Jul 08, 2011

East Turkestan: Fresh Arrests As Ershidin Israel Remains Missing

Kazakhstan violates its commitments to international extradition law by putting Israel at risk of torture.  His whereabouts have been unknown since his arrest in May 2011.

Below is a press release issued by the World Uyghur Congress:

Ershidin Israel, 38, a Uyghur refugee was extradited from Kazakhstan to China on 30 May 2011. By forcibly returning Israel to China, Kazakhstan violated two of its most binding commitments under international law, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture which both prohibit the return of any individual to a country where he or she faces a credible risk of torture, whether or not the person is a bona fide refugee. Since his deportation, Israel´s exact current whereabouts, legal status and well-being are unknown. Chinese authorities only confirmed that he is in detention (probably in Urumqi) and that he is facing “terror charges.” The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) condemns the deportation in the strongest possible terms and fears that Israel will disappear in China´s detention system which is known for its lack of transparency and fairness.

According to a Kazakh diplomat interviewed by Reuters, Chinese officials “gave written guarantees that Israel would not be executed” upon his return to China. However, China’s demonstrated lack of transparency regarding treatment of Uyghurs previously deported to China from other countries undermines the credibility of such guarantees. Uyghurs who have been extradited to China in the past, were detained, imprisoned, sentenced, tortured, executed or disappeared after their return to China (for some past cases see here).

In addition, on 13 June 2011, few days after Israel´s deportation, one of his brothers, Shemshiden, was arrested in Urumqi, East Turkestan´s capital, and remains disappeared since then. Chinese security forces took him away under the pretense of irregularities in car business issues.

In addition, another two Uyghur men, Abdusalam Nasir (born in 1976) and Abdukerin Dihan (born in 1974) have been detained in Suydung (Gulja district), Israel´s hometown, on 9 June 2011. Both Nasir and Dihan, as well as Enver Israel (brother of Ershidin Israel) were among a group of 20 Uyghur men detained in 2009 after Israel leaked Shohret Tursun´s case to RFA and released again in 2010. Following the 5 July 2009 unrest, Tursun was detained and tortured to death by Chinese security forces. The three men witnessed Tursun´s case, Nasir for instance provided information to Radio Free Asia on the death of Tursun.

The WUC firmly believes that these new arrests stand in direct connection to Israel´s extradition and his following detention in China. The Chinese government is known to punish harshly any form of Uyghur dissent without any respect for national or international law and it is likely that the men will be penalized harshly for making use of their right to freedom of expression.

The WUC calls upon the international community to demand accountability from China regarding the whereabouts and treatment of the detained men and to press Chinese officials for information on their cases, including their current location, whether or not they have been formally charged with a crime, and whether or not they have been given access to a lawyer of his choice, instead of a government-appointed lawyer.

The international community must also take legal action against Kazakhstan and demand that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) account for the human rights impact of its practices such as, but not limited to, denials of asylum and forcible return of asylum seekers.

Background information:

Ershidin Israel fled East Turkestan in September 2009 after having provided information to Radio Free Asia (RFA, www.rfa.org) about the apparent torture to death of a young Uyghur man named Shohret Tursun. Shohret Tursun had been detained by the Chinese authorities soon after the July 2009 protest and ethnic unrest in Urumqi, East Turkestan´s regional capital. His dead body was returned by the Chinese authorities to his family in September 2009 covered in wounds and bruises, strongly suggesting that he had been tortured to death. According to Mr. Tursun’s father, the authorities claimed he died of a heart attack, but he had no history of heart problems and at 31 years old, he was a relatively young man. His family was forced to bury the body without any inquiry about his death. RFA broadcasted and published stories on this case in September 2009 based on information that Ershidin Israel and other witnesses provided.

Very soon thereafter, the Chinese authorities arrested two Uyghur men, Haji Memet and Abdusalem Nasir, whom the authorities accused of also providing information to RFA about the case of Shohret Tursun.  Mr. Israel informed RFA also on these arrests whereupon the Chinese authorities started to seek for Ershidin Israel who then fled to Kazakhstan.

After Mr. Israel arrived in Kazakhstan in the fall of 2009, he applied for refugee status from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees´ (UNHCR) office in Almaty.  In March 2010, UNHCR’s office in Almaty granted Mr. Israel UN mandate refugee status and secured a resettlement offer for Mr. Israel from Sweden.  Mr. Israel was scheduled to depart to Sweden on April 1, 2010.

But while making final preparations to leave Kazakhstan, a UNHCR official informed Israel that Kazakh authorities had refused to supply him with the necessary documents to leave the country. On April 3, Israel was moved into an apartment guarded around the clock by Kazakh police officers while the UNHCR investigated the delay in his resettlement.

In June 2010, he was detained by local authorities and has since attended a total of five hearings on his application for refugee status, all of which rejected his bid and ruled that he must be returned to China. The arrest was largely made as a result of China’s false and baseless terrorism allegations against Mr. Israel and China’s request that Kazakhstan return Mr. Israel to China. Mr. Israel is not a terrorist. The Chinese government often labels Uyghurs who peacefully dissent and exercise their freedom of speech as terrorists.  The real reason that the Chinese authorities want Mr. Israel is that he exercised his freedom of speech and provided the aforementioned information to RFA.