Turkey lodged an official protest over China’s Uyghur detention camps yesterday (Feb. 9), after years of silence. “It is no longer a secret that more than one million Uighur Turks incurring arbitrary arrests are subjected to torture and political brainwashing in internment camps and prisons,” wrote foreign ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy in a statement posted online. He described China’s treatment of its Muslim ethnic Uighur people as “a great shame for humanity.”
Aksoy specifically mourned Abdurehim Heyit, a famed poet and musician who was among those detained by Chinese authorities. “We have learned with deep sorrow the passing away in his second year of imprisonment of the distinguished folk poet Abdurehim Heyit, who was sentenced to eight years in prison for one of his songs,” Aksoy wrote.
Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak reported that Heyit died in detention yesterday at the age of 55 “after enduring two years of brutal torture.”
Heyit, an ethnic Uyghur, was renowned for his performances on the dutar, a traditional two-stringed instrument. YouTube has a number of videos showing him playing the instrument and singing, including this one:
Radio Free Asia reported in November 2017 that Heyit had “been arrested without official explanation” by Chinese authorities, noting that the arrest had taken place earlier in the year but kept from the outside world by communications clampdowns.
“Abdurehim Heyit was a state artist, and all of his songs were approved by the Chinese government,” London-based Uyghur artist and singer Rahima Mahmut told RFA at the time. “None of his songs were banned before.”
But “whether it is Uyghur intellectuals, artists, writers, or poets: nobody is being spared from the current purge,” US-based Uyghur poet Tahir Hamut told RFA.
This month, Amnesty International called upon the United Nations Human Rights Council to “adopt a resolution establishing an international fact-finding mission to Xinjiang” at its next session. Kumi Naidoo, secretary general of Amnesty International, described the situation in Xinjiang as “horrendous.”
China’s embassy in Turkey issued a statement (link in Chinese) today calling Turkey’s statement a “serious violation of the facts,” and said its actions in Xinjiang were necessary to combat terrorism.