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China: New report shows 'war on terror' a cover for fresh repression of Uighurs in north-west China

Amnesty International’s report, 'Uighurs fleeing persecution as China wages its ‘War on Terror’', also shows that many Uighurs who had fled to neighbouring countries are being forcibly returned to China where they face torture and execution.

A US official has recently said that that 22 Uighurs held in Guantanamo Bay could not be returned to China because of torture or execution fears. Meanwhile, Amnesty International has received credible allegations that during a Chinese delegation visit to Guantanamo, Uighurs were subjected to threats and ‘stress and duress’ techniques such as sleep deprivation and forced sitting for many hours. Some of this abuse allegedly occurred on the instructions of the Chinese delegates.

In February this year a troupe of seven Uighur acrobats touring Canada applied for asylum in the country. One of the group, a juggler, has said that despite being Muslims they had been forced to eat pork, drink alcohol and denied the right to attend mosques in China. After they sought asylum in Canada there were reports that their families were being threatened in China.

Amnesty International said:

“China has repackaged its repression of Uighurs as a fight against ‘terrorism.’

“Since 9/11 the Chinese government has been using ‘anti-terrorism’ as a pretext to increase its crackdown on all forms of political or religious dissent in the region.”

Over the last three years tens of thousands of people have been detained on ‘anti-terrorism’ grounds in the Xinjiang Uighur Automonous Region (XUAR), in north-west China. Those who were previously labelled ‘separatists’ by the Chinese authorities are increasingly being termed ‘terrorists.’ This is despite a statement by the head of the regional government in April this year that “not one incident of explosion or assassination took place in the last few years.”

Among those detained by the Chinese government, are prisoners of conscience - who have never used or advocated violence - indicating that China’s repression in the region goes far beyond combating acts of violence or ‘terrorism.’

Amnesty international’s report also shows that the government has shut down a number of mosques and banned some religious schools and practices, as it tightens restrictions on the religious rights of Uighurs, most of whom are Muslims. This clampdown has been more severe than on other Muslim peoples in China, apparently as part of wider anti-Uighur repression. Tens of thousands of Uighur books have also reportedly been burnt and the Uighur language has been banned for most university courses at Xinjiang University.

Amnesty International said:

“At current levels of repression, the space for independent expression of Uighur cultural or religious identity is narrowing dangerously.”

Amnesty International’s report shows that many Uighurs have fled to neighbouring countries - such as Kyrgyzstan, Kazakstan, Nepal and Pakistan. However, the Chinese government has recently stepped up pressure on these countries to forcibly return asylum-seekers and even UNHCR-recognised refugees. Returned to China, often via improper procedures, they have faced serious human rights violations, including torture, unfair trials, and even execution. In recent years Kyrgyzstan is thought to have returned some 50 Uighurs and Kazakstan approximately 20 people.

Amnesty International’s report highlights cases such as:

Rebiya Kadeer’s: 57, mother of 11 Children's rights, and a former celebrated model businesswoman in China, sentenced in 2000 in a secret trial to eight years in prison for “providing secret information to foreigners.” Rebiya Kadeer had sent publicly available local newspapers to her husband, a former political prisoner, living in the USA. Rebiya Kadeer now suffers chronic gastritis and is on daily medication in prison. Amnesty International welcomes the reduction in her sentence by one year announced in March, but continues to call for her immediate and unconditional release.

Shaheer Ali’s: reportedly executed in China last year after being forcibly returned from Nepal in 2002 even after he had been recognised as a refugee by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Nepal. He had been awaiting resettlement when he was detained by Nepalese immigration. According to one eyewitness, he was later taken away with at least one other detainee by officials from the Chinese embassy in Nepal. While in Nepal, Shaheer Ali had described eight months’ of torture in a XUAR prison in 1994. He said he was beaten with shackles, given electric shocks, and had metal nails pushed under his toenails in an attempt to make him confess to various offences.

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