Uyghurs in Turkey Call for Beijing Winter Olympics Boycott: 'China, Close the Camps'

Uyghur Muslims living in Turkey called for a boycott on Sunday of the forthcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing.

In Istanbul, dozens of members of the Uyghur community, an ethnic minority in Central and Eastern Asia, staged a protest against the Winter Olympics and called for countries to boycott the competition, according to Reuters. China has come under heavy fire from the international community for human rights abuses and alleged genocide being enacted against Uyghurs living in its western region of Xinjiang.

At the event, protestors waved the blue-and-white flag of the East Turkestan independence movement, a group China has called a threat to its Xinjiang province. They used chants including "China, stop the genocide" and "China, close the camps," the latter referring to the camps reportedly being used to forcibly "re-educate" members of Xinjiang's Uyghur communities.

istanbul uyghur protest beijing
Uyghurs in Turkey staged a protest on Sunday against the Beijing Winter Olympics. Above, a boy attends a previous protest against China in Istanbul. AFP via Getty Images/Bulent Kilic

"China does not have the right to host the Olympics while committing all the torture, cruelty and genocide against Uyghurs," said housewife and protestor Munevver Ozuygur, according to Reuters. She claimed to have relatives being held at camps in China.

Some 50,000 Uyghurs are estimated to live in Turkey. This is the largest community of the group's diaspora outside of Central Asia. Turkish people also share various "ethnic, religious, and linguistic" traits with Uyghurs, as noted by Al Jazeera.

The Winter Olympics are set to kick off on February 4. So far, the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Denmark and Japan have opted to not send diplomatic delegates in protest of China's human rights record. The U.S. has also imposed a number of sanctions against various Chinese businesses and politicians over the alleged treatment of Uyghurs.

Experts with the United Nations and human rights groups claim that upwards of a million Uyghurs have been forcibly detained at the camps in Xinjiang. Initially denying the existence of the camps, China now claims that they are used for vocational training and to reduce the appeal of "extremism."

Also on Sunday, Rushan Abbas, a Uyghur American activist and executive director of Campaign for Uyghurs, a human rights group, wrote an op-ed for The Hill.

She described the diplomatic boycott of the Olympics as "a bare minimum, symbolic rather than substantive." She called for the U.S. and other countries to not attend the games at all, and for prospective viewers across the world to not tune in to the event.

"When future generations look back on our world today, will they learn that America acted with moral clarity?" Abbas wrote. Our nation often repeats the rallying cry 'Never again!' Yet, it's happening again. We have a chance to correct history in the making. What will we decide?"