Ethnic Uighurs fleeing China's northwest Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) to Central Asia as a result of Beijing's crackdown on political and religious dissent are allegedly being sent back to China, where they face persecution, Uighur leaders in Central Asia say. Their claim is endorsed by Amnesty International (AI).
"Human rights abuses are the main driving force behind the flow of asylum seekers from Xinjiang. But Uighurs seeking asylum in Central Asia are deported back to China because the countries in the region don't give them political asylum," Kahriman Gojamberdi, representative of the German-based World Uighur Congress, told IRIN from the Kazakh commercial capital Almaty on Wednesday.
In the past a number of Uighur asylum seekers who went to Kazakhstan were deported to China, where they were subsequently executed, he claimed, conceding that fresh information on such incidents was not transparent. "Kazakhstan now deports or sends them back secretly," he maintained.
The situation in neighboring Kyrgyzstan is no different. Although there have been no recent incidents in which Uighurs have been deported to China, there were cases in 2001 and 2002, Nurmuhammed Kenji, director of the Kyrgyzstan-based Central Asian Uighur Information and Project Center, told IRIN from the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek.
"As China hasn't yet abolished the death penalty, handing people over who could be executed is a violation of international law," he said.
"There is an agreement between the intelligence services of Central Asian states and China within the framework of Shanghai Cooperation Organization [a regional security and cooperation body comprising China, Russia and the ex-Soviet Central Asian republics except Turkmenistan]. Based on that agreement, they exchange such persons [wanted by the respective secret services]," Gojamberdi explained.
Such comments coincide with a new report by AI saying Beijing was using the "war on terror" to justify its longstanding repression of the rights of the Uighur community. As a result, many Uighurs flee to neighboring countries - including Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, home to an estimated 360,000 ethnic Uighurs - only to be forcibly returned to China where they face torture and execution.
"China has repackaged its repression of Uighurs as a fight against 'terrorism'," AI said in a statement. "Since the 11 September 2001 attacks on the USA, the Chinese government has been using 'anti-terrorism' as a pretext to increase its crackdown on all forms of political or religious dissent in the region."
Gojamberdi agreed. "Human rights abuses are the main driving force behind the flow of asylum seekers from Xinjiang," he said.
Over the past three years, tens of thousands of people have been reportedly detained on "anti-terrorism" grounds in the XUAR, AI said. This is despite the claim by the regional authorities in April that "not one incident of explosion or assassination had taken place in the last few years".
Gojamberdi said that the international community should influence the parliaments and other state bodies in the region so that Uighur asylum-seekers were not returned to China.
Kenji from Kyrgyzstan called for a constructive dialogue with the participation of Beijing and Uighur organisations in the world. "We should begin with establishing a platform for exchanging views. Confrontation never leads to a solution," he maintained.
IRIN, July 07, 2004