Uyghur refugees in Europe vulnerable to being deported under false pretences

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For immediate release
July 31, 2006, 14:30 EDT
Contact: The Uyghur Human Rights Project, +1 202 349 1496

(Washington, DC) The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), which recently reported on the precarious situation faced by Uyghur refugees in southern and central Asia, is now receiving reports of Uyghurs either being forcibly returned from Germany to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), or awaiting imminent deportation from Germany to the PRC.

UHRP has learned Muhtar Tiliwaldi, 42, a Uyghur who fled East Turkistan (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region) in 1998, was deported by German immigration authorities to the PRC on July 13 having failed to secure refugee status in Germany. Mr. Tiliwaldi is one of a number of Uyghurs known to have been deported from Germany back to the PRC.

UHRP is confident that the German immigration authorities were rigorous and fair in their handling of Mr. Tiliwaldi’s case. The organization is aware that Germany is home to a large and prosperous Uyghur community welcomed by German immigration authorities, and Uyghurs are deeply grateful for the sanctuary they find in Germany.

“UHRP in no way wishes to suggest that the German immigration authorities are being unfair or discriminatory towards Uyghur refugees, and we’re confident that pending and future cases will also be handled with all due care and caution, said Alim Seytoff, Director of UHRP. “We’re concerned, however, that immigration authorities throughout the world are not fully aware of the scale and nature of human rights abuses perpetrated against Uyghurs in East Turkistan, and the need therefore for Uyghur refugees to be afforded better protection than they currently receive.

It is feared that Uyghurs who may indeed have failed to satisfy criterion for refugee status as defined in national and international laws may nevertheless still be highly likely to suffer severe abuse when they are returned to the PRC.

Undoubtedly, this incomplete awareness of the human rights situation in East Turkistan is mainly due to the lack of reliable information emerging from the region – partly a result of the Chinese authorities’ severe controls on the flow of information there.

Furthermore, while the human rights situation in East Turkistan has been extremely poor for several decades now, the situation rapidly and seriously deteriorated in the immediate wake of 9/11 when the Chinese authorities ‘re-branded’ long-standing Uyghur political opposition as “terrorist .

UHRP’s recent backgrounder on Uyghur refugees in central and southern Asia highlighted the Chinese authorities’ strategy of accusing Uyghurs of involvement in terrorism, separatism or religious extremism – the “three evil forces in Chinese propaganda. It is now generally and broadly accepted that the Chinese authorities have deliberately co-opted post-9/11 concerns over the threat of terrorism to justify and even intensify the ongoing repression of peaceful Uyghur political opposition in East Turkistan.

Prior to the events of 9/11, however, it was far more common for the Chinese authorities to accuse Uyghur refugees of criminal behavior. Indeed, a commonly-seen tactic by the Chinese authorities is to charge high-profile political opponents throughout the PRC with crimes such as pimping or financial wrongdoing; or with crimes that occasionally touch upon the true nature of the political ‘offence’, such as charges of ‘illegal printing’ for people who produce and disseminate anything from Falun Gong handbills to Bibles.

This pre-9/11 strategy of accusing political opponents in exile of committing an ‘ordinary’ crime while intending to eventually press charges because of a person’s political activities or opinions, is well-represented by the case of Abitjan Mahmut.

Abitjan Mahmut

Abitjan Mahmut left East Turkistan in 1995 but is now facing the possibility of being deported from Germany back to the PRC. The Chinese Consulate in Munich requested his deportation from Germany as long ago as early 2001 to face accusations of financial wrongdoing, but in the meantime, Mr. Mahmut’s final appeal against the decision to refuse his request for asylum in Germany has failed. He is now facing being deported anyway on immigration grounds rather than in response to Beijing’s request for his extradition.

The Chinese authorities had claimed in 2001 that they wanted Mr. Mahmut deported to answer charges of financial crimes allegedly committed in 1995, and reassured German immigration authorities that he was not suspected of activities related to his political opposition to Chinese rule of East Turkistan.

However, the Chinese authorities are without doubt aware that Mr. Mahmut was involved in a major uprising against Chinese rule in Baren, near the western city of Kashgar in 1990, and that he has been a vocal critic of Chinese rule in East Turkistan ever since. For instance, as one of the few people to escape the Chinese crackdown against the uprising – during which hundreds of people were killed by Chinese security forces according to several accounts – Mr. Mahmut has been a regular and authoritative contributor to Radio Free Asia’s (RFA) coverage of East Turkistan.

In addition, soon after he became a regular contributor to RFA, Mr. Mahmut claims a former acquaintance was severely tortured by police in East Turkistan, and was forced to name Mr. Mahmut as the provider of an explosive device allegedly found in the man’s possession in 1997.

Mr. Mahmut is almost certain, therefore, to face terrorism charges relating to these allegations if he is returned to the PRC – based on ‘evidence’ allegedly acquired through torture.

The man who was tortured, Abduhepiz Abdureyim, was paralyzed by his torturers according to information received by Mr. Mahmut, and sentenced to 13 years imprisonment on March 16, 2001. Currently held in Bajiahu Prison in East Turkistan’s regional capital of Urumchi, Mr. Abdureyim is said to be gravely ill as a result of the injuries sustained during torture.

Mr. Mahmut, 36, is from the oasis town of Aksu on the north-west edge of the Taklamakan Desert in southern East Turkistan. This region of East Turkistan is traditionally a stronghold of Uyghur identity with a long history of staunch opposition to Chinese rule. Even today, when the Chinese government’s resettlement policies have seen the Uyghur population in northern East Turkistan plummet in proportional terms, parts of southern East Turkistan still remain 90% Uyghur.

Having settled in Germany as best he could under the constant threat of possibly being deported to the PRC, Mr. Mahmut is understandably afraid for his own safety now that his appeal procedures have reached a negative conclusion, and following the deportation earlier this month of Muhtar Tiliwaldi.

As the Chinese authorities refuse to even respond to the Canadian government’s formal requests for information on the Canadian Uyghur Huseyin Celil, deported from Uzbekistan to the PRC in June; and as UHRP and other human rights organizations struggle to discover whether Ismail Semed, Yusuf Kadir Tohti and Abdukadir Sidik (see below) have been executed or not by the Chinese authorities following their deportation from second countries, now is surely not the time to be sending Uyghurs back to the PRC under any circumstances whatsoever.

UHRP urges the German immigration authorities to re-examine their decision to refuse asylum to Abitjan Mahmut in light of the high risk of severe violations to his fundamental and internationally recognized human rights if he is returned to the PRC.