China Ratifies Extradition Treaty with Turkey, Endangering Uyghur Refugees

Uighurs living in Turkey stage a demonstration to commemorate the anniversary of the deadly ethnic unrests of 1997 in Gulja, China's far-western Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, in Ankara on February 5, 2020. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP) (Photo by ADEM ALTAN/AFP via Getty Images)
ADEM ALTAN/AFP via Getty Images

Beijing announced the ratification this week of an extradition treaty with Turkey, which human rights experts worry will be used to expedite the return of Muslim Uyghur refugees to China.

“The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress has ratified” the Sino-Turkish “extradition treaty,” the Chinese parliament said Saturday evening in a statement posted to its website, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Monday.

Though China and Turkey signed the bilateral agreement in 2017, the Turkish parliament has yet to ratify it. Despite this, the treaty has raised concerns among the large Uyghur exile community — roughly 50,000 people — residing in Turkey. Many have expressed fear they may be forcibly sent back to China, where millions of Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minority people have been forced into concentration camps.

“This extradition treaty will cause worry among Uighurs who have fled China and do not yet have Turkish citizenship,” Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the Uyghur World Congress (UWC), told AFP on Monday.

Some Uyghurs believed to be victims of alleged state persecution in China’s western Xinjiang territory have fled to Turkey in recent years. Xinjiang borders Central Asia and is home to the ethnically Turkic, majority Sunni Muslim Uyghurs, which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has largely detained in state-run concentration camps. The CCP claims the claims are “vocational training centers” for wayward citizens, where they learn useful trade skills. Survivors of the camps say they have experienced torture and genocidal acts like forced sterilization.

“We call on the Turkish government … to prevent this treaty from becoming an instrument of persecution,” Raxit said Monday. The UWC spokesman alleged that “Beijing is exerting economic pressure on Turkey to ratify the treaty.”

While Turkey remains culturally sensitive to the Uyghur cause, Ankara has been accused of attempting to forcibly expel Uyghurs to China in recent months. Despite the allegations, Turkey remains the only majority Muslim country to publicly denounce China’s treatment of Xinjiang’s Uyghurs. Turkey’s foreign ministry in 2019 described the CCP’s security crackdown and unlawful detention of Uyghurs in state-run camps as “a great cause of shame for humanity.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has fluctuated in his stance toward the Uyghur cause. He accused China of “genocide” in its treatment of the ethnic minority in 2009. By last year, he praised China’s Uyghur policy in Xinjiang, claiming the people there lived “happily,” as paraphrased by China’s state-run Global Times.

Human rights organizations accuse regional CCP officials of detaining 1 to 3 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang concentration camps since at least 2017. The rights groups cite satellite images appearing to depict recently built detention camps, eyewitness testimony, and leaked CCP documents. Survivors of Xinjiang’s camps have repeatedly testified that they endured forced abortions and sterilization, torture, slave labor, and forced Communist Party indoctrination while detained in the state-run facilities.

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