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As the 2022 Winter Olympics opened in Beijing on Friday, hundreds of protesters from China’s Muslim Uyghur community rallied in Istanbul to call for a boycott of the Games over the country’s treatment of the ethnic minority.
The protesters also urged Olympics participants to speak out against China’s human rights violations.
“China stop the genocide,” “Muslims don’t sleep, stand up for your brothers,” chanted the protesters, who briefly blocked a road and scuffled with lines of Turkish riot police as they tried to march up a hill toward the Chinese consulate.
“These Olympics are being held not on snow, but on blood,” said one protester, 26-year-old student Abdullah Mudinoğlu.
Many protesters, gathered on Istanbul’s waterfront, waved 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.
Some 50,000 Uyghurs are estimated to live in Turkey, the largest Uyghur diaspora outside Central Asia. Turks have close ethnic, religious and linguistic ties to the Uyghurs.
“We call on all humanity to boycott and not watch the Winter Olympics, and for sportspeople and participants not to take part in these bloody games,” Hidayet Oğuzhan, head of the East Turkestan Education and Solidarity Association, told the crowd.
U.N. experts and rights groups estimate more than a million people, mainly from the Uyghur and other Muslim minorities, have been detained in forced labor camps in Xinjiang since 2016.
China initially denied such camps existed, but has since said they are vocational centers and are designed to combat extremism. It denies all accusations of abuse.
“We are completely against the Olympics being held there with such genocide being perpetrated against the Uyghurs,” said 28-year-old Sufinur Omercan at Friday’s protest.
“My father … was a historian and was thrown in prison because of the columns and books which he wrote. I can’t get any news on him since 2017.”
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.
The United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, Japan and Denmark have said they will not send official diplomatic delegations to the Games to protest China’s rights record.