Human Rights Watch says Thailand separated Uighur families

Thailand comes under pressure by international community for sending dozens of Uighur men to China, some of them seen with hoods on their heads

Photo by: AA
Photo by: AA

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Days after Thailand's decision to send some Uighurs to China and others to Turkey, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the Thai government of separating Uighur families and sending fathers to China.

More than 100 ethnic Uighurs have been deported back to China despite warnings from international organisations on Thursday, while 173 Uighurs, mostly women and children, were brought to Turkey on June 30.

In addition, four women and four children arrived in Turkey on Friday from Thailand where they were being held in camps for last two years after fleeing China. They were among a group of about 250 Uighurs. Only one man arrived in Turkey, while 85 Uighur men were shipped to China.

There are 60 Uighurs remain in detention camps according to Thai authorities - 52 men, four women and four children.

HRW representative for Thailand, Sunai Phasuk, told the Bangkok Post that women and children were sent to Turkey, while fathers of the most families were forcibly sent to China.

"Soon after the Thai government was lauded for sending over 170 Turkic women and children to the country of their choice, the same government made a U-turn on its policy by sending the Turkic men to a country where they did not want to go,” Phasuk was reported as saying.

Having denied these accusations, Thai authorities say their policy was not to separate families.

Human rights organisations have repeatedly voiced concerns over the repatriation of the Uighurs, warning they will face the risk of mistreatment.

“Uighur who previously had been forcibly returned to China have faced arbitrary arrest and detention, and criminal prosecutions,” HRW said following the latest incident.

Their concerns were proven to be true on Saturday as some of the deported Uighurs were shown on state television with hoods on their heads.

State television claimed 13 of the 109 were terror suspects, showing them sitting in an aircraft with black hoods over their heads with masked Chinese police, Reuters reported.

Chinese police also accused Uighurs who try to reach Turkey of being "cannon fodder" for militant groups in Syria and Iraq.

The state run Xinhua news agency claimed that the deported "illegal immigrants" had been on their way “to join holy war.”

Dilxat Raxit, exiled World Uyghur Congress spokesman, said the pictures of hooded Uighurs are a cause of great concern.

"They've been stripped of their dignity," he told Reuters in an emailed statement.

“China is defending itself and shirking responsibility for Uighurs fleeing because of its policy of suppression. The so-called radicals are those who hope to flee China and live a stable and dignified life in a safe and free country,” Raxit added.

China was also angered by criticism from the United States about the deportation and mistreatment of the Uighurs, claiming the issue is only about "illegal immigration."

"We urge the US side to properly view China's efforts to fight illegal immigration and stop making wrong statements," China's Foreign Ministry said in a statement late on Saturday.

The Thai media has also slammed the government's decision.

“If the [deported Uighur] already face criminal charges, of course, the alleged promise by China to treat them well is false,” the Post editorial stated.

“On the other hand, if China and Thailand had discussed such charges under normal international practice, a case for extradition could have been made.”

The Xinjiang autonomous region, which is called “East Turkestan” by the Uighurs, consists of nearly 45 percent of Turkic-Muslim Uighurs while ethnically the Han Chinese make up almost 40 percent of the region’s total population.

Hundreds of people have been reportedly killed during the unrests in Xinjiang in the past several years, where China's repressive policies, including controls on religion and Uighur culture, have intensified. They have been prevented from practising their faith openly, banned from wearing beards and headscarves and fasting in Ramadan.

Turkey has cultural ties with Uighurs and officially regarded them as "brotherly" people in Turkey, which already hosts a large Uighur population.

TRTWorld and agencies