Turkey urges China to protect religious freedom in Xinjiang

Chinese authorities must respect human rights of Muslims, including freedom of religion, Turkish FM says.

    China must distinguish between 'terrorists and innocent people', Mevlut Cavusoglu said [Reuters]
    China must distinguish between 'terrorists and innocent people', Mevlut Cavusoglu said [Reuters]

    Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has voiced concern over China's alleged mistreatment of Uighur and other Muslims in its Xinjiang region and called on Beijing to protect freedom of religion there.

    The United Nations Human Rights Council opened its annual four-week session on Monday as Western countries are looking to Turkey and other members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to spotlight what China calls "re-education and training" facilities in Xinjiang.

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    UN experts and activists say the camps hold one million Uighurs, who speak a Turkic language, and other Muslim minorities. China has denied accusations of mistreatment and deems criticism within the UN council to be interference in its sovereignty.

    In his remarks, Cavusoglu did not specifically mention mass detention camps in the remote western region of China.

    However, he told the Geneva forum that reports of human rights violations against Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang were serious cause for concern.

    'Distinction needed'

    A distinction should be made between "terrorists and innocent people", Cavusoglu said.

    He then inserted a line into his prepared remarks, adding: "And I have to underline that we support the One China policy."

    He was referring to China's stance that the country encompasses Taiwan and autonomous regions, including Xinjiang and Tibet.

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    "We encourage Chinese authorities and expect that universal human rights, including freedom of religion, are respected and full protection of the cultural identities of the Uighurs and other Muslims is ensured," Cavusoglu said.

    China, a member of the 47-member Human Rights Council, did not immediately respond to the Turkish foreign minister's remarks, but delegations will be free to reply later in the session.

    Beijing's counterterrorism and deradicalisation efforts in Xinjiang should be applauded for creating a new method of tackling the problem, a senior Chinese diplomat told foreign envoys last week.

    Xinjiang has been enveloped in a suffocating blanket of security for years, particularly since a deadly anti-government riot broke out in the regional capital, Urumqi, in 2009.

    The roughly 10 million Uighurs make up a tiny proportion of China's almost 1.4 billion people and there has never been an uprising that could challenge the central government's overwhelming might.

    SOURCE: News agencies