Dozens of demonstrators from China’s Uighur Muslim ethnic group have protested in Istanbul, calling for a boycott of next month’s Winter Olympics in Beijing over China’s treatment of the minority.
The protesters gathered outside the city’s Turkish Olympic Committee building on Sunday, waving the blue-and-white flags of the independence movement of East Turkestan, a group Beijing says threatens the stability of its far western region of Xinjiang.
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“China, stop the genocide; China, close the camps,” chanted the demonstrators, some holding up a banner reading “Stop Genocide Olympics”.
“China does not have the right to host the Olympics while committing all the torture, cruelty and genocide against Uighurs,” said Uighur housewife Munevver Ozuygur, who said she had relatives in camps in China.
United Nations experts and rights groups estimate more than a million people, mainly from the Uighur and other Muslim minorities, have been detained in recent years in camps in Xinjiang.
Beijing denies genocide or the existence of forced labour camps in Xinjiang and has accused Uighurs testifying overseas about conditions inside the northwestern region of being paid liars.
After initially denying the existence of the Xinjiang camps altogether, China later defended them as vocational training centres aimed at reducing the appeal of “extremism”.
The United States and many of its allies, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Japan and Denmark, have said they will not send official diplomatic delegations to the games in protest against China’s rights record. The Winter Olympics begins on February 4.
The US has slapped sanctions on a growing list of Chinese politicians and companies over the treatment of the Uighurs, leading to tit-for-tat measures from Beijing.
China has sanctioned European, British and US legislators, as well as academics who study Xinjiang and a London law firm.
Some 50,000 Uighurs, with whom Turks share ethnic, religious and linguistic connections, are believed to reside in Turkey, the largest Uighur diaspora outside Central Asia.
Last month, 19 Uighurs filed a criminal complaint with a Turkish prosecutor against Chinese officials, accusing them of committing genocide, torture, rape and crimes against humanity.
Uighurs living in Turkey have criticised Ankara’s approach to China.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said this month he conveyed Turkey’s “views, expectations and sensitivities” over the Uighurs to his Chinese counterpart during talks in Beijing.
“The world, Turkic countries and Islamic countries need to wake up. China is committing genocide right now,” said protester Abdurrahman Taymaz.
“They are deceiving people. We want these Olympic Games to be boycotted as soon as possible.”