hina has declared that claims from the Turkish government that a famed Uighur poet and musician was tortured to death inside of a Chinese “concentration camp” are “ridiculous lies,” providing a video clip to ”prove” that the man in question is still alive.
On Saturday, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy released a statement calling China’s treatment of the ethnic Uighur minority “a great cause of shame for humanity,” saying that the Chinese government had arbitrarily detained more than a million Uighurs in the far-western territory of Xinjiang in “concentration camps” where they are being tortured and “politically brainwashed.”
In the statement, Aksoy mentioned the alleged death of 57-year-old Abdurehim Heyit, a well-known Uighur singer and poet. Turkish media reported that Heyit had been tortured to death in one of the camps.
However, on Sunday, Chinese state media released a short, unsettling video clip of Heyit saying that he is in good health and has never been abused. In the clip, Heyit mentions that the date is February 10th and that he is being investigated for alleged crimes against the state.
If this is real, and Uighurs I trust think it is, well… pic.twitter.com/Hlfwry0iTY
— Gerry Shih (@gerryshih) February 10, 2019
This is Heyit’s first appearance in public since he was arrested in early 2017, allegedly over the “subversive” lyrics of a folk song that he had co-written a decade ago. The Chinese embasssy in Ankara also responded in a statement that Heyit is under investigation for “endangering national security.”
At a regular press briefing in Beijing on Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying declared that the video proved Heyit was alive and that the Turkish government had made an “extremely irresponsible” mistake that it should retract and apologize for.
However, the forced confession-style proof-of-life video has done little to improve international perceptions of what China is doing in Xinjiang. While the clip may confirm that Heyit is alive, it also suggests that he has been detained in state custody for more than a year without charge. Previously, it had been reported that Heyit had been sentenced to 8 years in prison, meaning that it’s still unclear why and where he is being held.
Last year, international media outlets began to shine a spotlight on China’s secretive “re-education” camps in Xinjiang, leading Beijing to attempt to flip the narrative, casting the camps in state media reports as fun-filled centers of learning where “trainees” who were previously under the influence of extremism could turn their lives around by becoming fluent in Mandarin and picking up new skills like shoe-making in between carefree games of volleyball and nutritious meals.
Following Turkey’s call for the camps to be shut down, China has stuck firmly to this stance with the Chinese embassy in Ankara reiterating that the “vocational education centers” are not aimed at tearing down Uighur identity but instead are dedicated to “teaching people living in remote areas about the country’s common language and law and is aimed at preventing the spread of terrorism and extremism.”