WASHINGTON—The lead attorney representing 17 Uyghurs held at Guantanamo Bay prison for seven years and cleared for release by U.S. authorities called for quick action to free the men following a report that Germany has been asked to admit some of them.
Agence France-Presse quoted an unnamed U.S. official as saying the new U.S. administration has asked Berlin to take some of the men—Muslims from northwestern China—and plans to free others in the United States.
Attorney General Eric Holder made the formal request to the German government during his visit to Berlin on April 29, the official was quoted as saying.
The German interior ministry said it had received a request from Washington to take in some of the Guantanamo prisoners but it didn’t say which of the men were included in the request.
Sabin Willet, lead attorney for the detained men, called on Washington to make a move.
“We have heard this sort of thing before,” he said in an emailed message to Radio Free Asia.
“Yet the U.S. government has yet to publicly commit to the release of even a single Uyghur. We are long past the date when this should have happened.”
“Requests of our allies are all very well, but neither Germany nor anyone else is going to receive Uyghur prisoners until the U.S. does so. The eighth year of an illegal imprisonment has now begun. It is high time for action,” he added.
Largest exile community
The southern German city of Munich has the largest community of Uyghur exiles in the world, with about 500 of the Turkic-origin Muslim people living there.
Most of the 17 Muslims from China's remote northwestern Xinjiang province held at the controversial detention facility for suspected terrorists were cleared more than four years ago of being "enemy combatants."
The Uyghurs were living in a self-contained camp in Afghanistan when the U.S.-led bombing campaign began in October 2001 as part of the military after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
They fled to the mountains, but were turned over to Pakistani authorities, who then handed them over to the United States.
The Chinese government says the men are members of the outlawed East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which Beijing and Washington regard as a terrorist organization. Beijing blames ETIM for a series of violent attacks inside China in recent years.
China's Foreign Ministry has warned that it is "opposed to any country accepting those people."
It also repeated its call for their repatriation. "We think that the Chinese terrorist subjects held in Guantanamo Bay should be handed over to China to be dealt with in accordance with the law," it said.
Uyghurs twice enjoyed short-lived independence after declaring the state of East Turkestan during the 1930s and 40s, and many oppose Beijing’s rule in the region.
Chinese officials have said Uyghur extremists plotted terrorist strikes during the Beijing Olympics.
Original reporting by RFA’s Uyghur service. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.