The exile World Uyghur Congress (WUC) has appealed to Indonesia not to send back four of China's ethnic minority Muslim Uyghurs held for suspected links with the Islamic State terror group rampaging through Syria and Iraq, saying they could face harsh punishment.
Indonesian authorities had said this week that they were investigating whether the four, who were arrested in Central Sulawesi province on Saturday, had links to the Islamic State group.
Police in Indonesia's capital Jakarta said the four were arrested with three associates of Abu Wardah Santoso, a local fugitive militant leader alleged to be behind the murder of several policemen and who is the most wanted terrorist suspect in the country, according to news agency reports.
WUC President Rebiya Kadeer cautioned the Indonesian authorities not to be swayed by allegations against the four from Chinese authorities, but to conduct their own investigations on the charges leveled against them.
"We regret the link between the suspects and radical groups without reference to the political status of Uyghurs, who are oppressed people in their own homeland," Kadeer told RFA's Uyghur Service.
"We call upon the Indonesian authorities to be sensitive and responsible in their judgment and to conduct their own research on the Uyghurs and do not yield to the Chinese propaganda of deception," she said.
Beijing seeks more information
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing was seeking more information about the case. “We need to know about it further,” he told reporters when asked about the arrests earlier this week in Beijing, Bloomberg News reported.
Uyghurs, who call northwestern China's Xinjiang region their homeland, complain of repression and human rights abuses by the Chinese authorities, and say the influx of majority Han Chinese to the region threatens their culture and livelihood.
Their practice of Islam is tightly regulated by Beijing, which bans children from mosques and controls everything about the minority group's worship, from the wording of sermons to "approved" interpretations of the Quran.
Hundreds of Uyghurs have been killed in recent months after Beijing launched an anti-terror campaign to contain escalating violence blamed on Uyghur separatists in Xinjiang.
"We can predict that the case of the four detained Uyghur suspects will be used by China to demand from Indonesian officials their extradition, [leading to] eventual harsh punishment and imposing further fear on the local Uyghur population," Kadeer said.
She said that even if the four are found to be linked to the Islamic State group, the entire Uyghur population should not be blamed.
"If the link was true, it is just decisions of individuals and they don't represent any group."
"Many foreigners have joined the ranks of [the Islamic State group] but the countries they come from have not been faulted or penalized," she said, adding that some Uyghurs have resorted to extreme action out of desperation to break free from "harsh" Chinese rule.
Indonesia is home to the world's biggest Muslim population of about 225 million and has long struggled with terrorism. But a successful clampdown in recent years has seen the end of major deadly attacks.
Jakarta has estimated that dozens of Indonesians have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight, and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has said he is concerned about their return, adding that he has tasked agencies to oppose the spread of extremist ideology in the sprawling nation.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur Service. Translated by Keyum Masimop. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.