WASHINGTON—One of 20 ethnic Uyghur asylum-seekers deported from Cambodia to China as illegal migrants entered the country legally and on the advice of U.N. refugee officials, Radio Free Asia (RFA) has learned.
Aikebaerjiang Tuniyaz, 27, left China in March 2009 after serving a one-year jail term in Liudawan prison in Urumqi for allegedly “leaking secret information abroad.”
Tuniyaz, born in Aksu and a graduate of Shanghai Jiaotong University, spoke in 2007 with RFA’s Uyghur service about the shooting of a Uyghur man by Chinese security forces in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
Tuniyaz entered Thailand in early 2009 and sought asylum through the Bangkok office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), where a staff member suggested he might expedite the process by approaching the UNHCR office in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, instead, he said in an earlier interview.
He obtained a visa through the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok and entered Cambodia legally, he said. Tuniyaz was in Cambodia legally when deadly ethnic rioting erupted in Urumqi on July 5 this year.
The 20 Uyghur Muslims deported Saturday under intense Chinese pressure had fled to Cambodia in search of asylum after witnessing and documenting violent ethnic riots in the restive western Chinese region of Xinjiang this summer that left nearly 200 dead.
They had warned the UNHCR that they feared long jail terms or even the death penalty if they were sent back to China, according to statements obtained by The Associated Press.
Tuniyaz had been translating for and staying with the group of 21 Uyghurs in Phnom Penh—two are said to have fled—when the group was detained.
Cambodia said it expelled the Uyghurs because they had illegally entered the country. It has since been sharply criticized by Washington, which said the deportations would harm bilateral ties with the United States, though they may have strengthened relations with Beijing.
On Monday, China signed off on more than U.S. $1.2 billion in aid to Cambodia during a visit there by Vice President Xi Jinping. The assistance, including 14 agreements for grants and loans, ranges from help in building roads to repairing Buddhist temples.
The European Union said Monday it was "deeply concerned" about Cambodia's decision to return the group of Uyghurs to China and urged Beijing to respect the rights of the returnees.
On Tuesday, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak slammed the deportations.
“This is a blatant violation of Cambodia’s obligations under the principle of non-refoulement as stipulated in Article 3 of the U.N. Convention Against Torture,” Nowak said in a statement.
Nowak said that he had reports of “severe torture” in Xinjiang following the unrest and that recent executions there violated “the most basic fair trial guarantees.”
“I am calling on the Chinese authorities to treat the 20 persons humanely upon return in accordance with international standards, to grant access to them in case they are detained and to afford them due process guarantees, if charged with criminal offenses”, he added.
U.N. Independent Expert on Minority Issues Gay McDougall called on Beijing to allow U.N. rights envoys to examine ethnic tensions in Xinjiang after the deadly violence there.
Original reporting by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur service. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Written in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.