China denies Turkish claim that Uighur poet Abdurehim Heyit died in Xinjiang

ISTANBUL (BLOOMBERG) – China on Monday (Feb 11) pushed back against Turkish claims that a Uighur poet and musician had been tortured to death in a Chinese prison.

The Chinese embassy in Turkey said in a statement that the poet, 57-year-old Abdurehim Heyit, had been arrested for suspected crimes violating state security and was in good health.

State-owned China Radio International on Sunday   released a brief video clip of Heyit dated Feb 10. 

“I’m in the process of being investigated for allegedly violating the national laws,” he said in the video, framed by a grey backdrop. “I’m now in good health and have never been abused.”

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said at a briefing in Beijing that the video proved Heyit was alive. “The Turkish side has made a very bad mistake, quite irresponsible,” she said. “How could they say he was dead?” 

Over the weekend, Turkey demanded Chinese authorities respect the human rights of the Muslim Uighur minority and close “concentration camps” imprisoning them.

More than 1 million Uighurs are being tortured and “politically brainwashed” in camps and prisons in China, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a statement on the ministry’s website on Saturday.

While Turkey and China broadly have good relations, Aksoy said he was responding to the death of Heyit in a Chinese jail. Turkish media claimed he was tortured to death in a so-called re-education camp in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

“The re-emergence of concentration camps in the 21st century and China’s systematic assimilation policy toward Uighur Turks are great embarrassment for humanity,” Aksoy said.

Turks held small protests in cities nationwide to condemn China’s human rights violations against Uighurs, Turkey’s state-run news agency Anadolu reported on Sunday.

The detention and “re-education” of as many as 1 million Uighurs in far west China has been condemned by human rights groups and prompted calls for sanctions from US lawmakers, who reject China’s assertion that the camps are voluntary education centers that help purge “ideological diseases.”

Turkey calls on other countries and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to take steps to end the “humanitarian tragedy” in Xinjiang, Aksoy said.