Deported Uyghur Faces Terrorism Charges

China acknowledges custody of a Uyghur extradited from Kazakhstan.

almaty.jpg Ershidin Israil, who had sought refuge in Kazakhstan, was deported back to China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

China on Tuesday slapped terrorism charges on a Uyghur who claims to have witnessed the death in detention of a fellow Uyghur following ethnic unrest in the country’s northwestern region of Xinjiang two years ago.

Ershidin Israil, a 38-year-old former geography teacher, was deported from Kazakhstan to Xinjiang last month despite having initially been granted refugee status by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the central Asia state.

The decision to charge Israil comes as China and Kazakhstan, both member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), prepare for a June 15 summit of the Asian regional alliance in the Kazakh capital of Astana on issues including security concerns.

According to a Reuters report, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei acknowledged Israil’s extradition and confirmed that he was being held in Chinese custody.

"The person in question has been wanted by Chinese police as major terror suspect, and was also a target of a red-alert wanted notice from Interpol," Hong told a news conference.

"I understand that this person has been extradited back to China, and now the case is being tried according to the law."

The spokesman did not elaborate on the charges Israil faces.

Refugee abandoned

Ershidin Israil in an undated photo provided by a friend.
On Sept. 24, 2009, Israil fled on foot to Almaty from Xinjiang, crossing the border without a passport after four nights of walking.

Chinese authorities in Ghulja, in Qorghas (in Chinese, Huocheng) county, Ili prefecture had been looking for Israil for releasing details of the Sept. 18 beating death of Shohret Tursun, according to Israil’s sister-in-law.

Tursun was detained among a group of about 40 Uyghurs in July 2009 following ethnic riots in Urumqi that left some 200 dead.

Tursun's badly bruised and disfigured body was released to his relatives nearly two months later, prompting a standoff between authorities who wanted him buried immediately and family members who refused and demanded an inquiry into whether he had been beaten to death.

The family was forced to hold a burial for Tursun the following day.

In a previous interview with Israil, he said he fled his hometown fearing harsh punishment from Chinese authorities as a two-time offender. Israil had previously served a six-year jail sentence in 1999 for "separatism."

After meeting with the UNHCR office in Almaty, Israil was granted refugee status in March 2010 and accepted for resettlement in Sweden that April.

Arrested for terrorism

But in June 2010, he was arrested on terrorism charges in Almaty following a request from Interpol, according to Kazakh foreign ministry spokesman Ilyas Omarov.

Omarov said that Kazakh authorities had refused to acknowledge Israil’s refugee status, saying that he had allegedly confessed to taking part in a “terrorist act” in July 1997 and citing his “possible complicity in preparing a terrorist act in 2009.”

The UNHCR also withdrew Israil’s refugee status, and refused to comment on the basis for its decision to do so.

Omarov said Israil was “handed over to the Chinese side as requested under the Interpol system” on May 30.

Chinese officials “gave written guarantees that Israel would not be executed” upon his return home, he said, but human rights groups have expressed concern that he could be tortured by Chinese authorities.

SCO membership

SCO member states include acting chair Kazakhstan, China, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Members of the SCO are obliged to extradite individuals accused by another member state government of “terrorism,” “separatism,” or “extremism.”

They may also have to “prevent the granting of refugee status and corresponding documents” to persons alleged to be involved in offenses related to "terrorism."

The New York-based Human Rights in China (HRIC) group said earlier this month that it was "extremely concerned" over Israil’s extradition.

"Deportation of Israil by the authorities of Kazakhstan—which currently holds the rotating presidency of the SCO and will host the upcoming 10th anniversary 'Jubilee Summit' of the organization—raises serious questions about the impact of the SCO framework on respect for human rights," it said.

It also called on the international community to demand an accounting by the SCO for Israil's safety, and for the broader human-rights impact of SCO practices, such as denials of asylum and forcible returns.

Ahead of the 10-year anniversary SCO summit, Chinese President Hu Jintao is conducting a state visit to Kazakhstan where he recently secured a U.S. $1 billion currency deal and agreed to a U.S. $1.5 billion loan to a copper mining company.

Reported by Joshua Lipes.


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