Dozens of people from China’s Uyghur Muslim ethnic group protested in Istanbul on Sunday, 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, 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.
“China stop the genocide, China close the camps”, chanted the demonstrators, some holding up a banner reading “Stop Genocide Olympics”.
Chinese authorities have been accused of facilitating forced labour by detaining around a million Uyghurs and other primarily Muslim minorities in camps since 2016.
China initially denied the camps existed, but has since said they are vocational centres and are designed to combat extremism. It denies all accusations of abuse.
“China does not have the right to host the Olympics while committing all the torture, cruelty and genocide against Uyghurs,” said headscarved Uyghur housewife Munevver Ozuygur, who said she had relatives in camps in China.
The Beijing Olympics begin on Feb. 4.
The United States and many of its allies, including Britain, Canada, Australia, Japan and Denmark, have said they will not send official diplomatic delegations to the Games in protest at China’s rights record.
About 50,000 Uyghurs – with whom Turks share ethnic, religious and linguistic connections – are believed to reside in Turkey, the largest Uyghur Diaspora outside Central Asia.
Last month, 19 Uyghurs filed a criminal complaint with a Turkish prosecutor against Chinese officials, accusing them of committing genocide, torture, rape and crimes against humanity.
Uyghurs 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 Uyghurs to his Chinese counterpart during talks in Beijing.
U.N. experts and rights groups estimate more than a million people, mainly from the Uyghur and other Muslim minorities, have been detained in recent years in camps in Xinjiang.
“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.”