China hit back on Monday against Turkish criticism over its treatment of ethnic Uighurs and denied Ankara’s claim that a renowned poet from the Muslim minority had died in custody, calling it an “absurd lie”.

Abdurehim Heyit.

“China has already made solemn representations toward Turkey. We hope the relevant Turkish persons can distinguish between right and wrong and correct their mistakes,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said during a daily press briefing.

Turkey’s foreign ministry on Saturday severely criticised China’s mass detentions of its Turkic-speaking Uighurs, and claimed that poet Abdurehim Heyit had died while serving a sentence of “eight years in prison for one of his songs.”

But China on Sunday released a video showing a man who identified himself as Heyit saying that he was still alive.

Hua called the Turkish foreign ministry’s statement “vile”, and said the claim of Heyit’s death was an “absurd lie” and “extremely wrong.”

“I saw his video online yesterday, showing that he is not only alive but also very healthy,” Hua said.

A UN panel of experts has said that nearly one million Uighurs and other Turkic language-speaking minorities have reportedly been held in “re-education camps” in China’s western Xinjiang region, where most of the country’s more than 10 million Uighurs live.

Turkey said China’s treatment of Uighurs was “a great embarrassment for humanity”, in perhaps the strongest condemnation yet from a Muslim country, which have been conspicuously quiet on the issue possibly to avoid Chinese diplomatic or economic retaliation.

The plight of China’s Uighurs is closely followed in Turkey due to shared linguistic, cultural and religious links, as well as the presence of tens of thousands of ethnic Uighurs there.

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