Jul 07, 2004

East Turkestan: Fleeing Uighurs forced back to "anti-terror" torture and execution

China is using the "war on terror" to justify its longstanding repression of the rights of the Uighur community, according to a new report by Amnesty International.
Untitled Document

AI Index: ASA 17/032/2004 (Public)
News Service No: 164

Embargo Date: 7 July 2004 01:00 GMT

China is using the "war on terror" to justify its longstanding repression of the rights of the Uighur community, according to a new report by Amnesty International. Many Uighurs flee to neighbouring countries, but growing numbers are being forcibly returned to China where they face torture and execution.

"China has repackaged its repression of Uighurs as a fight against 'terrorism'," said Amnesty International. "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."

Over the last three years, tens of thousands of people are reported to have been detained on grounds of "anti-terrorism" in the Xinjiang Uighur Automonous Region (XUAR), north-west China. This is despite the claim by the head of the regional government in April that "not one incident of explosion or assassination took place in the last few years".

The Chinese government continues to detain prisoners of conscience -- who have never used or advocated violence -- showing that China's policies of repression in the region stretch far beyond combating acts of violence or "terrorism".

One prisoner of conscience, Rebiya Kadeer, 57, used to be celebrated as a model businesswoman by the Chinese government: she was part of the official delegation to the UN World Conference on Women in 1995. Then in 2000 the mother of eleven was sentenced in a secret trial to eight years in prison for "providing secret information to foreigners". It turned out she had sent publicly available local newspapers to her husband, a former political prisoner who went to live in the USA. Rebiya Kadeer now suffers chronic gastritis and is on daily medication in prison. Amnesty International welcomes the reduction in her sentence by one year announced in March, but continues to call for her immediate and unconditional release.

The government has also shut down a number of mosques and banned some religious schools and practices, as it tightens restrictions on the religious rights of Uighurs, most of whom are Muslims. As well as sweeping restrictions on religious, cultural and social rights, suspected "separatists, terrorists or religious extremists" have for years faced imprisonment or execution after unfair trials, as well as torture and long-term detention without charge or trial or access to lawyers or family.

"At current levels of repression, the space for independent expression of Uighur cultural or religious identity is narrowing dangerously", said Amnesty International.

Many Uighurs choose to flee to neighbouring countries, such as Kyrgyzstan, Kazakstan, Nepal and Pakistan. But even then they are not safe, as the Chinese government pressures such countries to forcibly return the asylum-seekers. Back in China, they face serious human rights violations, including torture, unfair trials, and even execution.

In one recent case, Shaheer Ali was executed in China after being forcibly returned from Nepal even after he had been recognised as a refugee by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Nepal. The Uighur activist had been awaiting resettlement when he was detained by Nepalese immigration. According to one eyewitness, he was later taken away with at least one other detainee by officials from the Chinese embassy in Nepal.

While in Nepal, Shaheer Ali described eight months of torture in a XUAR prison in 1994. He said he was beaten with shackles, given electric shocks, and had metal nails pushed under his toenails in an attempt to make him confess to various offences.

A US official recently stated 22 Uighurs held in Guantanamo Bay could not be returned to China, apparently because of fears they would be tortured or even executed there. Amnesty International has received credible allegations that during a visit to Guantanamo by a Chinese delegation the Uighurs were subjected to intimidation and threats and "stress and duress" techniques such as sleep deprivation and forced sitting for many hours. Some of this abuse allegedly occurred on the instructions of the Chinese delegates.

Ongoing ethnic tensions in the XUAR are fed by the failure of the Chinese government to address widespread violations of Uighurs' civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. For example, the continuing influx of Han Chinese into the region has increased the level of high unemployment among Uighurs. There are increasing reports of Han Chinese property developers forcing Uighurs from their land. Tens of thousands of Uighur books have been banned and burned and Uighur has been banned as a teaching language for most subjects in Xinjiang University.

Even if they are not party to the Refugee Convention, all countries are bound by the principle of non-refoulement, which bars all states from returning individuals to a country where their lives or liberty are at risk or where they are likely to face torture. This is a fundamental principle of customary international law.

To see the full report, People's Republic of China: Uighurs fleeing persecution as China wages its "war on terror", please go to:
http://web.amnesty.org/library/eng-chn/index or download it from the UNPO website (Word-format)