China refutes reports of Uighur artist’s death

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China Radio International’s Turkish language service posted a video purporting to show a man who identified himself as Uighur poet and musician Abdurehim Heyit. Turkish sources say the video does not prove he is alive.

Protesters on February 5, 2019 in front of the US Mission to the United Nations calling on the US State Department to fight for the freedom of Uighur Muslim Uighurs detained in Chinese 'de-radicalisation' camps.
Protesters on February 5, 2019 in front of the US Mission to the United Nations calling on the US State Department to fight for the freedom of Uighur Muslim Uighurs detained in Chinese ‘de-radicalisation’ camps. (AFP)

Chinese state media released a video on Sunday that purports to prove Uighur poet and musician Abdurehim Heyit is alive but Turkey said the footage does not prove he is alive.

The development came after reports of his death in a Chinese ‘de-radicalisation’ camp in the country’s far west.

In the 26-second video posted online by China Radio International’s Turkish language service, a man dressed in a grey sweater identifies himself as Heyit before declaring himself to be in “good health.”

“Today is February 10, 2019,” he said. “I’m in the process of being investigated for allegedly violating the national laws. I’m now in good health and have never been abused.”

Authenticity of the video is yet to be confirmed.

On Monday, Turkish government sources told TRT World that they are not convinced the video is authentic and that it proves the Uighur poet is alive.

TRT World correspondent Courtney Kealy has more.

Turkey calls for camps to be closed

The Turkish Foreign Ministry on Saturday called on China to close its detention centres for Muslims, saying the camps said to hold nearly a million ethnic Uighurs and other Turkic-language speaking minorities are a “great shame for humanity.”

That statement had come in response to a question about recent reports that Heyit, a well-known poet and musician, had died while in Chinese detention after he was reported to have been sentenced to eight years in prison for one of his songs.

“This tragedy has further reinforced the reaction of the Turkish public opinion towards serious human rights violations committed in the Xinjiang region,” ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said on Sunday.

TRT World’s Reagan Des Vignes reports.

Video’s authenticity yet to be confirmed

Uighur diaspora activists said the body language and speech patterns in the video suggested Heyit’s testimony may have been coerced and that even digital alteration could not be ruled out.

International rights groups say China routinely coerces detainees into making videotaped confessions which are then broadcast through state media to serve the government’s propaganda objectives.

China’s embassy in Ankara said Aksoy’s concerns were unfounded and called on the Turkish government to withdraw the statement.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry and Xinjiang’s regional government did not immediately respond to requests for further comment on Monday.

Beijing has faced an outcry from activists, scholars, foreign governments and UN rights experts over what they call mass detentions and strict surveillance of the mostly Muslim Uighur minority and other Muslim groups who live predominantly in a region claimed by Uighurs in China, which they call East Turkistan and is home to some 10 million people, most of whom are Muslim.

China denied the existence of the so-called ‘de-radicalisation’ facilities for months before saying they were, in fact, vocational training centres designed to combat extremism. Since then, Beijing has increasingly been on the front foot in defending its actions.

Source: TRT World