China has announced the ratification of an extradition agreement with Turkey, a text that Beijing wants to use, among other things, to speed up the return of certain refugees and Muslim Uighurs suspected of “terrorism”.
Although the Turkish parliament has not yet ratified the bilateral agreement signed in 2017, it has already raised concerns among the large Uighur diaspora (an estimated 50,000 people) present in Turkey.
Turkey has linguistic and cultural ties with the Uighurs and Ankara has long been one of the main defenders of their cause on the international stage, but recently Turkey’s public display of support has waned.
In its Xinjiang region (northwest), China has initiated a policy of maximum surveillance of the Uighurs after many deadly attacks on civilians. Beijing has blamed the attack on the Uighur separatist and Islamist movement.
According to foreign experts, the Chinese authorities have detained at least one million people, including Uighurs, in “camps”. Beijing has rejected these accusations from the West, saying they are “vocational training centers” designed to help retrain the population to find work and thus move away from extremism.
Some Uighurs believed to be victims of persecution have since fled to Turkey.
“The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress has ratified the Sino-Turkish” extradition treaty, “the Chinese parliament said Saturday night in a brief statement on its website.
However, the Treaty provides several grounds for refusal.
In particular, if the State to which the extradition request is made considers it to be related to a “political crime”, if the person in question is one of its nationals or if the latter is entitled to asylum.
“This extradition agreement will cause concern among Uighurs who have fled China and do not yet have Turkish citizenship,” Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the Uighur World Congress, an exile organization based in Germany, told AFP.
“We call on the Turkish government (…) to prevent this treaty from becoming an instrument of persecution,” he said, assuring that Beijing was exerting economic pressure on Turkey to ratify the treaty.
The issue is sensitive for Ankara because the Turks are globally sensitive to Uighur causes. News articles accusing Turkey of secretly deporting Uighurs to China have already provoked a public outcry.
Turkey is the only country with a Muslim majority that has so far publicly condemned the treatment of Uighurs. The Turkish Foreign Minister had described it in early 2019 as a “shame on humanity”.
However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last year praised in China the policies pursued in Xinjiang and rated the people there “happy”, according to comments reported by the official China News Agency.