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China 'concerned' over Turkey Uighur fasting ban remarks

Turkish Foreign Ministry has said it is 'deeply concerned' over reports China banned Ramadan for Party members, including civil servants, students, teachers

01.07.2015
China 'concerned' over Turkey Uighur fasting ban remarks

By Mahmut Atanur

BEIJING

China expressed its own concerns Wednesday about a Turkish Foreign Ministry statement that expressed "deep concern" about reports that Beijing has instilled a fasting ban on segments of its Uighur Muslim population.

In a daily press briefing, the spokeswoman for China's Foreign Ministry said that the government had noted Turkey's remarks and had asked for clarification.

"All ethnic groups in China are entitled to the freedom of religious belief under Chinese constitution," Hua Chunying added.

In a statement released Tuesday, Turkey said that it had informed the Chinese ambassador in Ankara of its worries.

"It has been publicly heard with sorrow that there are reports of the fasting and fulfilling of religious duties by Uighur Turks being banned," the statement said.

The statement offered no explanation as to what it wanted China to do about the reported ban.

Hua said that Beijing attached great importance to its developing relationship with Turkey.

"We hope we can develop the bilateral relationship, based on the mutual respect of each other’s major concerns and common interests," she said.

"We hope that the Turkish side will work together with us to maintain the smooth development of the bilateral relationship." 

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters Tuesday that Turkey closely followed the Uighur issue. 

"They are important to us, we declare our connection with them in every occasion. We also let the Chinese officials know that it is very natural for us to react against a human rights violation there when it happens," he said. 

UN human rights investigators have criticized China's reported crackdown on Uighur and their religion, citing "disturbing stories" of harassment and intimidation against the ethnic minority.

"This issue needs to be handled bilaterally and internationally. We will also bring this issue before the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other international organizations," Cavusoglu said Tuesday.

He added that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would visit China, but the date is still to be arranged.

The "concern" expressed Tuesday is reflective of the sentiment that many Turks have with regard to the Uighur issue.

A photo posted June 28 to a Facebook account named "Dogu Turkistan İcin" (For East Turkestan) shows a group of Turkish nationalists gathered outside a Chinese restaurant in Istanbul daubed with graffiti.

A caption underneath reads "Today, Grey wolves [Turkish nationalists] who took to the streets in Istanbul for East Turkestan, scattered a Chinese Restaurant and painted the restaurant sky blue."

Sympathisers have called for Marches July 4 and 5 in Istanbul to protest China's alleged religious restrictions.

Many Turks refer to China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region -- the home to many ethnic minority groups, including the Turkic Uighur people -- as East Turkestan.

They believe that Uighur are among a number of Turkic tribes that inhabit the region, and consider it to be part of Central Asia, not China.

In mid-June it was widely reported that China has banned Ramadan in parts of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region for Party members, civil servants, students and teachers. 

In 2014, the government issued warnings to employees and students not to fast during the holy month.

It is also reported to have restricted men from having long beards, clamped down on religious education activities, and acted to control the entrances and exits to mosques.

In January 2015, the ban was extended to wearing burqas in public places.

Uighur, a Turkic group that makes up around 45 percent of the population of Xinjiang, has accused China of carrying out repressive policies that restrain their religious, commercial and cultural activities.

*Anadolu Agency correspondent Satuk Bugra Kutlugun contributed to this story from Ankara.

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