Chinese state media has released a video that it claims proves Abdurehim Heyit, a Uighur poet and musician, is alive, after he was reported to have died in a Muslim detention camp.
In a 26-second video posted on Sunday by China Radio International’s Turkish language service, a man with a shaved head in a grey sweater identifies himself as Mr Heyit.
“Today is February 10, 2019,” he said, haltingly. “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.”
Turkey had over the weekend released a statement demanding Beijing close its Muslim internment camps, and said Mr Heyit had died in detention.
The Daily Telegraph was unable to confirm whether the video was authentic.
China hit out against Turkey on Monday, saying its statement was “vile,” and said mention of Mr Heyit dying in custody was an “absurd lie.”
“China has already made solemn representations toward Turkey. We hope the relevant Turkish persons can distinguish between right and wrong and correct their mistakes,” said Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry.
Abdurrehim Heyit ölmedi, Türkiye Dışişleri’nin #Xinjiang iddiaları asılsız. Abdurrehim Heyit’in sağlık durumunun iyi olduğu açıklandı. https://t.co/cqmcyeVS2s@TC_Disisleri@TurkEmbBeijing@anadoluajansi@trthaber@ntv@cnnturk@Hurriyet@Postacomtr#AbdurrehimHeyitpic.twitter.com/hFryakReEr— CRI Türkçe (@CRI_Turkish) February 10, 2019
The United Nations estimate the camps in the far western province of Xinjiang hold as many as one million people.
Turkey said Mr Heyit had been “sentenced to eight years in prison for one of his songs,” and described it as a tragedy that “reinforced the reaction of the Turkish public opinion toward serious human rights violations committed in the Xinjiang region.”
“The policy of systematic assimilation against the Uighur Turks carried out by the authorities of China is a great shame for humanity,” said Hami Aksoy, a spokesperson for the Turkish Foreign Ministry, in a statement.
“It is no longer a secret that more than one million Uighur Turks incurring arbitrary arrests are subjected to torture and political brainwashing in internment camps and prisons,” he said.
Human rights experts and lawyers say China routinely forces confessions from detainees – both Chinese and foreign nationals – that are then broadcast on state media to serve propaganda objectives.
Turkey’s statement over the weekend broke months of silence from Ankara, and other Muslim majority countries, who have shied away from publicly condemning China’s mass detention of Muslims.
Beijing has, however, faced growing international pressure from the UN and Western nations to shutter the camps. Suppression of Islamic traditions and the Arabic language has also spread out of Xinjiang province.
China denied the existence of the camps for months, before admitting to them and defending them as vocational training centres meant to combat religious extremism and terrorism.
“Abdurehim Heyit is quite famous in Turkey, so it’s an issue that hit very close to home for a lot of people,” said Gene Bunin, a writer who has collected into a database thousands of testimonies from former detainees and relatives searching for missing family members.