March 26, 2010
The Uyghur American Association (UAA) expresses its gratitude to Swiss authorities following the March 23 arrival of Bahtiyar Mahmud and Arkin Mahmud to Switzerland. The two brothers, who were held without charge at the Guantanamo Bay detention center since 2002, will be resettled in the Swiss canton of Jura. The two men were reportedly welcomed by high-level Swiss officials during a ceremony at the Zurich airport.
“Today is a great day for the Uyghur people. We celebrate the resettlement of Bahtiyar and Arkin Mahmud, and thank the government of Switzerland for generously providing a home and refugee services to these two men,” said Uyghur democracy leader and UAA president Rebiya Kadeer. “We also thank the government of the United States for resettling Bahtiyar and Arkin in a free and democratic country, where they will be able to live the rest of their lives in peace.”
The Swiss Federal Council said in an official statement on February 3 that it had decided to accept the two men based on humanitarian reasons. Palau authorities had offered Bahtiyar Mahmud the opportunity to settle in Palau together with a group of other Uyghur detainees in 2009, but Bahtiyar rejected the offer. He opted to stay behind to look after his older brother Arkin, who has suffered from mental illness since arriving in Guantanamo and who was not given the choice of settling in Palau. Arkin had originally traveled to Afghanistan to search for his younger brother at the request of their mother. Bahtiyar had earlier gone to Afghanistan after fleeing a harsh crackdown in East Turkestan (also known as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China.)
U.S. authorities have acknowledged for years that none of the Uyghurs held at Guantanamo pose a security threat and that all 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.
On March 25, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang expressed anger toward both American and Swiss authorities for “sheltering” Bahtiyar and Arkin Mahmud, saying that Chinese officials had “sent strong representations” to these countries. Earlier, China’s Foreign Ministry had issued stern warnings to the Swiss government not to accept Bahtiyar and Arkin, saying that a decision to accept the two men would damage Sino-Swiss relations.
Five other Uyghurs remain at Guantanamo Bay, following the transfer of six Uyghurs to Palau in November 2009 and four Uyghurs to Bermuda in June 2009. The Uyghur men in Palau have been pursuing language and vocational training, and those in Bermuda have been employed since shortly after their arrival in Bermuda. Bahtiyar and Arkin have indicated their commitment to learning French and seeking employment in Switzerland.
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 2007, and he was later granted asylum by Swedish authorities. Before fleeing to Afghanistan, Hakimjan was imprisoned and tortured by Chinese authorities in East Turkestan. 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.
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 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.
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