BY BRAD DRESS - 01/04/22 03:45 PM EST
A group of Uighur Muslims, an ethnic minority facing widespread repression in China, has filed a criminal complaint in Turkey against Chinese officials for crimes against humanity, genocide, torture and rape.
The lawsuit, brought by 19 Uighurs in the Istanbul Chief Prosecutor's Office, was first reported by Reuters on Tuesday. Turkish prosecutor Gulden Sonmez told the news outlet he was bringing the complaint forward because international bodies have largely stayed silent on the Chinese-sanctioned human rights violations.
Around 50,000 Uighurs live in Turkey. Those filing the criminal complaint claim they have not heard from their loved ones since they were taken to a detention facility inside China.
Since 2016, China has held around 1 million Uighurs and Muslim minorities in the western Xinjiang region in large camps and detention facilities.
Chinese officials have claimed the facilities are vocational centers designed to educate and combat extremism after years of violent protest from the minorities against the regime, but opponents have accused Beijing of unlawfully imprisoning Uighurs, torturing them and restricting births among the ethnic group.
London-based Uighur Tribunal, an independent, nongovernmental body set up by human rights lawyers, concluded in December that China is committing genocide by forcefully restricting births, as well as raping and torturing the imprisoned Uighurs.
The Washington-based Uighur Human Rights Project and Germany's World Uighur Congress announced the same month that they would file a joint criminal case in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where an international court can issue warrants and bring defendants to trial.
Michael Polak, a London-based attorney who said he would file the case on behalf of the organizations, told Radio Free Asia in a statement that Uighurs are "being attacked simply because of their ethnicity and religion by a powerful state.“
"The use of universal jurisdiction provisions is the next step in the path to justice for the Uighur people and to hold to account those who are ordering the most horrendous international crimes against them,” he said.
The U.S. has also taken a hard-line stance against the Uighur detention. President Biden signed into law last month a bill banning imports of goods from China's Xinjiang region, unless companies provide proof that the goods were made without forced labor.
The U.S. is also boycotting the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics next month because of human rights violations against the Uighurs and other groups in China.