Asia Rights group urges Thailand to let ‘Uighur’ go to Turkey

Rights group urges Thailand to let ‘Uighur’ go to Turkey


 A group of suspected Uighur Muslims has become the focus of a diplomatic tug-of-war in Thailand between China and Turkey
A group of suspected Uighur Muslims has become the focus of a diplomatic tug-of-war in Thailand between China and Turkey

(AA) — An international human rights organization has called on Thailand not to become a pawn in China’s persecution of Muslim Uighur, as a Bangkok court prepares to rule on the fate of a detained family.

On Friday, the court will decide whether to release 17 suspected Uighur, all members of the same family, who were arrested last year while crossing from Cambodia into Thailand.

While China has identified the group as from its Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, a judge told the court Tuesday that the family was granted Turkish passports by its embassy in the Thai capital while they were in detention.

China wants the family back, and the family want to go to Turkey. In releasing them from custody, Bangkok opens the door to a diplomatic tug-of-war between Beijing and Ankara.

“Thailand does not get anything by trying to be China’s enforcer of human rights violations,” Human Rights Watch’s Asia deputy-director Philip Robertson told The Anadolu Agency on Thursday.

“What China is proposing is that Thailand violates international laws by sending people to a place where they face persecution… China has violated the rights of the Uighur systematically.”

The husband and wife, their two infants – one born during custody – and the husband’s two sisters and their children have been held at the immigration detention center in Bangkok since last March.

Family lawyer Worasit Piriyawiboon has said that by law, Thailand could only detain immigrants for 48 hours, and detention cannot be extended for more than seven days. 

Their continued detention has no legal basis, he has said — particularly as no court order had been issued for their imprisonment.

Piriyawiboon told AA Thursday that he was confident that he “will win the case, because the detention is against Thai law.”

However, his optimism came with a caveat.

“But this involves also relationships between countries, and I have no power on this.” 

During Tuesday’s hearing, the couple confirmed to the judge that Turkey was their chosen destination and photocopies of their Turkish passports were also produced.

The Turkish Embassy’s First Counsellor Ahmet Idem Akay told AA Tuesday that they were following the case since the family members were now “Turkish citizens.”

“They want to go to Turkey and we are ready to accept them. But [the release] is up to Thai authorities,” he said.

Speaking to AA, Robertson said that the case should “purely be a matter of consular affairs.”

“Thailand’s policy on undocumented migrants is to deport them to their country of origin. These people have provided the documents [to show that they have Turkish nationality]. The Chinese government has no proof, no evidence [that they are Chinese citizens].”

Several representatives from the Chinese embassy attended Tuesday’s hearing, while a police immigration officer giving testimony confirmed Beijing has asked Thailand to repatriate them.

The Bangkok Post reported earlier this month that China has asked Thailand to provide fingerprints and photos of all those detained so that they can check if “they are terrorists.”

Since October 2013, around 300 Uighur have been rounded up in Thailand. Many of them claim to have Turkish nationality and are currently in detention in Bangkok or in Songkhla, in the country’s south.

On several previous occasions, Turkish passports held by Uighur have been shown to be fake and bought on the black market, and the holders eventually returned to China.

In September 2014, four Uighur were arrested in Indonesia for violating immigration law by using fake Turkish passports.

Many others from the Muslim ethnic group have been rounded up in Malaysia and charged with the same crime. 

The Uighur — who constitute around 45 percent of the population of Xinjiang, home to the Uighur – have accused China of carrying out repressive policies that restrain their religious, commercial and cultural activities.

A yearlong “anti-terrorism” campaign — focusing on Xinjiang — was launched by China’s central government on May 23 and will be in effect until June 2015.

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