Uyghurs in Turkey file criminal complaint against Chinese for abuses in Xinjiang

Advocates hope case adds pressure on China, but the country’s ties with Turkey may undercut the effort.
By Ehsan Azigh
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Ethnic Uyghur men take part in a protest against China in front of the Caglayan Justice Palace in Istanbul, Turkey, Jan. 4, 2022, the day they filed a criminal complaint accusing Chinese government officials of committing genocide and other crimes against Uyghurs in China's Xinjiang region.

A group of relatives of detained or disappeared Uyghurs in China filed a criminal complaint with a Turkish prosecutor’s office on Tuesday accusing 112 Chinese government officials of committing genocide, crimes against humanity, torture and rape in the far-western Xinjiang region.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Chen Quanguo, former Communist Party secretary of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, are among the Chinese officials named in the complaint for bearing some responsibility for the persecution of 116 detainees.

The filing of the case by 19 plaintiffs was announced at a press conference in front of the Çağlayan Justice Palace in Istanbul and organized by the Camp Detainees Forum, which includes Turkey-based relatives of Uyghur camp inmates.

Representatives from various political parties in Turkey, human rights lawyers, officials from Turkish civil society organizations, journalists and representatives of Uyghur organizations, such as the Uyghur Meshrep Foundation, Union of Cities, Federation of East Turkistanis, and East Turkistan Human Rights Watch Association, attended the event.

Gülden Sönmez, a human rights advocate and attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, told RFA that the lawsuit was based on the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows national courts to prosecute individuals for serious crimes against international law.

“The complaint includes crimes such as genocide, torture, rape and sexual violence, as well as intentional homicide and threats to free will and of crimes against humanity,” Sönmez said.

She said that she expects the Turkish justice system to issue arrest warrants for all 112 Chinese officials and to try them for their alleged crimes.

“Among the complainants are our Turkish compatriots,” she said. “The Turkish judiciary has a duty to initiate a legal process involving at least Turkish citizens detained in China.

“This is not a case with a political motive,” she said. “We hope that the 112 Chinese officials involved in the detention of both Turkish citizens and East Turkistan victims of Chinese citizenship will be issued arrest warrants and that they will be extradited to the Turkish judiciary under the extradition mechanism.”

China is believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in detention camps in Xinjiang. The government has said the facilities are vocation training centers and has denied widespread and documented allegations that it has mistreated and tortured incarcerated Muslims.

Turkey has been one of the most hospitable countries to Uyghurs, with whom Turks share ethnic, religious and linguistic ties. Turkey’s government has offered roughly 50,000 Uyghurs a safe place to live outside northwestern China’s Xinjiang region. They constitute the largest Uyghur diaspora outside Central Asia.

But Turkey and China also have tight economic and political ties. For that reason, Javlan Shirmemet, a leader of the Camp Detainees Forum, said members of the group are concerned Turkey’s Ministry of Justice will not respond to their complaint. If the Justice Ministry accepts the complaint, it could lead to a political crisis between the two countries, he said.

The Turkish and Chinese governments ratified a treaty in December 2020 for the extradition of individuals to the People’s Republic of China. The agreement is purportedly an anti-terrorism measure, but critics see it as a way for China to target Uyghur exiles.

The complaint comes amid actions by other countries to target Chinese officials deemed responsible for alleged atrocities against some of the 12 million predominantly Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Those actions include public condemnations, economic sanctions, bans on the importation of goods found to be made with Uyghur forced labor, and diplomatic boycotts of the Beijing Winter Olympics in February.

In early December, the Uyghur Tribunal, an independent people’s tribunal in London, determined that China has committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

The tribunal also found that Xi Jinping, Chen Quanguo, and other senior government officials in the Chinese Communist Party bore primary responsibility for the abuses. Although the tribunal is non-binding and has no state backing, Uyghur groups have responded to the findings of genocide and crimes against humanity by preparing or proceeding with lawsuits in Argentina and the United Kingdom.

Translated by the Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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