Abdulkadir Yapuquan, China’s most wanted Uighur, freed in Turkey

Abdullah Bozkurt

Abdulkadir Yapuquan, a 61-year-old ethnic Uighur Muslim from the Xinjiang region of China, where he has been sought on terrorism charges, has been released from a detention center in Turkey.

In a decision issued on May 2, 2019, the the Turkish Constitutional Court ruled that the rights of Yapuquan, who has been living in Turkey since 2001, were violated and that he must be freed from a removal center. The lower court complied with the judgement the next day, releasing him subject to a travel ban. His case had mobilized the Uighur diaspora in Turkey and around the world and led to campaigns for his release. Turkey’s pro-government media and Islamist groups aligned with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lobbied on his behalf.

Yapuquan, reportedly the most wanted man in China, was accused of being a senior leader of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a dissident group that was designated as a terrorist organization by the European Union, the United States and a number of other countries. Chinese authorities claim Yapuquan helped establish the ETIM, which seeks an independent state in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), and engaged in planning and carrying out terrorist acts. He reportedly called for armed jihad against China, help radicalize Uighur dissidents and pursued a fight against the Han Chinese with every means available to Uighurs. He was believed to have been involved in the training of militants in Afghanistan.

He had been imprisoned in China twice, once for six years between 1973 and 1979 and then three years between 1993 and 1996 on various charges. He fled China immediately after his release and spent some time in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. In 2001 he ended up in Turkey, home to a large Uighur diaspora. In 2007 Yapuquan was recognized as a refugee by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.


Due to the Chinese government’s lobbying and pressure, Turkey detained him in 2002 and 2008 but released him. He was detained twice in 2016, a year when Turkish President Recep Erdoğan made a trip to China to attend the G20 Summit in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou. Erdoğan told Chinese President Xi Jinping that Turkey would not allow its territory to be used for acts that harmed China’s security. Erdoğan went to Beijing a year later to attend the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. On the sidelines of the event, Turkey and China signed an agreement on the extradition of criminals, on May 13, 2017.

Yapuquan’s detention in 2016 took place amid a flurry of visits to Turkey by senior Chinese officials from law enforcement and the Justice Ministry. China’s Special Counterterrorism Officer Zhang Xinfeng visited Turkey on June 7, 2016 to speak with Justice Ministry and Foreign Ministry officials on the activities of Yapuquan and 17 other dissidents. On August 31, 2016 Turkish authorities detained him and initiated extradition proceedings. Chinese Deputy Justice Minister Liu Zhiqiang also paid a visit to Turkey on October 23-27, 2016 to follow up on the Yapuquan case as well as to raise the issue of Chinese nationals who joined jihadist groups in Syria through Turkish territory. Zhang returned to Turkey on December 7, 2016.

Turkish police kept him in a detention facility at the Kanarya police station in the Küçükçekmece district of Istanbul for 30 days until September 29, 2016, the maximum detention time allowed under a state of emergency in force in Turkey at the time. The prosecutor’s request to formally arrest him and put him in prison on his last day of detention was rejected by the Bakırköy 5th Criminal Court of Peace. The prosecution’s objection to the ruling was approved by the 4th Criminal Court of Peace, which sent Yapuquan to Maltepe Prison for 40 days.

The Bakırköy Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office indicted Yapuquan on October 14, 2016 and asked for his extradition to China. The indictment presented several charges against him, which were conveyed to Turkey by Chinese authorities and included Interpol Red Notice No.A-1315/12/2003. He faced multiple counts ranging from murder to forgery, from establishing and administering a terrorist organization to threatening national security. The indictment alleged that he sent Uighurs from Xinjiang as well as from other parts of Central and South Asia to Afghanistan for terrorist training until 1999, engaged in manufacturing explosives and disseminating propaganda on behalf of a terrorist group in videos posted online.

On October 18, 2016 the Bakirköy 2nd High Criminal Court ruled to release him from pre-trial detention after he had spent 18 days in jail. The court also rejected the extradition motion on the grounds that the forgery charge, which has a statute of limitations of 12 years, had already expired. It assessed that the terrorism charges were politically motivated and as such could not be accepted. On appeal, the 16th Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals (Yargitay) overturned the judgment on procedural flaws on January 23, 2017, stating that the defendant was not properly served with the indictment, the evidence was not thoroughly examined and the defendant was not informed of his right to voluntary departure from Turkey.

Although he was released from prison, Yapuquan was placed under administrative detention, this time by the governor of Kırklareli on October 19, 2016 on charges that he posed a risk to the national security and public order of Turkey. He was put in the Pehlivanköy Removal Center in the same province. His challenge to his administrative detention was rejected by a judge on November 4, 2016. The Edirne Administrative Court upheld the judge’s decision. His complaint filed with the Constitutional Court on rights violations was successful, with the court barring his deportation to either China or Kazakhstan on November 23, 2016 in an emergency ruling.

On June 19, 2017 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) also decided that Yapuquan should not be removed from Turkey until his complaint with the ECtHR, lodged on November 23, 2016, was finalized. It stated that “the application mainly concerns the applicant’s threatened deportation from Turkey to China, where he allegedly risks death and/or ill-treatment on account of his political opinions, or to an intermediary country where he will allegedly be deprived of effective protection against refoulement to China.” It asked the Turkish government to submit a copy of the documents relevant to the assessment leading to the removal order for Yapuquan, documents relevant to the applicant’s request for international protection, documents regarding the medical screening and treatment of the applicant at the Kırklareli Pehlivanköy Removal Center and all other documents relevant to the aforementioned questions.

On May 2, 2017 Yapuquan was moved to the Süleymanpaşa Removal Center in Tekirdağ province, where he stayed until October 19, 2017. As his administrative detention had reached the maximum limit of 12 months that is allowed under the law, the Tekirdağ governor released him on the condition that he report to the police regularly. However, Yapuquan refused to accept the order and declined to leave the removal center.

Although he allegedly refused to leave the center of own accord after the governor ended his administrative detention, Yapuquan filed a second complaint with the ECtHR on January 3, 2018 asking the Strasbourg court to secure his release from detention on the grounds that he suffered from coronary disease and mental health issues and that his detention was unlawful. The ECtHR rejected his request but asked the Turkish government to respond to the allegations he raised such as ill treatment, the unlawfulness of his detention and the right to a fair trial.

As his case moved forward, Chinese officials continued to visit Turkey to discuss his extradition, among other matters. China’s Justice Minister Fu Zhenghua came to Ankara to meet with his Turkish counterpart, Abdulhamit Gül, on August 29, 2018. The Turkish minister reciprocated the visit by going to China to meet with Fu on November 14, 2018. The two countries signed a cooperation agreement during the visit. The Turkish minister’s visit to China came right after Zhang Jun, the procurator-general of China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate (prosecutor general’s office), made a trip to Ankara to meet with Gül on September 25, 2018. Further visits by Chinese delegations at the technical level took place in the meantime to hammer out the details of cooperation on judicial matters.

Turkey’s Constitutonal Court ruled on May 2, 2019 on the merits of the case with regard to his individual application and stated that Yapuquan’s rights were violated and that he must be released from the removal center, also ordering the payment of 30,000 Turkish lira in damages to the applicant. The next day, the Çağlayan 29th High Criminal Court issued a judgment in his renewed extradition case, but he was barred from leaving his neighborhood in the Küçükçekmece district of Istanbul. The next hearing is scheduled for September 26, 2019.