Apr 04, 2007

East Turkestan: HR in Central Asia Highlighted

Amnesty International has released a report summarizing their documented human rights concerns in Central Asia, which includes the continued persecution of the Uyghur community in China.

Below is an excerpt from an article published by Amnesty International:

Amnesty International is concerned that despite professed efforts by the governments in Central Asia to fulfil [fulfill] their human rights obligations and actual efforts by some states to remedy the worst abuses, grave human rights violations routinely continue to be committed with virtual impunity. This summary highlights some of the organization's most pressing human rights concerns in the various republics in Central Asia. […]


Fear of refoulement to China

Thirty-five-year old Yusuf Kadir Tohti (also known as Erdagan) and 30-year-old Abdukadir Sidik, two Uighur men originally from China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), were being held in incommunicado detention in China at the end of June 2006, after having been forcibly returned from Kazakstan on 10 May. They were at risk of serious human rights violations, including torture or other ill-treatment, and possibly the death penalty, should their "crimes" be deemed to be "serious". The Kazakstani authorities deported the two men from Almaty, in the south of Kazakstan, to Urumqi, XUAR, following "a decision by the specialized administrative court of Almaty for violation of rules of stay in Kazakstan".

Yusuf Kadir Tohti reportedly fled China for Kazakstan in 1996, where he became a religious teacher. The Chinese authorities reportedly accused him of "separatism" and asked for his extradition. He was detained in Almaty by Kazakstani law enforcement officers on 8 March 2006. Abdukadir Sidik was detained on the same day. He had fled the XUAR in 1999 after he publicly protested against the Chinese authorities' policy on minorities, particularly their enforcement of the family planning policy which limited the number of children that Uighurs could have. He had also protested against harsh working conditions during mandatory state labour which reportedly lasts 45 days for men. He was reportedly detained for two months in connection with his political activities and views. After his release Abdukadir Sidik reportedly filed a complaint against a local official. After he submitted his complaint, the official reportedly came to his house, beat him and threatened him with further punishment. It was after this that Abdukadir Sidik, reportedly fearing for his safety, fled China and was detained by Kazakstani border officials when crossing the border. He was charged by the Kazakstani authorities with illegally crossing the border and sentenced to six months' imprisonment. According to Abdukadir Sidik he actually spent 18 months in detention, and in a letter written from prison before he was forcibly returned, Abdukadir Sidik reported that he was interrogated and threatened by Chinese police officers while in detention in Kazakstan.

In November and again in December 2006, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed serious concern for the safety of an Uighur asylum-seeker, Arkin Sadik, whose fate and whereabouts were unknown since his release from detention in October. A court in Almaty had quashed the criminal charges - reportedly of illegal possession of weapons - on which 38-year-old Arkin Sadik had been detained in June and had ordered his release. Arkin Sadik's relatives and supporters claimed that the weapons were planted by law enforcement officers during an unsanctioned search of his home in Almaty. They maintained that he had no links to armed separatist groups in the XUAR. Arkin Sadik had been recognized by UNHCR as a refugee. The agency feared that he might have been forcibly deported to China where he was at risk of being subjected to serious human rights violations. [...]

Extradition requests to the Uzbekistani authorities

Husein Dzhelil, also known as Huseyin Celil, a 37-year old Canadian citizen and ethnic Uighur from the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in northwest China, was detained in March 2006 in Uzbekistan when he was visiting his relatives and handed over to the Chinese authorities at the end of June 2006. In China he has been held incommunicado, and the Chinese authorities have refused to recognize his Canadian citizenship. Husein Dzhelil fled China to Central Asia in the mid-1990s after being detained in connection with his political activities, which included advocating the rights of Uighurs, and sought asylum through the office of UNHCR in Turkey in 1999. He was recognized as a refugee and resettled to Canada, where he obtained Canadian citizenship in November 2005.

Husein Dzhelil was visiting his wife's family in Uzbekistan when he was arrested on 27 March 2006. He was detained in Tashkent when he tried to get an extension to his visa. The authorities did not tell his family, who are also Canadian citizens, why they had detained him. Representatives of the Canadian government were allowed to meet him for the first time on 14 April for 20 minutes. They were reportedly only granted a further two visits, with the last meeting taking place on 8 May. His lawyer was reportedly denied access to him as were his relatives who were only allowed to pass on food, clothes and money. Amnesty International learned that he was held in Kuiluk detention facility near Tashkent from the end of April or beginning of May. When his father-in-law went to deliver a food parcel on 9 June, the prison guards reportedly told him that officers from the National Security Service had taken Husein Dzhelil to an unknown location. It later emerged that he had been forcibly returned to China.

In February 2007 trial proceedings against Husein Dzhelil started before a court in Urumqi, the capital of the XUAR. In court Husein Dzhelil claimed that his earlier confession had been extracted through torture. According to those close to him, he claimed that he was tortured after his extradition to China in June 2006, including by being starved and deprived of sleep during the first 15 days of his imprisonment. He also claimed that Chinese authorities threatened that he would "disappear" and "be buried alive" unless he signed a document. This document was later held up as a confession, although Husein Dzhelil reportedly later claimed he did not know what he had signed. Husein Dzhelil's trial was attended by his family members in XUAR, and by Chinese officials. The authorities had previously indicated that he was being investigated for activities related to "terrorism", but it appears that no charges were read out at his trial. Instead, he was reportedly questioned in court about his activities and those of others from the Uighur ethnic group, in Canada and in Central Asia.