China-Turkey extradition treaty pose danger to Uyghurs, rights groups warn


Human rights groups warned that a newly ratified extradition treaty between China and Turkey could endanger Uyghur families and activists fleeing persecution by Chinese authorities if it is adopted by Ankara.

China’s National People’s Congress formalised the treaty at the weekend, which was signed in 2017, with state media saying it would be used for counter-terrorism purposes.

Turkey’s government has not yet ratified the deal, as it faced strong opposition within its parliament, and critics have urged the government to abandon it and prevent the treaty from “becoming an instrument of persecution”.

China’s persecution of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang has escalated in recent years, amounting to what experts have said is cultural genocide. More than one million people are thought to have been detained in internment camps, and there is growing evidence of re-education programmes, restrictions on religious and cultural beliefs, enforced labour schemes, mass surveillance and forced sterilisation of women.

Members of the Uyghur diaspora have given evidence of coordinated Chinese efforts to have people return to Xinjiang, or to use family in China to pressure individuals overseas against speaking out.

China strenuously denies the accusations, and says the policies are to counter terrorism and alleviate poverty. Officials regularly dismiss all reports of abuses as fabrications.

In May, the human rights group Nordic Monitor expressed alarm at ambiguities in the text of the treaty, including a clause that said “it shall not matter whether the laws of both parties place the offence within the same category or describe the offence by the same terminology”.

Other articles allow one party to refuse the request if they believe it is purely political or military, or if the subject has been granted asylum.

Leo Lan, a spokesman for China Human Rights Defenders, said the treaty would expose Uyghurs to a higher risk being returned to China, where they could face detention and torture, and he warned Turkey of its international obligations of non-refoulement.

“China can use very ambiguous and broadly defined national security charges to request the extradition of certain people to China,” Lan told the Guardian.

Historically, Turkey has long welcomed Uighurs and Turkic Muslims fleeing China and has spoken out against abuses. An estimated 50,000 Uyghurs are refugees in Turkey, making it the largest Uyghur diaspora hub in the world.

In May, Turkey’s ambassador to the US reiterated the cultural and linguistic ties between the ethnic minority groups and Turkey, and told Axios “any issue pertaining to their wellbeing holds a special place on our agenda”.

However, in recent years Ankara has grown closer to Beijing and increased its assistance in apprehending or interrogating Uyghurs who Chinese authorities have accused of terrorism.

While it refuses to return Uyghurs to China directly, Turkey has been accused of sending them to a third country, like Tajikistan, where extradition to China is easier.

Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the German-based Uyghur World Congress, told Agence France-Presse: “This extradition treaty will cause worry among Uighurs who have fled China and do not yet have Turkish citizenship.

“We call on the Turkish government … to prevent this treaty from becoming an instrument of persecution,” he added, claiming that Beijing was exerting economic pressure on Turkey to ratify the treaty.

Kamer Artiş, a Uyghur activist living in Turkey, said the community had faith that Ankara would refuse to ratify the treaty.

“Certainly the Chinese Communist party (CCP) will take all the actions it can to force the Turkish government but we don’t think [the treaty]will pass. The Turkish people and NGOs will stand up against it,” she said.

“According to the CCP, we are all terrorists, so is it sound logic for the Turkish government to deport so many Uyghurs? We will not lose hope … We believe in the power of people more than governments.” (Source: The Guardian)