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Kazakh deports Uighur to China, rights groups cry foul

by Reuters
Tuesday, 7 June 2011 09:41 GMT

* China wanted ethnic Uighur on terrorism charges

* Kazakhstan says received guarantees of no execution

* Rights groups say Uighur man faces torture

* Kazakhstan urged not to repatriate Uzbek refugees

(Adds Uzbek asylum seekers)

By Dmitry Solovyov

ALMATY, June 7 (Reuters) - Kazakhstan has extradited an ethnic Uighur schoolteacher who had been granted U.N. refugee status to face charges of terrorism in China, a diplomat said on Tuesday, and rights groups said he could face torture.

Ershidin Israil, who holds a Chinese passport, was arrested in Kazakhstan's financial capital Almaty on June 24 last year on terrorism charges, following a request from Interpol, said Ilyas Omarov, press secretary for the Kazakh Foreign Ministry.

The extradition comes as rights groups called on Kazakhstan to refrain from sending back 32 detainees who fled from Uzbekistan to seek asylum from religious persecution, saying they were at risk of torture.

"Israil has been extradited to the People's Republic of China," Omarov said, adding that the handover was made on May 30. "The Chinese side gave written guarantees that Israil would not be executed."

The Turkic-speaking Muslim Uighur people are native to China's far western region of Xinjiang, strategically located on the borders of Central Asia. Many of Xinjiang's 8 million Uighurs resent the growing presence and economic grip of the majority Han Chinese.

Israil had officially applied for refugee status in Kazakhstan on June 8, 2010. At the time, he held a refugee mandate issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

"Taking into account Israil's confessions on his role in a terrorist act in China's Xinjiang and ... his possible complicity in preparing a terrorist act in July 1997, the (migration) commission turned down (on Sept. 9, 2010) his request to obtain refugee status in Kazakhstan," Omarov said.

Omarov said that, after studying Israil's case, the UNHCR annulled on May 3 its refugee mandate issued to Israil.

The exiled World Uighur Congress said Israil had fled Xinjiang in 2009 after providing information to Radio Free Asia about the death of another Uighur man.


That year, Uighurs rioted against Han Chinese residents in Xinjiang's regional capital Urumqi, killing at least 197 people, mostly Han.

China's Foreign Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

"Israil's deportation appears to be based on accusations by the Chinese authorities of his involvement in 'terrorism,'" Human Rights in China said in a statement.

"Such accusations, however, were levied against Israil after he allegedly released details of the Sept 18, 2009 ... death of ethnic Uighur Shohret Tursun, who had been detained by Chinese authorities following the Urumqi riots," it added.

Neighbouring countries have deported Uighurs to China before. In late 2009, Cambodia returned 20 Uighurs to China whom they said had illegally entered the country, despite protests from the United Nations and the United States.

On Tuesday, rights groups sent a letter to the Kazakh prosecutor general urging Astana not to send back asylum seekers to Uzbekistan pending a United Nations review of their cases.

Thirty-two ethnic Uzbeks, two of whom are Tajik nationals, fled Uzbekistan fearing religious persecution and are wanted on anti-state and religion-related charges, five rights groups said in a joint statement.

"It's no secret that torture is systematic in Uzbekistan," said Human Rights Watch Uzbekistan researcher Steve Swerdlow.

"Given the criminal charges on which Uzbek authorities are seeking their extradition, the Kazakh government has an absolute duty not to send these men back to torture," he said. (Additional reporting by Robin Paxton; Editing by Elizabeth Piper)

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