Uyghur Group Denies Links

Uyghur exiles assail Pakistan's decision to send a group of ethnic Uyghurs back to China, while a militant group says it has no ties with the men.

Screenshot from the video released by Turkestan Islamic Party on YouTube, May 1, 2009.
Photo: RFA

HONG KONG—A militant Uyghur faction that the Chinese authorities have labeled a terrorist organization says nine Uyghur men extradited from Pakistan to China aren't linked to the group in any way.

The Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), thought to be based in Pakistan, said in a statement released through a YouTube video that the nine Uyghurs—a mostly Muslim ethnic group based in China's northwestern Xinjiang region—"have nothing to do with us."

The statement was read aloud by a man with covered face and head, and posted online by a user identified as "mturkistan."

"None of our members was arrested, but we have learned that the Pakistani government has arrested some Uyghur students and businessmen around Lahore and other regions of Pakistan who have nothing to do with us."

The TIP statement added, "Countries that arrest our members and extradite them to China will get an actual response from us. It won't be something they can hear but something they can see."

Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik announced April 27 that his government had arrested and extradited to China nine Uyghurs in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas, saying they had attacked Pakistani security forces and appeared to belong to TIP.

Countries that arrest our members and extradite them to China will get an actual response from us."

Turkestan Islamic Party statement

Malik was set to visit China on orders from President Asif Ali Zardari for "vital talks" with security officials after the men were sent back to China, Pakistani media reported.

Move condemned

The extradition drew immediate condemnation from the World Uyghur Congress, the East Turkestan Information Center, the Uyghur American Association, and the Uyghur Canadian Society.

"No matter what groups those Uyghurs belong to, they should not be returned to China, since China has the death penalty," World Uyghur Congress President Rebiya Kadeer said.

The Turkey-based vice president of the East Turkestan Education Association, Hidayitulla Oghuzhan, said he had studied in Pakistan for eight years and had seen many Uyghurs living in the tribal areas because they were at risk of arrest in Pakistani cities.

He said it was unlikely they would attack Pakistani security forces. "Uyghurs have only one enemy, the Chinese government, not anyone else. There is no point for them to attack anyone else," he said.

Asked if any Uyghurs might receive military training in Pakistan, he replied, "Maybe there could be some Uyghurs who are disappointed with nonviolence and are trying violence."

"It is impossible in East Turkestan to oppose the Chinese government or express people's demands to the Chinese government in any way, peacefully or not."

Asked if the nine Uyghurs may be been enlisted to attack Pakistani forces by Pakistanis in the tribal areas, he replied, "Everybody is a soldier in those tribal areas. Even the children are armed. They don't need help from a few Uyghurs."

Rights group

The U.S. nonprofit group Freedom House on Thursday condemned the extradition, calling it "a disturbing sign of China's growing influence in the region [that] illustrates how vulnerable Uyghurs, a Muslim minority group in Western China, are to persecution both inside and outside China."

"Freedom House urges Pakistan and other countries to reject China's use of bogus terrorism charges and protect Uyghurs from persecution according to international law," Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director, said in a statement.

In recent years, several Central Asian countries have entered into agreements and alliances with China's government that have put Uyghur refugees at risk, leading to several cases of repatriations and imprisonment, it added.

Pakistan currently holds observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional security organization founded in 2001 by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Unhappy minority

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.

They complain of heavy-handed repression and economic policies that benefit Han Chinese immigrants to the region while unemployment among Uyghurs remains rampant.

Chinese officials have said Uyghur extremists plotted terrorist strikes during the Beijing Olympics. Beijing also blames Uyghur separatists for sporadic bombings and other violence in the Xinjiang region.

But diplomats and foreign experts are skeptical. International rights groups have accused Beijing of using the U.S. "war on terror" as a pretext to crack down on nonviolent supporters of Uyghur independence.

Guantanamo Uyghurs

Another group of 17 Uyghurs—also Chinese nationals—was captured in Afghanistan seven years ago, handed over to Pakistani authorities, and sent to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

They were cleared more than four years ago of being "enemy combatants" but remain in prison as the United States tries to find a third country to take them in.

China says the men are members of the outlawed East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which Beijing and Washington regard as a terrorist organization.

Original reporting and translation by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur service. Written in English by Sarah Jackson-Han and produced by Joshua Lipes. Service director: Dolkun Kamberi.


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