Uyghur exiles want 112 Chinese politicians and officers, including Xi Jinping, tried for crimes against humanity in Istanbul. They explain to Bitter Winter why.
by Ruth Ingram
The world’s failure to act over Uyghur atrocities has pushed Turkey-based exiles to take legal action to get justice for hundreds and thousands of their countrymen languishing in China’s jails or worse.
Crowds of aggrieved Uyghurs gathered outside the Caglayan Courthouse in Istanbul a week into the New Year, to present their case against 112 members of the Chinese Communist Party, directors and officers at labor camps on behalf of 116 specific men and women detained by Beijing.
Taking advantage of Turkish legislation that recognizes universal jurisdiction, whereby any national court can prosecute individuals for serious crimes against international law, lawyer for the group, Gulden Sönmez, speaking to Al Jazeera, explained that exiled Uyghurs had no alternative but to bring the case in Turkey, because international bodies had not acted against Chinese authorities.
“The international criminal court should have already started this trial, but China is a member of the United Nations Security Council and it does not seem possible within this dynamic,” she said, adding, “Torture, genocide, rape [and] crimes against humanity can be prosecuted in Turkish courts and criminals can be tried.”
Javlan Shirmemet, a Uyghur exile and one of the leaders of the Camp Detainees Forum that brought the case, speaking to Bitter Winter this week, said that the 116 were a nominal sample of many thousands still unaccounted for who have simply vanished. “I have no idea where my relatives are, or whether I will ever see them again,” he said. Asked whether he had high hopes of success in this case, he was resigned to the possibility that Istanbul might be reluctant to anger Beijing and refuse to take the matter further. “Turkey needs China more than Turkey needs the superpower,” he said. “Beijing intimidates every nation that stands against its bullying. Turkey has more to lose than China by prosecuting the highest in her land.”
The move to prosecute has earned widespread support throughout the 50,000 strong Turkish Uyghur diaspora and members of the Turkish community itself. Protesting outside the courtroom, representatives from different political groups in Turkey, human rights lawyers and defenders, Turkish civil society authorities, journalists, and representatives of Uyghur organizations such as the Uyghur Meshrep Foundation, the City Alliance, the East Turkistan Federation, and the East Turkistan Human Rights Watch Association, all rallied behind the beleaguered group.
Javlan said that the group of 19 exiles, some of whom are now Turkish citizens, had dared to include Chinese president Xi Jinping and the former boss of Xinjiang Chen Quanguo, whose reign of terror came to an end with his removal over New Year and his replacement by the former governor of Guangdong, Ma Xingrui. “If we don’t try, we will never succeed,” he said, while admitting that acceptance of the complaint by Turkey was certain to be a recipe for disaster. “If Turkey accepted the complaint, and decided to prosecute, a crisis would erupt between the countries,” he said, adding that this was the group’s first step. “We are not going to give up,” he stressed.
Speaking to Radio Free Asia, Sönmez said that she expected the Turkish justice system to issue 112 arrest warrants and try each of those indicted. “Among the complainants are our Turkish compatriots,” she said. “The Turkish judiciary has a duty to initiate a legal process involving at least Turkish citizens detained in China.”