Ankara is bowing to Beijing’s demands by keeping a prominent Uyghur activist imprisoned in Turkey as fears grow among the Uyghur diaspora that he will be sent back to China, an exiled Uyghur leader told RFA.
Abduqadir Yapchan has been detained near Istanbul since Aug. 30 at the behest of the Chinese government, World Uyghur Congress President Rebiya Kadeer said in an interview with RFA’s Uyghur Service.
The 58-year-old Muslim religious teacher was born in China’s Kashgar, but has lived since 2002 in Turkey, which is home to some 50,000 Uyghurs.
Beijing blacklisted Yapchan in 2003 when it placed him on the country’s first list of alleged terrorists and terrorist organizations. All of the 11 suspected terrorists and five organizations on the list were identified as “East Turkestan” terrorist organizations or individuals.
Yapchan’s detention comes even after a Turkish court in Istanbul acquitted him on charges related to China’s terrorism accusations, Kadeer said.
“This is a most disturbing and regretful incident,” Kadeer told RFA. “Detention has not taken place in China which occupied our homeland, but it has taken place in Turkey, which is role model for many Muslim countries.”
‘Turkey is bowing to Chinese pressure’
Kadeer said that many Uyghurs avoided speaking out against the Turkish government as Turkey is seen as a haven for the Uyghur people, but she told RFA she feared that Yapchan may be deported back to China.
“After confirming his detention, I tried to reach out to all human rights organizations and governments that are concerned about the fate of the Uyghur expatriates in an effort to mobilize a voice for his release,” she said.
“It is really a challenge for me to criticize Turkey even though China is behind this detention with its political, diplomatic and economic clout.”
She added: “Unfortunately, with the arrest of Abdukadir Yapchan, Turkey is literally bowing to Chinese pressure.”
East Turkestan is the name some Uyghurs use for China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where they would like to re-establish the independent state that briefly existed before the founding of Communist China in 1949.
China has vowed to crack down on what it calls religious extremism in Xinjiang, and regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people, including videos and other material.
While China blames Uyghur extremists for terrorist attacks, experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from the Uyghurs and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence there that has left hundreds dead since 2009.
Yapchan spent 12 years in Chinese prisons as he was jailed on three separate occasions for taking a class at an underground religious school, spreading separatist ideology and illegally possessing a copy of the guilty verdict handed out by a Chinese court for another Uyghur activist.
The verdict convicting Abdukerim Abduweli, chairman of the Islamic Reform Party, of counterrevolutionary propaganda, and incitement and leading a counterrevolutionary group is considered a state secret in China.
Before settling in Turkey, Yapchan escaped from China in 1998 on a fake passport obtained in Qinghai province so he could travel to Saudi Arabia to participate in the Haj, a pilgrimage undertaken by devout Muslims.
Evidence tainted by torture
Kadeer told RFA that the Chinese charges that led to Yapchan’s trial in Turkey are based on a 14-year-old claim that links Yapchan to alleged terrorist activities that are based largely on confessions or statements by prisoners or former prisoners In Uyghur region, who were most likely tortured.
“All the ‘evidence’ on Mr. Yapchan was obtained by forceful confession through torture from prisoners,” she said. “The U.N. has documented wide spread torture in the prisons of East Turkestan, and in many occasions China forced prisoners to show up on TV to repeat what was forced on them by authorities.”
In Turkey, Yapchan continued his calls for Uyghur independence and has talked about his experiences in Chinese custody.
“Mr. Yapchan is exposing the real face of China and its treatment of Uyghurs by talking about his experiences,” Kadeer said. “His real-life experiences in Chinese prison are appealing to more and more people. He is a symbolic and iconic figure both at home and to the exiled Uyghur people.”
The Chinese are anxious to bring Yapchan back to China so that Beijing can both silence him and use him as an example to dissuade other independence-minded Uyghurs.
“If he is repatriated, then the Chinese authorities calculate that it would be great blow to the Uyghurs,” Kadeer said. “I urge President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan and the Turkish community to assess this dire situation more seriously and ensure earliest possible release of Mr .Yapchan.”