New Information Available on Uyghur Asylum Seeker, Status of Others Remains Unknown

January 7, 2011

New information is available on the status of a Uyghur man returned to China after seeking asylum abroad. Memet Eli (Memtili) Rozi was among a group of 22 Uyghurs in Cambodia, most of whom had arrived in the country in November 2009 and who sought asylum from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Phnom Penh. In December 2009, 20 of the asylum seekers were returned to China before the UNHCR could make a determination of their status, in violation of international protections for asylum seekers and refugees. Memet Eli Rozi had escaped the forced return; new information from his wife indicates he traveled to Laos, where he met his family, and all were deported to China in March. Memet Eli Rozi has been held in detention in Kashgar, Xinjiang, while the status of most of the other asylum seekers appears unknown. The Chinese government said the asylum seekers were "involved in crimes" and that their cases would be handled transparently "according to law," but information on their current whereabouts is not known.

New information is available on the whereabouts of Uyghur asylum seeker Memet Eli (Memtili) Rozi, while news of his health status, following an injury last year, remains unknown, according to December 13 (Uyghur) and 15 (English), 2010, articles from Radio Free Asia (RFA). Memet Eli Rozi was among a group of 22 Uyghurs in Cambodia in late 2009 who sought asylum from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Phnom Penh. Twenty of the other asylum seekers were forcibly returned to China on December 19, 2010 (see below for details). Memet Eli Rozi escaped deportation and went to Laos, where his family joined him. In March, on the day when Memet Eli Rozi's wife Gulbahar Sadiq and five children met him in Laos, Laotian police deported them to Yunnan province, China, according to the December 15 RFA report. Public security officers held the family in detention in Yunnan for 32 days, during which time they were questioned by officers from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where the family is originally from, according to the report. Authorities released Gulbahar Sadiq and the five children, while transferring Memet Eli Rozi to the Kashgar district public security bureau detention center. Gulbahar Sadiq reported that she contacted Kashgar officials, who said that Memet Eli Rozi would not be released before trial. Gulbahar Sadiq reported in the RFA articles that she has no way to contact Memet Eli Rozi and no information on his current health condition. Memet Eli Rozi had injured his hand in a traffic accident prior to going to Cambodia and was scheduled to have three metal plates, inserted during treatment, removed from his wrist in February 2010. His doctor reportedly told his family that failure to remove the metal pieces could infect his hand and cause risk to his life, according to the reports.

Memet Eli Rozi, who grew up in Yining (Ghulja), XUAR, had operated a bakery in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, prior to leaving for Cambodia. According to the December 13 RFA report, he fled China as authorities in Guangzhou started to detain Uyghurs there for alleged involvement in the July 2009 demonstrations and riots in Urumqi, XUAR. He left out of fear of "encountering trouble" in Guangzhou and to escape economic difficulties, according to the report. Memet Eli Rozi had been detained on two other occasions before leaving for Cambodia. Authorities detained him for 15 days in 1997 for alleged involvement in demonstrations in Ghulja in February 1997 and imposed a 3-year sentence in 2000 in connection to alleged "illegal religious activities," according to RFA. (Information is unavailable on whether he served a criminal sentence or term of reeducation through labor.) Current charges, if any, against Memet Eli Rozi, and information on whether he has subsequently gone to trial, are not known. Other asylum seekers in the group with him, who were returned to China from Cambodia, include Aikebaerjiang (Ekberjan) Tuniyaz, Mutellip Mamut, and Islam Urayim. Information on their specific cases appears unknown. According to information received by Human Rights Watch in January 2010 (discussed in a January 28, 2010, press release and December 20, 2010, Phnom Penh Post article), most of the returned asylum seekers had been sentenced, but the information could not be confirmed, and the Chinese government has not provided information on the cases. (See below for more information on Chinese government statements.) Another Uyghur asylum seeker who escaped deportation from Cambodia, like Memet Eli Rozi, has since settled in another country, according to the December 15 RFA report.

The lack of information on Memet Eli Rozi's current status and subsequent trial, if any, and apparent lack of information on most of the other asylum seekers' status, contravene procedural protections, including a trial with public judgment that takes place "within a reasonable time" from detention, and protections against forced disappearances, respectively, in international law. See Articles 9 and 14 in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and see generally the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (defining "forced disappearances" in Article 2 to mean "the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.") Chinese law also mandates releasing information on criminal cases. Articles 64(2) and 71(2) in China's Criminal Procedure Law require notifying family members of a detainee's whereabouts and status, both at the point of initial detention and at formal arrest. (It is not known if family members of any of the asylum seekers formally have received this information.) In the event any of the returned asylum seekers has gone to trial, Article 151(5) stipulates that courts shall announce trials involving public prosecutions three days in advance. Article 152 allows closed trials "involving State secrets or private affairs of individuals," but in all cases, Article 163 stipulates that all judgments in criminal cases are to be public. The lack of information on the cases of the asylum seekers also comes as the Chinese government pledged "to deal with the Uighurs in a transparent manner," as paraphrased in a February 13, 2010, New York Times article, which also noted that Chinese authorities refused at that time to provide any details on the cases.

As noted in the Congressional-Executive Commission on China 2010 Annual Report, prior to the Cambodian government's forcible return of the 20 Uyghur asylum seekers, including 2 infants, in December 2009, a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesperson alleged the asylum seekers were "involved in crimes," and the Chinese government sent the Cambodian government a diplomatic note on the case. Cambodian authorities then deported the 20 people before the UNHCR made a determination of their refugee status, in violation of protections for asylum seekers and refugees in international law. (See Article 33(1) in the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and Article 3(1) in the Convention against Torture, prohibiting refoulement. For statements from the UNHCR and UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment that identify the violations involved in the case of the Uyghur asylum seekers, see a December 21, 2009, report from the UN News Centre and December 22, 2009, report from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.) Two days after the deportation, China's Vice President Xi Jinping signed an agreement to provide a reported US$1.2 billion in aid to Cambodia. The Chinese MFA spokesperson denied a connection between the two events and said that authorities would deal with the Uyghur group's "illegal criminal activities in accordance with the law." Chinese authorities reported in June (via Xinhua, June 24, 2010) that 3 of the 20 people returned to China were suspected of terrorist crimes, a charge that, even if made at the time of extradition, would not have precluded an assessment of the asylum cases by UN officers. (For more information, see item 10 in the December 1996 UNHCR publication "The Exclusion Clauses: Guidelines on their Application," and see generally Monette Zard, "Exclusion, Terrorism and the Refugee Convention," Forced Migration Review (Online), June 2002.) They also reported releasing and providing "appropriate arrangements" for the woman and 2 children in the group, but did not provide information on their whereabouts or specific information on the remaining 14 people. In a June 28, 2010, RFA report, a reporter contacted officials in the woman's hometown of Naize'erbage (Nezerbagh) township, Kashgar municipality, Kashgar, but could not confirm that the woman, Shahide Qurban, and her son and daughter, Bilal and Maymune Abduqadir, had been returned to their original home.

For more information on conditions in the XUAR, see Section IV―Xinjiang in the CECC 2010 Annual Report.