Thai embassy in Turkey shut after Uighur protest

Protesters denounce deportation of minority Muslims to China, with US expressing concern

BANGKOK • Thailand yesterday closed its embassy and consulate in Turkey after a protest against the kingdom's deportation of Uighur Muslims to China, as the United States warned that the minority group could face "harsh treatment" on their return.

The junta-ruled kingdom revealed on Thursday that around 100 Uighurs were deported to China on Wednesday, while an earlier group of 172 women and children were sent to Turkey late last month.

News of the sudden China deportations sparked international condemnation, including from the US, rights groups and the United Nations as well as the Istanbul protest.

The temporary closure of the embassy in Ankara and consulate in Istanbul comes after anti-Chinese demonstrators stormed the latter, damaging furnishings and pulling down the sign outside.

It was the latest protest in Turkey over the treatment of the Turkic-speaking, largely Muslim minority in China's north-western Xinjiang region, where the Uighurs say they face cultural and religious repression. Scores of them are believed to have fled the restive area in recent years, sometimes travelling through South-east Asia in the hope of resettling in Turkey.

NOT DOING CHINA'S BIDDING

It is not like all of a sudden, China asks for Uighurs and we just give them back. China asked for all Uighur Muslims in Thailand to be sent back but we said we could not do it.

THAI GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN WERACHON SUKHONDHAPATIPAK

In Thailand, the fate of about 400 Uighurs had been shrouded in uncertainty since March last year, when they were detained for illegal entry into the country while the authorities verified their nationalities.

In Bangkok, Thai government spokesman Werachon Sukhondhapatipak told reporters yesterday that "the government has ordered the Thai embassy and consulate to close temporarily today".

"We will assess the situation on a daily basis," he said, adding that all was under control, with no Thai nationals affected.

Thailand sought yesterday to defuse international criticism of the deporations, saying it had rejected a request from Beijing to return all the Uighur migrants held in its detention camps.

Colonel Werachon said Bangkok, in line with "international agreements and international law", had to verify the nationality of all the Uighur migrants case by case before deciding their fate. "It is not like all of a sudden, China asks for Uighurs and we just give them back. China asked for all Uighur Muslims in Thailand to be sent back but we said we could not do it," he told reporters.

The UN described the move as a violation of international law, referring to the principle of non-refoulement which prohibits the transfer of people to a place where they are at risk of rights abuses.

But Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday defended the repatriation, saying China had "guaranteed their safety".

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2015, with the headline 'Thai embassy in Turkey shut after Uighur protest'. Print Edition | Subscribe