Oct 28, 2008

East Turkestan: Detention of Uyghurs is a Contradiction

Active ImageA former Guantanamo detainee gives his opinion on the US refusal to free Uyghur prisoners.


Below is an article published by The Jurist:

Moazzam Begg [former Guantanamo detainee and spokesman for Cageprisoners]:

"Few people outside of western China or the neighboring central Asian states of the former Soviet Union have heard of the Uighurs. I hadn't heard of them either, until I was held in their company after the launch of "Operation Enduring Freedom" in Kandahar and Bagram detention facilities, Afghanistan, in early 2001, by occupying US forces.

In my own ignorance I'd assumed they were Chinese and used to jokingly ask them to teach me kung-fu. The bewildered responses I used to get from them elicited a response that taught me something of their true identity.

In the Muslim world they are called "Turkestanis" and are noted for being the forebears of the Turks and their Turkic language, which is still written in the Arabic script. They have a rich and long history and culture which they have been struggling to keep alive in their traditional homeland of East Turkestan (Xinkiang) for centuries.

In the wake of the US-led invasion these men - who had escaped the persecution in their own land and sought refuge in neighboring countries - were sold over for bounties of a few thousand dollars by unscrupulous Afghan warlords or Pakistanis seeking the lucrative bounties offered for foreign Muslims by the Bush administration. This was no different to what happened to hundreds of other foreign Muslims in that region. However, the Uighurs were regarded as dissident Chinese, whose cause had previously been - and, ironically still is - approved by the US administration.

Comparatively speaking, the detaining US authorities had recognised early on, even by the standards of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) and ensuing Annual Review Boards (ARBs), which determined whether we were still "enemy combatants" or not, that the Uighurs posed little or no threat to the US or its allies. Rather, it was unanimously agreed on both sides that the men faced the very real risk of torture if returned to the Chinese authorities who conveniently claim that since these men are dissident and Muslim, they are by extension dangerous terrorists.

In 2006, a woman described as "the most well-known female Chinese dissident" was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Photographs of her recent meetings with President Bush still appear in the world's press and television screens. But Rabiya Kadeer is a Uighur, who is an ardent campaigner for the rights of her people - which includes around seventeen of the original twenty-two Uighurs still held in Guantanamo.

It is a paradox that the only country thus far - which accepted the first five of the Guantanamo Uighurs - is perhaps also the poorest in Europe: Albania.

It is also a paradox that despite the recent US court ruling ordering the release of remaining seventeen men to the US (Washington D.C. hosts a small but vibrant community of American Uighurs) - after seven years without charge or trial - the Bush administration, and the one that follows it, can potentially prolong their incarceration indefinitely. This ruling should be another nail in the coffin of Guantánamo. But until they are free once again their notion of American justice will remain an oxymoron."