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Rights Groups say China Pressuring Asian Countries to Deport Uighurs

  • Ron Corben
  • Bangkok

Human-rights groups are criticizing a series of deportations of ethnic Uighurs by Malaysia, Pakistan and Thailand, saying the decision to send them back to China is a breach of human rights and humanitarian law. The groups say governments have faced Chinese diplomatic pressure to speed the deportations.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say 11 Uighurs arrested in Malaysia and sent back to China may face torture and harsh prison sentences after being detained among a group of 16 on August 6.

Thai Immigration officials arrested one Uighur man earlier this month. Human Rights Watch says other arrests have also taken place in Pakistan.

Human Rights Watch Deputy Director Phil Robertson said the deportations appeared to be part of a broader push targeting Uighur exiles.

“Putting the pieces together it looks like a coordinated campaign by the Chinese government to go after Uighur exiles. What we do know is that the Chinese Government has set these governments to short circuit their own legal system, to short circuit basic due process procedures and to hand these people over to Chinese Embassy officials, put them on a fast plane back to China.”

In Thailand, one Uighur man, Nur Muhammed, fled China in 2009 from Xinjiang province following outbreaks of violence and protests. Human Rights Watch said Muhammed is accused by China of being part of a terrorist group. He was charged under Thailand’s Immigration Act for illegal entry and then handed over to Chinese officials in Bangkok without due legal process.

In Malaysia, the group of 16 ethnic Uighur was arrested in Kuala Lumpur and Johor Baru. Eleven were deported to China before U.N. officials had a chance of review their cases. The U.N. Refugee Agency is now pressing the Malaysian Government for access to the remaining Uighurs.

Malaysian authorities have defended the deportations, saying the Uighurs were involved in human trafficking.

In 2009 Cambodia deported 20 Uighurs, including a pregnant woman and two infants, despite being under the protection of the U.N. Refugee Agency.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees regional spokesperson Kitty McKinsey for the said the deportations without assessing the Uighur’s status is a concern.

“It is always a concern to us when asylum seekers or refugees are deported particularly when refoulement (forced return) occurs. This means when they return to any country where their rights or freedom might be in danger, sometimes their lives are in danger. The issue in many of these cases is that the procedure is not allowed to run its course.”

Chinese officials have blamed Uighur groups for a series of violent uprisings in China’s Xinjiang region. Tensions have been high in the region since 2009, when at least 197 people were killed during ethnic rioting between Uighurs and Han Chinese.

China has accused Islamic religious extremists of plotting the violence. Exile Uighur spokesmen have rejected the charge and say Chinese repression of ethnic Uighurs is the real reason for the violence.

McKinsey said the governments that carried out the deportations have failed to assess the validity of the Uighur claims to refugee status, which would include whether they were involved in criminal actions in China.

“All asylum seekers, including the Uighur, have to go through refugee determination processes to establish whether they as individual have a well founded fear of persecution. It is very important to note that the asylum procedures specifically include provisions for exclusion from refugee status of individuals who have been involved in serious criminal activities.”

The Uighur, who mainly live in far western China, are a Turkic speaking mainly Muslim ethnic minority.

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