percent of Xinjiang’s population, and has long accused Chinese authorities of cultural, religious and economic discrimination.
Practising Islam is forbidden in some parts of China, with individuals caught praying, fasting, growing a beard or wearing a hijab, a headscarf worn by many Muslim women, facing the threat of arrest.
Last month, China passed a new law that seeks to “Sinicize” Islam within the next five years, the latest move by Beijing to rewrite how the religion is practised.
According to the Global Times, China’s main English newspaper, the new law seeks to “guide Islam to be compatible with socialism”.
China has embarked on an aggressive “Sinification” campaign in recent years with faith groups that were largely tolerated in the past seeing their freedoms shrink under Chinese President Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.
According to the Associated Press news agency, religious schools and Arabic classes have been banned in the Xinjiang province and children barred from participating in Islamic activities.