Turkey Uighurs fear sellout to China in exchange for vaccine

ANKARA: Abdullah Metseydi, a Uighur in Turkey, was readying for mattress final month when he heard a commotion, then pounding on the door. “Police! Open the door!”

A dozen or extra officers poured in, many bearing weapons and carrying the camouflage of Turkey’s anti-terror power. They requested if Metseydi had participated in any actions towards China and threatened to deport him and his spouse. They took him to a deportation facility, the place he now sits on the centre of a brewing political controversy.

Opposition legislators in Turkey are accusing Ankara’s leaders of secretly promoting out Uighurs to China in exchange for coronavirus vaccines. Tens of tens of millions of vials of promised Chinese vaccines haven’t but been delivered. Meanwhile, in current months, Turkish police have raided and detained round 50 Uighurs in deportation centres, legal professionals say – a pointy uptick from final 12 months.

READ: US ‘deeply disturbed’ by reports of systematic rape of Muslims in China camps

Although no onerous proof has but emerged for a quid professional quo, these legislators and the Uighurs fear that Beijing is utilizing the vaccines as leverage to win passage of an extradition treaty. The treaty was signed years in the past however out of the blue ratified by China in December, and will come earlier than Turkish lawmakers as quickly as this month.

Uighurs say the invoice, as soon as legislation, might carry their final life-threatening nightmare: Deportation again to a rustic they fled to keep away from mass detention. More than one million Uighurs and different largely Muslim minorities have been swept into prisons and detention camps in China, in what China calls an anti-terrorism measure however the United States has declared a genocide.

“I’m terrified of being deported,” stated Melike, Metseydi’s spouse, by way of tears, declining to give her final title for fear of retribution. “I’m worried for my husband’s mental health.”

Suspicions of a deal emerged when the primary cargo of Chinese vaccines was held up for weeks in December. Officials blamed allow points.

But even now, Yildirim Kaya, a legislator from Turkey’s foremost opposition celebration, stated that China has delivered solely a 3rd of the 30 million doses it promised by the tip of January. Turkey is basically reliant on China’s Sinovac vaccine to immunise its inhabitants towards the virus, which has contaminated some 2.5 million and killed over 26,000.

“Such a delay is not normal. We have paid for these vaccines,” Kaya said. “Is China blackmailing Turkey?”

Kaya stated he’s formally requested the Turkish authorities about stress from China however has not but obtained a response.

Both Turkish and Chinese authorities insist that the extradition invoice isn’t meant to goal Uighurs for deportation. Chinese state media known as such considerations “smearing,” and foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin denied any connection between vaccines and the treaty.

“I think your speculation is unfounded,” Wang said at a Thursday press briefing.

READ: China dismisses Pompeo’s Uighur genocide claim as ‘outrageous lies’

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in December that the vaccine delay was not related to the issue of the Uighurs.

“We do not use the Uighurs for political purposes, we defend their human rights,” Cavusoglu said.

But though very few have actually been deported for now, the recent detentions have sent a chill through Turkey’s estimated 50,000-strong Uighur community. And in recent weeks, the Turkish ambassador in Beijing has praised China’s vaccines while adding that Ankara values “judicial cooperation” with China – code, many Uighurs fear, for a possible crackdown.

In the past, a small number of Uighurs have traveled to Syria to train with militants. But most Uighurs in Turkey shun jihadis and worry they are hurting the Uighur cause.

Lawyers representing the detained Uighurs say that in most cases, the Turkish police have no evidence of links to terror groups. Ankara law professor Ilyas Dogan believes the detentions are politically motivated.

“They have no concrete evidence,” said Dogan, who is representing six Uighurs now in deportation centres, including Metseydi. “They’re not being serious.”

Even if the bill is ratified, Dogan doubts there would be mass deportations, given widespread public sympathy for the Uighurs in Turkey. But he believes the chances of individuals being deported would go up significantly.

Because of shared cultural ties, Turkey has long been a safe haven for the Uighurs, a Turkic group native to China’s far west Xinjiang region. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced China’s treatment of the Uighurs as “genocide” over a decade ago.

That all changed with an attempted coup in Turkey in 2016, which prompted a mass purge and alienated Erdogan from Western governments. Waiting to fill the void was China, which is loaning and investing billions in Turkey.

READ: Twitter locks account of China’s US embassy over Xinjiang-related tweet

Signs of robust financial ties abound, huge and small: An exporter with enterprise in China was appointed Turkey’s ambassador to Beijing. A Chinese-funded US$1.7 billion coal plant is rising on the banks of Turkey’s Mediterranean sea. Istanbul’s airport obtained the world’s first “Chinese Friendly Airport” certification, setting apart check-in counters to obtain 1000’s of vacationers from Shanghai and Beijing. And President Erdogan’s once-fiery rhetoric has turned boring and diplomatic, praising China’s leaders for their help.

China additionally started requesting the extradition of many extra Uighurs from Turkey. In one leaked 2016 extradition request first reported by Axios and obtained independently by The Associated Press, Chinese officials asked for the extradition of a Uighur former cellphone vendor, accusing him of promoting the Islamic State terror group online. The vendor was arrested but eventually released and cleared of charges.

Abdurehim Parac, a Uighur poet detained twice in the past few years, said even detention in Turkey was “hotel-like” compared to the “hellish” conditions he was subjected to during three years in Chinese prison. Imim was eventually released after a judge cleared his name. But he has difficulty sleeping at night out of fear that the extradition bill might be ratified, and called the pressure “unbearable”.

“Death awaits me in China,” he said.

Rising fears are already prompting an influx of Uighurs moving to Germany, the Netherlands, and other European countries. Some are so desperate they’re even sneaking across borders illegally, said Ali Kutad, who fled China for Turkey in 2016.

“Turkey is our second homeland,” Kutad said. “We’re really afraid.”

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