Feb 02, 2012

East Turkestan: Rafto Concerned by Uyghur Persecution

The Rafto Foundation, who awarded Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer their prestigious prize in 2004, has called on the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to raise the issue of the continuing detentions of Uyghur asylum seekers in East Turkestan (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region - XUAR) China.

Below is an article published by the Rafto Foundation:

On December 19, 2009, Cambodia deported 21 Uyghur asylum seekers to China, including a pregnant woman and her two young children. Chinese authorities have refused to publicize information about the deportees despite international inquiries and Chinese officials’ promises to deal transparently with the Uyghurs’ cases upon their return. However, news of the whereabouts and fate of the returned Uyghurs are now starting to emerge. 

Rebiya Kadeer, the 2004 Rafto Prize laureate, has used her freedom since her release from the Chinese prison in 2005 to raise the issue of the repression Uyghurs face and their struggle for human rights.

According to Radio Free Asia (RFA), four of the deported Uyghurs have been sentenced to prison terms from 16 to 20 years by Chinese courts during closed trials: Ilyar Hamut (jailed for 20 years), Musa Muhamad (17 years), Helil Abdugheni (16 years) and Abduqadir Abdugheni (16 years). Another three of the extradited Uyghurs - Mutellip Mamut, Nurahmet Kudret and Islam Urayim - are believed to have been sentenced to life in prison. 

”These sentences highlight the urgent need to ensure the safety of Uyghur asylum seekers and prevent their deportation. In the last couple of years we have witnessed several cases where Uyghur asylum seekers are being extradited to China from Central Asian and East Asian countries” said Therese Jebsen, executive director of the Rafto Foundation.

This is contrary to the principle enshrined in the UN Refugee Convention which prohibits persons to be extradited to countries where they may be maltreated or face persecution. Both Cambodia and China are signatories to this convention. The Rafto Foundation is concerned about the pressure China puts on Asian countries to repatriate Chinese nationals.

The Rafto Foundation urges the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to raise the issue with their Chinese counterparts and express concern over the 21 deported Uyghurs. Further, the Rafto Foundation calls on the Norwegian government to urge countries like Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Burma, Pakistan and Kazakhstan to refrain from deporting Uyghur asylum seekers back to China. 

The Rafto Foundation has long been worried about the persecution of Uyghurs in northwestern China. The Uyghurs are of Turkic descent, mostly Muslims, and has long been oppressed. The space for independent expression of Uyghur cultural or religious identity is dangerously narrow. Human rights organizations have documented enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrest and ill-treatment of Uyghurs, including torture.