For immediate release
April 28, 2009, 6:30 pm EST
Contact: Uyghur American Association +1 (202) 349 1496
The Uyghur American Association (UAA) is concerned about reports that nine Uyghurs have been extradited from Pakistan to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). UAA condemns the Pakistani government’s refoulement of the nine Uyghurs, accused of terrorism, to the PRC, as this action contravenes international law. Uyghurs accused of terrorism and extradited to China are likely to face serious human rights violations, including torture, unfair trials, and execution. International law forbids the extradition of any individual to a country in which their safety cannot be guaranteed.
According to Pakistani media reports, the handover of the nine men came about as a result of three agreements made between Pakistan and China regarding militancy and extremism. However, UAA urges caution when viewing allegations of terrorism among Uyghurs in Pakistan, in light of Pakistani authorities’ close cooperation with the Chinese government in its persecution of Pakistani-based Uyghurs’ peaceful activities.
“Pakistani authorities are increasingly cooperating with China to restrict Uyghurs’ cultural and religious freedoms, and to prevent Uyghurs in Pakistan from raising awareness about human rights abuses in East Turkestan,” said Uyghur democracy leader Rebiya Kadeer. “Under these circumstances, and considering China’s documented past treatment of Uyghurs forcibly returned from Pakistan, we call upon Pakistani authorities to respect the principle of non-refoulement and undertake a full, transparent investigation into the allegations against these nine men.”
Past cases of Uyghurs extradited from Pakistan to China
The case of Uyghur political prisoner Ismail Semed demonstrates the PRC’s willingness to use the legal system as a tool of intimidation and repression. Executed in February 2007 after being deported from Pakistan to the PRC in 2003, Semed was known to have been politically active in support of Uyghurs’ human rights. Semed was sentenced to death in October 2005 on charges of “attempting to split the motherland” and other charges relating to the alleged possession of firearms and explosives. He was known to have been politically active in peaceful activities in support of Uyghurs’ human rights. PRC authorities accused him of having been a founding member of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). This accusation, which apparently led to the “splittism” charge, appears to have been based solely on second-hand testimony that was obtained through torture.
According to Semed’s sentencing document, which was seen by UHRP, the only evidence with regard to the charges of possession of explosives is the testimony of several other Uyghurs, two of whom were executed by the Chinese government in 1999. UHRP believes it likely that the testimonies of these Uyghurs were obtained through torture, and that Semed’s documented “confession” to the charges against him was also likely extracted through torture.
Businessman and Uyghur activist Osman Alihan was extradited in July 2007, also from Pakistan. His current whereabouts are unknown, but UAA is gravely concerned about the likelihood that he has been executed or that he is suffering severe maltreatment in the custody of Chinese authorities. Alihan was one of around 20 Uyghurs named on a “wanted list” given to the Pakistani authorities by the PRC government in the lead-up to a Pakistan-China Joint Working Group on Terrorism held in Beijing not long before his detention by Pakistani security forces. In addition to his business activities, Alihan had been working to help impoverished Uyghur students in Pakistan and Turkey.
Alihan was one of the organizers of peaceful protests in front of the Saudi Arabian embassy in Pakistan in August and September 2006 by Uyghurs protesting the denial of their Saudi entry visas. Reportedly under intense pressure from the PRC government, Saudi authorities had refused to issue the visas, which the protestors, who had traveled to Pakistan as private citizens, were seeking in order to participate in the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj. After the protests, and following pressure from the international community, Saudi Arabia issued visas to the Uyghur pilgrims, angering Beijing.
A precarious situation for Uyghurs in SCO member and observer states
In recent years, and particularly following September 11, PRC authorities have engaged in a sustained crackdown on the “three evil forces” of “separatist, terrorist and religious extremists” in East Turkestan. This has resulted in serious and widespread human rights violations directed against the region’s Uyghur community, prompting many of them to flee the country.
Uyghurs who flee into countries neighboring East Turkestan increasingly face great danger and the risk of being sent back to the PRC. Amnesty International has documented numerous cases of Uyghurs being forcibly returned to the PRC from various neighboring states – including Pakistan – where they are then extremely vulnerable to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
As the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) marks more than a decade of existence, Beijing has extended its campaign of intimidation into neighboring countries by using bilateral agreements with SCO member and observer states to force the return of Uyghurs suspected of “separatist activities”, including asylum-seekers and refugees. A number of Uyghur returnees have reportedly been subjected to serious human rights violations, including torture, unfair trials and even executions. In all of these cases, SCO governments are in clear violation of the principal of non-refoulement, which protects refugees from being returned to places where their lives or freedoms could be threatened.
Pakistan’s current “observer” status with the SCO, as well as Pakistani government officials’ remarks against domestic activities perceived as critical of China, raises concerns that Pakistan is willing to persecute innocent Uyghurs, or send them back to East Turkestan, in order to please China.
Pakistan hopes to act as an important energy and trade link between China and oil-exporting Middle Eastern nations. China has invested heavily in a deep sea port at Gwadar in southwestern Pakistan, through which both countries hope to gain significant strategic and economic benefits, including through a possible oil pipeline linking Gwadar with East Turkestan.
Other examples of Uyghurs who have been extradited to the PRC from SCO member and observer states include Canadian citizen Huseyin Celil, now serving a life term in prison, who was detained in Uzbekistan in March 2006 while visiting relatives, and activists Yusuf Kadir and Abdukadir Sidik, now detained or possibly executed, who were extradited from Kazakhstan.
China’s use of terror allegations to persecute Uyghurs
Over the past eight years, using “terrorism” as a justification, Beijing has undertaken a renewed, systematic, and sustained crackdown on all forms of Uyghur dissent. Uyghurs arrested under this crackdown frequently suffer from physical abuse and other maltreatment while in government custody. In addition, they are often subject to nontransparent trials and denied access to independent counsel. Convictions are regularly obtained on the basis of forced confessions extracted through torture.
In August 2005, Chinese authorities warned a visiting delegation from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom that “elements of al Qaeda” were targeting them. The Commission later determined that this claim was used to “restrict Commission activities and to monitor its contact with local people not approved by the government.” In June 2006, the Chinese diplomatic mission in Pakistan claimed that “members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement” were planning to kidnap senior Chinese diplomats and consular officers in the country. However, no evidence was presented.
The PRC government has used frequent “strike hard” campaigns to target many peaceful expressions of Uyghur identity inside East Turkestan. Since 9/11, Amnesty International has documented that, under these types of campaigns, “tens of thousands of people are reported to have been detained for investigation in the region, and hundreds, possibly thousands, have been charged or sentenced under the Criminal Law; many Uighurs are believed to have been sentenced to death and executed for alleged “separatist” or “terrorist” offences.”
Uyghur political prisoner executed in Urumchi
Uyghur detained in Pakistan, at risk of extradition to China
Amnesty International Urgent Action regarding Osman Alihan
Persecution of Uyghurs in the Era of the “War on Terror”
PRC using Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a tool of intimidation against Uyghurs
Chinese influence on neighboring states leads to extradition, suppression of Uyghurs