Uyghurs Celebrate Landmark Ruling on the Release of Seventeen Uyghurs from Guantanamo to the United States
In a landmark ruling on October 7, U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina paroled the remaining seventeen Uyghurs detained at Guantanamo Bay to the United States. The federal judge ordered that the Uyghurs in Guantanamo be present in Washington, DC on Friday October 10 for a hand over to the Uyghur community in the United States.
The Uyghur American Association (UAA) welcomes Judge Urbina’s ruling and views the parole of the seventeen Uyghurs as a damning indictment of the Chinese government’s assertions that Uyghurs are connected to global terror groups. The ruling also reaffirms the inherent justice of the United States legal system.
In response to the ruling, Uyghur democracy leader Ms. Rebiya Kadeer said: “On behalf of all oppressed Uyghurs, I want to thank the people of the United States, as well as their legal system and government, for exercising the rule of law, something which Uyghurs have not come to expect in China. I would also like to extend my gratitude to Mr. Sabin Willett and his fellow lawyers, who have worked tirelessly on behalf of the Uyghurs in Guantanamo. Justice has finally prevailed in this case, and the United States has once again exemplified the traits that are so deeply admired by Uyghurs around the world.”
UAA believes the decision will raise the profile of the Uyghur human rights cause, as well as awareness of the human rights conditions in East Turkestan (also known as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China) that compelled the Guantanamo Uyghurs to flee to Afghanistan. In addition, the ruling exposes as baseless the Chinese government’s exploitation of the Guantanamo Uyghurs’ case to justify a broader crackdown on Uyghurs in the name of the “war on terror”. Together with recent media reports casting doubt on the Chinese government’s version of a recent violent attack in Kashgar (a major city in East Turkestan), yesterday’s ruling is a major blow to the Chinese government’s claims regarding Uyghurs and terrorism.
UAA asserts that the ruling puts to rest any Chinese government claims that the seventeen Uyghurs in Guantanamo would receive fair treatment if returned to China. Ms. Rebiya Kadeer added: “The fact that today’s proceedings did not even consider returning these men to China shows that they would face certain torture and even execution upon their arrival in China. While it took nearly seven years for this ruling to come about, these Uyghurs would have been executed within two months of being returned to China. Uyghurs in East Turkestan and in exile thank the American people for not sending the seventeen Uyghur men to China to a terrible fate. In the United States, the Uyghur community can offer the support these men need to lead productive lives.”
None of the twenty-two Uyghurs originally detained in Guantanamo 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. They had fled to Afghanistan from East Turkestan and escaped to Pakistan once coalition bombing began. However, since their detention, the US government has determined that the Uyghurs are non-enemy combatants. Five Uyghurs were released into Albania in 2006, but no third country has expressed willingness to accept the seventeen men remaining in Guantanamo, reportedly due at least in part to Chinese pressure. As early as 2003, most of the Uyghurs in Guantanamo were cleared for release. Earlier this year, U.S. congressional representatives from both sides of the aisle called for the release of the Guantanamo Uyghurs to the United States.
In its annual country reports on human rights abuses, the U.S. State Department has highlighted human rights abuses by Chinese government authorities in East Turkestan, including the use of the legal system as a tool of repression against Uyghurs who voice discontent with the government and the fierce suppression of Uyghur religion, a moderate form of Sunni Islam that is a vital part of their ethnic identity. Uyghurs in East Turkestan face a wide spectrum of human rights abuses, including arbitrary detention and execution, torture, and the suppression of their language and culture. In the past year, Uyghurs have been subjected to an increased rate of execution and detention, in addition to forced relocation, police monitoring, passport confiscation, and the destruction of places of worship.