The world must demand accountability for deported Uyghur refugee Ershidin Israel


For immediate release
June 8, 2011, 3:30 pm EST
Contact: Uyghur American Association +1 (202) 478 1920

Ershidin IsrailThe Uyghur American Association (UAA) strongly condemns the deportation of Uyghur refugee Ershidin Israel to China from Kazakhstan on May 30, 2011, and calls upon the international community to demand accountability from China regarding his whereabouts and treatment. In addition, UAA protests the failure of Kazakhstan and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to protect Mr. Israel, a former history teacher, and prevent his deportation to China, in violation of international conventions regarding non-refoulement and torture.

On the eve of the Jubilee Summit held by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), set to take place on June 15, world leaders have a responsibility to exert pressure on current SCO president Kazakhstan and member state China regarding their treatment of Uyghur refugees. It is also vital that American officials and the European Union, and in particular Sweden, which had offered to resettle Israel, press Chinese officials for information on Israel’s case, including his current location, whether or not he has been formally charged with a crime, and whether or not he has been given access to a lawyer of his choice, instead of a government-appointed lawyer.

“Ershidin has now been sent into the black hole that is China’s legal system, where the only thing that is certain is that he will face torture and a lack of due process,” said Alim Seytoff, president of the Uyghur American Association. “Chinese silence about Ershidin’s situation is unacceptable. The world community must insist that China provide answers regarding his current status, or he will simply disappear. I fear that we will never hear about his fate, just as we have yet to hear what happened to the 20 Uyghurs who were deported from Cambodia in December 2009.”

Chinese officials promised transparency in the legal procedures used with regard to the 20 Uyghurs returned to China from Cambodia, but have as yet failed to publicize what has become of them since their repatriation. The 20 Uyghurs, including one woman and two infants, had been in the process of applying for refugee status at the UNHCR office in Phnom Penh.

According to a Kazakh diplomat interviewed by Reuters, Chinese officials “gave written guarantees that Israel would not be executed” upon his return to China. However, China’s demonstrated lack of transparency regarding treatment of Uyghurs previously deported to China from other countries undermines the credibility of such guarantees.

Background on Ershidin Israel

Israel fled from China to Kazakhstan on foot in September 2009 after informing Radio Free Asia (RFA) reporters about the beating to death of Uyghur Shohret Tursun. Tursun was beaten to death in September 2009 while in detention for his alleged involvement in July 2009 unrest in the regional capital of Urumchi in East Turkestan. Israel also informed RFA about the arrest of two other Uyghur individuals, Haji Memet and Abdusalam Nasir, whom Chinese authorities had accused of providing information about Tursun’s death to RFA. Memet and Nasir were taken into detention on September 23, 2009 on charges of “leaking state secrets”, and their current situation is unknown.

Chinese authorities issued unsubstantiated terrorism allegations against Israel after he fled to Kazakhstan, and asked that Kazakh authorities return him. The 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.

Kazakh authorities arrested Israel in June 2010, and detained him at Pretrial Investigation Center No. 1 in Almaty. Kazakh courts repeatedly rejected his bid for Kazakh refugee status, and several days after a sixth court hearing on May 18, 2011, Kazakhstan’s Supreme Court issued a decision rejecting his final bid for political asylum. Kazakh Foreign Ministry press secretary Ilyas Omarov stated that Kazakhstan handed Israel over to Chinese custody on May 30 at the request of Interpol.

Kazakh accusations

According to Reuters, Omarov stated that Israel had confessed to taking part in a terrorist act in East Turkestan, and was possibly complicit in preparing a terrorist act in July 1997, leading Kazakhstan’s migration commission to turn down, in September 2010, his request to obtain refugee status.

However, Kazakhstan’s allegations were based on unsubstantiated accusations from China, which were only levied after Israel released details of the death of Shohret Tursun to RFA.

UNHCR’s withdrawal of refugee status

Kazakhstan’s extradition of Israel followed closely on the heels of the UNHCR’s withdrawal of Ershidin’s refugee status on May 3, 2011. Both Kazakh and Chinese officials pressured the UNHCR to revoke Israel’s refugee status.

The UNHCR confirmed to RFA on June 6 that it had withdrawn Israel’s refugee status, “in light of new information that has become available.” UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch maintained that Israel was not eligible for refugee protection, and refused to disclose the reasoning behind the UNHCR’s decision, citing the organization’s confidentiality policy.

“It is incumbent upon the UNHCR to disclose the reasoning behind its decision to withdraw Ershidin Israel’s refugee status,” said Mr. Seytoff. “As a direct result of the UNHCR’s actions, and apparently in stark contrast to the fundamental mission of the UNHCR, Israel was returned to a country that has a documented history of torturing and executed repatriated Uyghurs. Without transparency in the UNHCR’s procedures, there can be no accountability for its actions.”

Just as Chinese authorities have failed to release evidence to back up their assertions in terror cases, creating serious doubts over their claims, the UNHCR’s failure to release details in Ershidin’s case necessitate questions into the impartiality of the organization’s procedures. The UNHCR, as much as any multi-lateral agency, should not be immune to the principles of accountability and transparency, the cornerstones of democratic processes and essential elements in the protection of refugees from China.

The repatriation of any individual to a country where he is vulnerable to torture and execution violates Article 3 of the UN Convention Against Torture. In December 2009, as reported by the UN News Centre, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak criticized Cambodia for its deportation of 20 Uyghur asylum seekers:

“In light of the reports of severe torture I have received following the July events and the recent executions in Xinjiang region in violation of the most basic fair trial guarantees, this is a blatant violation of Cambodia’s obligations under the principle of non-refoulement as stipulated in article 3 of the UN Convention against Torture.”

In 2005, Nowak also commented on the prevalence of torture to extract confessions in the Chinese justice system:

“The Special Rapporteur also pointed to conceptual or ideological constraints to the effective implementation of the prohibition of torture. The criminal justice system is focused on admission of culpability, and the role of obtaining confessions continues to be central to successful prosecutions. In fact even after persons, who have not confessed to an offence, have been convicted and sentenced, these persons are subject to restrictions within prison, such as limited restricted access to telephone or visiting privileges until they confess, or are provided the incentive of a reduced sentence if they confess.”

Chinese claims regarding Uyghurs and terrorism

China has long sought to equate all Uyghur opposition to Chinese rule with terrorism. East Turkestan remains the only part of China where people are still executed for non-violent crimes of political opposition to the Chinese state. Chinese government authorities consistently fail to provide corroborating evidence for terror claims made against Uyghur individuals, and evidence that is cited is not made available for public scrutiny.

UAA urges the international community to view Chinese government accounts regarding Uyghur terrorist acts with caution, as government authorities consistently fail to provide evidence to substantiate their claims. Many observers, including Sean Roberts and Human Rights Watch, have argued convincingly that claims regarding terrorism have been used to deflect international criticism of egregious human rights abuses in East Turkestan.

World Uyghur Congress board member a victim of Chinese allegations

World Uyghur Congress Secretary General Dolkun Isa, who became a German citizen in 2006, was placed on Interpol’s wanted list due to fabricated Chinese allegations regarding his involvement in criminal activities. As a political asylee in Germany in 1999, Isa was briefly detained by German police following his visit to the U.S. Consulate in Munich. The detention came as a result of an Interpol file containing Chinese allegations that Isa had committed murder in China. However, Isa was able to prove conclusively that he had been in Turkey at the time of the alleged crime. German authorities subsequently assured Isa of their confidence in his innocence and their knowledge of his record as a student leader in China, which had led him to seek asylum in Germany. 

Executions, torture and imprisonment for Uyghurs repatriated to China

There has been no official news about the fate of the 20 Uyghurs returned to China from Cambodia, or about what has happened to 17 Uyghurs and one Han Chinese individual who were reportedly deported from Myanmar in January 2010. Many other Uyghur refugees have also disappeared after being deported from countries neighboring China. However, China also has a track record of publicly executing, torturing and imprisoning Uyghurs who have been sent back from neighboring countries. These include:

Ismail Semed, who was executed in February 2007 after being deported from Pakistan to China in 2003. Semed was known to have been politically active in support of Uyghurs’ human rights. Semed was sentenced to death in October 2005 on charges of “attempting to split the motherland” and other charges. Chinese authorities accused him of having been a founding member of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). This accusation, which apparently led to the “splittism” charge, appears to have been based solely on second-hand testimony that was obtained through torture;

Husein Celil, who fled China in the 1990s after suffering persecution and detention in East Turkestan for his work advocating for the religious and political rights of the Uyghur people. Through UNHCR assistance, he was resettled in Canada in 2001, and he has been a Canadian citizen since November 2005. In February 2006, Celil was picked up by Chinese police in Uzbekistan, where he was visiting his wife’s family. He was extradited to China to face trial. He was reportedly accused of “terrorism” and was detained without access to a lawyer, his family, or Canadian officials. He was subjected to threats that he would be “disappeared” or “buried alive” unless he signed a confession. The Chinese authorities refused to recognize his status as a Canadian citizen, and Canadian officials were not allowed to attend the trial. Celil was sentenced to life imprisonment after an unfair trial;

Shaheer Ali, who was executed in March 2003, or shortly thereafter, following deportation back to China in 2002 from Nepal, which has close diplomatic relations with China. Ali had been imprisoned and brutally tortured in 1994 due to peaceful Uyghur political activities. He fled to Nepal in November 2000, and applied for recognition as a refugee with the UNHCR. He was recognized as a refugee in May 2001. He was reportedly sentenced to death after being convicted, in a closed trial, of offenses ranging from “separatism” to “organizing and leading a terrorist organization” to “illegal manufacture, trading and possession of weapons and explosives”.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Uyghur refugees

As the SCO marks a decade and a half of existence, Beijing has intensified its campaign of intimidation in neighboring countries by using bilateral agreements with SCO member and observer states to force the return of Uyghurs suspected of “separatist” or “terrorist” activities, including asylum-seekers and refugees.

Under the formation and expansion of the SCO, Central Asian nations have placed an emphasis on placating China, which is growing rapidly in terms of the economic and political influence it exerts on Central Asia.

The organization Human Rights in China, which issued an in-depth report in March 2011 on the human rights impact of the SCO, expressed grave concerns over Israel’s deportation, asserting in a written statement that it demonstrated a disregard of international human rights obligations:

“Deportation of Israil by the authorities of Kazakhstan – which currently holds the rotating presidency of the SCO and will host the upcoming tenth anniversary “Jubilee Summit” of the organization – raises serious questions about the impact of the SCO framework on respect for human rights… Return of Israil to China will certainly subject him to a system that is politicized, corrupt, non-accountable, and marked by an absence of due process, where disappearance of individuals perceived as “trouble-makers” by the authorities is common.”

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