Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Human rights groups have urged the U.S. military not to repatriate more than a dozen Chinese Muslim detainees facing possible release from Guantanamo Bay, saying they are likely to face torture and even execution if sent back to China.

The ethnic Uighur separatists were arrested by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and transferred to the military-detention facility at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They were reportedly training in Afghanistan with Uighur groups seeking independence for the northwestern Chinese province Xinjiang.

Unconfirmed news reports say as many as 140 of the approximately 660 detainees held in Guantanamo Bay have been scheduled for release.

Amnesty International, while welcoming that news, said it remains concerned that some detainees may face serious human rights abuses if returned to their countries of origin.

Other detainees considered in jeopardy include nationals from Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Russia.

The human rights group said any Uighurs suspected of “separatist” or “terrorist” activities would be at risk of unfair trials, torture or execution if forcibly returned to China.

In October, the official Chinese media reported that Shaheer Ali, a Uighur refugee who was forcibly returned to China from Nepal last year, had been executed after being convicted of offenses including “separatism” and “organizing and leading a terrorist organization.”

China has a well-documented history of repression of the Uighurs, a Muslim, Turkic-speaking community living in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. The death penalty has been used against those found guilty of separatist activities after trials that human rights activists say did not meet international fair-trial standards.

The State Department’s annual human rights report also has consistently criticized China for the mistreatment of ethnic Uighurs.

The Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ratified by the United States in 1994, prohibits the return to their homelands of persons who have substantial grounds for believing they will be subjected to torture.

U.S. officials say they are seeking assurances from China that the Uighurs, if returned, would be treated humanely.

But Brad Adams, executive director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said the United States “should not even contemplate returning ethnic Uighurs to China.”

“Any assurances from China that it will not mistreat returnees would not be worth the paper they are written on,” he said.

“It would be impossible for the United States to prevent mistreatment of these detainees once they fall into China’s abysmal prison system.”

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