Kazakhstan is believed to have handed over to Chinese custody an ethnic Uyghur fighting deportation to Beijing after he spoke up about torture and death in Chinese jails.
Ershidin Israil, 38, was taken away from a detention center in Kazakhstan's largest city Almaty by Kazakh security officials and two Chinese police officers late on Monday, according to his lawyer, Yuri Sergeivich Stukanov.
Municipal government officials said he would be “repatriated” to China.
The lawyer told the wife of Israil’s brother that two Kazakh security guards, two Chinese officials and a Kazakh state prosecutor from Almaty accompanied Israil from the detention center to an unknown destination.
“They showed documents and said it is the last for this person to be here and they will take him to another place,” Asiye Kerimova said in an interview. “Since then we do not have any news on him.”
Israil’s cellmates said he was told that he was going to court and was asked to take along all his belongings, she said. They confirmed that two Chinese officials were together with the Kazakh security personnel but did not give any more details.
Ershidin Israil in an undated photo provided by a friend.
The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) said in a statement that it believed he would be extradited to China on Tuesday via flight from Almaty to Urumqi, the regional capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
"The WUC is extremely worried about Mr. Israil’s fate and calls on the international community to stand up for Mr. Israil and call on the Kazakh authorities to not send him back to China where he would face detention and torture," the congress said.
"Uyghurs who have been extradited to China in the past, were detained, imprisoned, sentenced, tortured, executed or disappeared after their return to China."
Israil, a former history schoolteacher, fled to Kazakhstan in the aftermath of deadly riots in Xinjiang and has been held by Kazakh authorities since June last year amid Chinese accusations he was involved in "terrorism."
A Kazakh court rejected his request for political asylum last week. Experts said the court ruling could have stemmed from pressure from China.
Kazakh government officials have not give any explanation over Israil’s case.
“We went to the municipal government for some explanation. They also said the same thing that yesterday was the last day for Ershidin to be there and he is going to be repatriated according to the court order and they do not have any power to keep this person here,” Kerimova said.
“Our lawyer wrote an appeal to the high court of Kazakhstan on May 27 and he was waiting for an answer from them. But they gave our bother away before the High Court’s answer,” she said. “We are really afraid for our brother’s safety.”UNHCR mum
Kerimova said she tried calling the emergency line of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Almaty late Monday to inquire about Israil’s whereabouts but to no avail. The office, which once considered him a refugee, asked her to call during business hours.
Stukanov said when he called UNHCR office on Tuesday saying that Israil had been taken way by Chinese officials, the office only told him “thanks for your information.”
If deported, Israil is likely to face harsh punishment in a specific case of informing RFA about the death in custody of a fellow Uyghur held by authorities for alleged involvement in July 2009 riots in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi.
Israil had sought political asylum in Kazakhstan to prevent any deportation to China, whose anti-terrorism policy, according to rights groups, deliberately targets activists among ethnic minority communities such as Uyghurs and Tibetans.
His brother, Enver Israil, who arrived in Kazakhstan three months ago, said he heard from his brother's lawyer that he was accused of being a terrorist by the Chinese police and that they had demanded his return.
"[The Chinese police] tortured a jailed protester to death and nobody is calling the Chinese terrorists, but my brother is accused of terrorism just because he told the media about the killing," he said in a phone interview last week from Almaty.
"Where is the justice?" he asked.Disfigured body
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 allegedly 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 around the time of ethnic riots in Urumqi that left some 200 dead.
His 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.
But while making final preparations to leave Kazakhstan, a UNHCR official informed Israil that Kazakh authorities had refused to supply him with the necessary documents to leave the country.
On April 3, Israil was moved into an apartment guarded around the clock by Kazakh police officers while the UNHCR investigated the delay in his resettlement.
In June 2010, he was detained by local authorities and has since attended a total of five hearings on his application for refugee status, all of which rejected his bid and ruled that he must be returned to China."Black Jails"
Memet Tohti, the WUC representative in Geneva, said China is desperate to take Israil back to prevent him from talking about the abuses he had witnessed and in order to show other Uyghurs that they cannot defy the government and escape punishment.
"Ershidin was in jail for six years and he is aware of a number of tragic stories that have taken place in China's black jails," he said, referring to the country's growing number of unofficial detention centers which serve as holding camps for petitioners seeking redress against official wrongdoing.
"Secondly, Chinese authorities want to discourage Uyghurs in East Turkestan from taking part in the Uyghur freedom movement by showing them that they can get to them no matter in what part of the world they seek refuge."
Uyghur groups use the term “East Turkestan” to refer to a short-lived Uyghur government that existed before the communist takeover of Xinjiang or to assert their cultural distinctiveness from China proper.
Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China, a New York- and Hong Kong-based group, said that as a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a regional group for security and economic cooperation in Eurasia, Kazakhstan has a number of obligations to fellow SCO states, particularly China.
“These include forcible returns to China of any individual or group suspected of terrorism, separatism, or extremism, including individuals who may have been granted refugee status by UNHCR,” Hom said.
“China has designated Central Asia as a source of what it terms the 'East Turkestan' threat and has exerted intensified pressure on its neighbors, and most recently on Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.”
Hom noted that Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan—both SCO member states—obstructed travel of Uyghur activists to attend a recent conference in the U.S., apparently to preserve their relationship with China.No due process
Hom said that Israil, like many others forcibly returned to China, could “disappear” if he is deported home.
“If he is subjected to any Chinese legal process, it will be within a system that is politicized, corrupt, nonaccountable, and marked by the complete absence of due process. The international community needs to act immediately to protect him and demand respect for his refugee status.”
Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness despite China's ambitious plans to develop its vast northwestern frontier.
Xinjiang is a vast, strategically important desert territory that borders Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
The region has abundant oil reserves and is China's largest natural gas-producing region.Reported by Shohret Hoshur and Mamatjan Juma for RFA’s Uyghur service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.