Uyghur American Association rejects “terror” allegations leveled at Uyghur refugees in Thailand

Pt, 03/24/2014 - 19:12 -- Kanat
Suspected Uighurs from China’s troubled far-western region of Xinjiang rest inside a temporary shelter after they were detained at the immigration regional headquarters near the Thailand-Malaysia border in Hat Yai, Songkla. Two police raids in January freed a total of 636 people.(Photo: Reuters)

For immediate release
March 24, 2014, 3:45 pm EST
Contact: Uyghur Human Rights Project +1 (202) 478 1920

The Uyghur American Association (UAA) expresses alarm over a March 24 report in the Bangkok Post in which a Thai police source claims the Uyghur refugees currently in Thailand are suspected of seeking to “train in terror” outside of China. UAA believes the comment is a targeted smear against asylum seekers with legitimate claims and is an attempt to influence on-going investigations into the cases of Uyghur refugees in Thailand.

UAA is concerned to learn the police source cited Chinese police allegations when making the “terror” claims. China’s documented record of regularly conflating terrorism with peaceful dissent questions “terror” accusations made by Chinese officials.

UAA urges Thai authorities to not deport Uyghur refugees and to work with UNHCR to find them safe third countries. UAA also encourages the United States and Turkey to continue their efforts to ensure the safety of the Uyghur refugees and asks the Organization of the Islamic Conference to monitor the situation closely.

“The Uyghurs in Thailand are clearly refugees. Labeling as terrorists a group of people comprising in the majority women and children is irresponsible,” said UAA director, Alim Seytoff from Washington, DC. “The Thai authorities have legal and moral obligations to ensure these frightened people find safety in third countries and that their humanitarian needs are met in the interim. Thai officials only have to look at the case of the Uyghurs deported from Cambodia in 2009 to see how inhumanely the Chinese government treats forcibly returned Uyghur refugees.”

A New York Times report dated March 24, 2014 claimed there are currently 409 Uyghur refugees in Thailand whose presence can be accounted for. A March 24 report in the Phuket Wan puts the total at “about 410.” According to the New York Times report, 220 Uyghurs were found on March 12 at a human trafficking camp in Songkhla province near the Thai-Malay border; then, a further 77 were detained also in Songkhla province and most recently 112 were detained in Sa Kaeo Province near the Thai-Cambodian border. However, the Phuket Wan put the number detained in the second group at 78 Uyghurs in a March 21 article.

Uyghurs have been deported from Southeast Asian nations susceptible to Chinese economic and diplomatic pressure in the past. Six Uyghurs were forcibly removed from Malaysia in December 2013; 11 Uyghurs from Malaysia in August 2011 (one of whom was a legal resident according to local Uyghurs); one Uyghur from Thailand in August 2011; seven from Laos in March 2010; 17 from Burma in January 2010; 20 Uyghurs from Cambodia in December 2009 (one of whom had a Cambodian visa); and two from Vietnam on an unknown date.

According to a January 26, 2012 report from Radio Free Asia, two Uyghurs deported from Cambodia to China, Nurahmet Kudret and Islam Urayim, were handed life sentences after closed trials. It is unclear when the two men were sentenced, or what charges they were convicted of. Islam Urayim reportedly witnessed security forces killing and beating Uyghur demonstrators on July 5, 2009 in Urumchi. A third Uyghur deported from Cambodia, Musa Muhammad received a 17-year jail term, also on unknown charges. The other seventeen deportees remain unaccounted for.

A Radio Free Asia report published on December 20, 2012, described how one of the Uyghurs deported from Malaysia in August 2011 was imprisoned for three years on “separatism” charges following a closed trial. According to the report other Uyghurs deported at the same time had been jailed for up to 15 years; however, Radio Free Asia could not confirm the sentences.

China also leveled unsubstantiated terror allegations at Uyghur asylum seeker, Ershidin Israel who was forcibly returned to China from Kazakhstan in May 2011. Israel fled from China to Kazakhstan on foot in September 2009 after informing Radio Free Asia reporters about the beating to death of Uyghur, Shohret Tursun.

UNHCR granted him mandate refugee status in March 2010, and he was scheduled to depart for Sweden, which had offered him resettlement, on April 1, 2010. However, Kazakh authorities refused to issue the documents necessary for Israel to exit the country, and subsequently placed him in police custody. He was deported on May 30, 2011. His current whereabouts is unknown.

The increase in Uyghurs seeking refuge through Southeast Asia is likely due to the willingness of governments in Central and South Asia to send Uyghurs back to China under Chinese government pressure. Reports of such returns come from Kyrgyzstan (also see articles here and here), Kazakhstan (also 1999, 2001, 2003, May 2006 and October 2006), Uzbekistan,  Tajikistan, Pakistan (2003, 2009 and 2011), Nepal and Russia. Ismail Semed, returned from Pakistan in 2003, and Shirali, returned from Nepal in 2002, were both executed after their deportations to China.

The principle of non-refoulement remains a key provision in international customary law. Furthermore, UAA urges Thailand to not deport Uyghur refugees to China and to abide by obligations set out in Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture:

No State Party shall expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.

See also:

Uyghur American Association, March 14, 2014:

Uyghur American Association urges Thai government not to return Uyghur refugees to China

Human Rights Watch, March 14, 2014

Thailand: Don’t Forcibly Return Uighurs to China

New York Times, March 14, 2014:

220 Are Detained in Raid on a Thai Jungle Camp

Radio Free Asia, March 14, 2014:

Asylum-Seeking Uyghurs Held at Thai Detention Center

Radio Free Asia, March 14, 2014:

Rights Groups Ask Thailand Not to Deport Uyghurs Back to China

Voice of America, March 15, 2014:

Rights Groups Want Protection for 220 Uighurs Detained in Thailand

Reuters, March 17, 2014:

China says too soon to say if Thai trafficking victims Uighur

The Nation (Thailand), March 18, 2014:

Asean must stand up to China over Uighurs

The Nation (Thailand), March 19, 2014:

Ministry seeks help with care of 'Turkish' refugees

Human Rights Watch, March 21, 2014:

Thailand: More Uighurs Face Forced Return to China

Radio Free Asia, March 23, 2014:

Another Batch of Uyghur Asylum Seekers Held in Thailand

South China Morning Post, March 24, 2014:

Rights activists scoff at 'Uygur terrorist' claims over group of 410 held in Thailand