Uiguri di Guantanamo accolti dalle Bermuda: Per l’UAA un atto di coraggio

L’Associazione americana Uiguri (UAA) accoglie di buon grado la notizia che quattro persone uigure, trattenute nel centro di detenzione di Guantanamo sin dal 2002, sono state trasferite alle Bermuda. L’Associazione americana Uiguri crede che i quattro uomini, ora, sono nelle condizioni di vivere la loro vita in pace e in libertà. 

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 The Uyghur American Association (UAA) welcomes the news that four Uyghur men, who had been held at the Guantanamo Bay detention center since 2002, have been transferred to Bermuda. UAA believes that the four men, Abdulla Abduqadir, Helil Mamut, Ablikim Turahun, and Salahidin Ablehet, will now be able to live productive lives, in peace and liberty. One of the men issued a statement through his lawyers, saying: “Growing up under communism we always dreamed of living in peace and working in a free society like this one. Today you have let freedom ring.”

“The quest of these men to live in a free society has finally been fulfilled,” said Uyghur democracy leader Rebiya Kadeer. “The government of Bermuda has generously stepped forward in an act of humanitarianism to accept these innocent men. Almost no other government has dared to take in Uyghurs from Guantanamo, in the face of enormous Chinese government pressure. The United States should also be commended for not sending these men to China, where they would be severely persecuted.” 

In a statement released on June 11, the Premier of Bermuda, Ewart Brown, compared the resettlement of the four newly-arrived Uyghur men to Bermuda’s acceptance of Vietnamese refugees in the 1980s. He stated that the government of Bermuda is “confident this decision is the right one from a humanitarian perspective.”

Thirteen Uyghurs remain at Guantanamo Bay. On June 9, the government of Palau indicated its willingness to resettle up to 17 Uyghurs from Guantanamo. It is currently unclear how many of the remaining thirteen Uyghurs at Guantanamo, if any, will be transferred to Palau, or when this will occur. UAA expresses gratitude to the government of Palau for its benevolent gesture.

In 2006, five Uyghur men from Guantanamo were sent to Albania, where four of them have remained. One of the original group of five, Adel Hakimjan, traveled to Sweden, where his sister lives, in late 2007, and was recently granted asylum there. Prior to his flight to Afghanistan, Hakimjan was imprisoned and tortured by Chinese authorities in East Turkestan (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China). Among the four men remaining in Albania´s capital, Tirana, two have entered the restaurant business, and one has pursued an education in computer science at an American-funded university.

At a hearing on the persecution of Uyghurs held on June 10 in the U.S. Congress, Congressman Bill Delahunt (D-MA), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Oversight Subcommittee, said that Uyghurs “are a peace loving people who seek only civil rights.” Fellow congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) stated that “Uyghurs are not enemy combatants.”

“The Uyghur people are opposed to terrorism and violence because we ourselves are victims of terrorism,” testified Ms. Kadeer at the hearing. “The Chinese government has used our Islamic faith against us and labeled Uyghurs terrorists to justify crackdowns and security sweeps as part of the war on terror.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesmen have repeatedly reiterated the Chinese government´s opposition to the settlement of the Uyghur detainees in other countries, and have urged their repatriation to the People´s Republic of China (PRC). The U.S. government has refused to send any Uyghurs from Guantanamo to the PRC, however, due to fears of execution, torture or other ill treatment at the hands of Chinese authorities. The PRC government has in recent years carried out a campaign of extremely brutal persecution against the Uyghur population in East Turkestan in the name of the “war on terror”, regularly jailing and executing Uyghurs accused of acts of “terrorism, separatism and extremism” without providing evidence of their alleged crimes. PRC authorities have widely used accusations of terrorism to brand even peaceful Uyghurs who have expressed disagreement with government policies in East Turkestan.  

PRC assurances regarding treatment of the Guantanamo Uyghurs cannot be taken seriously, as torture is rampant in Chinese prisons. Uyghurs in Chinese government custody often suffer from physical abuse and other maltreatment. The U.S. State Department and human rights organizations have documented the extensive use of torture on prisoners and detainees in the PRC, as well as a lack of any independent judicial or legal mechanisms that could provide oversight or redress. Following a visit to the PRC in late 2005, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak reported that torture and ill-treatment remained widespread throughout the PRC, and stated that Uyghurs and Tibetans, among other groups, were among those most frequently subjected to torture.

PRC government officials have accused the Guantanamo Uyghurs of being members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which they claim is an active terror group. However, no evidence has been provided linking the Guantanamo Uyghurs to ETIM or to membership in any terror group. Moreover, prominent scholars on Uyghurs and terrorism have cast doubt on the existence of ETIM as an organized terror group, and have asserted that the group, such as it existed, if it did indeed exist, likely disappeared years ago.

Official Chinese claims regarding an alleged “East Turkestan Islamic Movement” aid the Chinese government in its vilification of peaceful dissent in East Turkestan. Many Uyghurs who peacefully disagree with government policies use the name “East Turkestan” to refer to the region, and the abbreviated Chinese term “Dong Tu” is often used interchangeably to refer to both ETIM and vague East Turkestan “separatist forces”, thus helping to delegitimize references to East Turkestan that are made by human rights organizations and other peaceful groups.

Background of Uyghurs held at Guantanamo

On October 7, 2001, the U.S.-initiated Operation Enduring Freedom found the Uyghur refugees in Afghanistan in the wrong place at the wrong time. Once coalition bombing started, the twenty-two Uyghurs later detained in Guantanamo escaped to Pakistan. None of these men were picked up on a battlefield, and most of them were captured by Pakistani bounty hunters and sold to American forces for $5,000 each.

Since their detention, the U.S. government has determined that all of the Uyghurs in Guantanamo are non-enemy combatants. As early as 2003, most of the Uyghurs in Guantanamo were cleared for release. In 2008, U.S. congressional representatives from both sides of the aisle called for the release of the Guantanamo Uyghurs to the United States. In a landmark ruling on October 7, 2008 U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina paroled the remaining 17 Uyghurs detained at Guantanamo Bay into the United States. On appeal, a temporary stay was issued on the ruling on October 8, 2008. On February 18, 2009, the D.C. Circuit Court reversed the lower court´s decision. On April 3, 2009, the Uyghurs asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case.

Uyghur Human Rights Project
Uyghur American Association
1701 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W. Suite 300
Washington, D.C.  20006
Tel: +1 (202) 349 1496
Fax: +1 (202) 349 1491

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