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Freed from Guantánamo, a Uighur clings to asylum dreams in Sweden

China wants Adil Hakimjan, who was granted political asylum, back. Sweden is now considering reversing his asylum.

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After spending six months at a US prison in Kandahar, Afghanistan, the Uighurs were transferred to Guantánamo. Hakimjan says the first six to eight months were the toughest – he was completely isolated and unable to communicate. Later, he was transferred to a shared compound.

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Freed, but without a country

Although a US military tribunal officially cleared Hakimjan of any wrongdoing in March 2005, it wasn't until another year passed that he and four other prisoners were chained, hooded, and flown to Albania for release.

In November 2007, after traveling to Sweden to speak at a human rights conference, Hakimjan filed for political asylum. His claim was initially denied by a Swedish migration board, but he was victorious in Swedish Migration Court in February. That made Hakimjan the first of those cleared of wrongdoing and released from Guantánamo to be granted political asylum within the European Union (EU).

China has repeatedly expressed its "concern" to the Swedish government over Hakimjan's asylum bid, according to Swedish media reports. If Hakimjan is returned to China, he could face further persecution.

According to a recent Amnesty International report, in Xinjiang Province "authorities continued to use the US-led 'war on terror' to justify harsh repression of ethnic Uighurs." The report also notes an increasing number of Uighurs, a Turkic, largely Muslim people, had been "forcibly" returned to China from abroad, and face "the death penalty and possible execution."

Hakimjan says his children have begged him not to return to China out of fears that the authorities "will arrest and torture me again."

Hakimjan's two brothers-in-law had died in prison before he fled Xinjiang. He says one was executed and the other died from inadequate medical treatment. Hakimjan says he was arrested three times between 1997 and 1999, describing each as lasting between one and two weeks and accompanied by torture, including electro shock.

China wants Uighurs returned

Zhou Lulu, press officer for the Chinese Embassy in Stockholm, says that the reason behind China's contacts with Sweden was "our concern about combating terrorism effectively. Those Chinese terrorist suspects in Guantánamo should be returned to China for a fair trial," adding that such repatriation "is an international obligation for all countries, including Sweden and the US."

The US has refused to turn over the Uighurs remaining in Guantánamo to Chinese authorities.

Ms. Zhou also noted that "sovereignty and territorial integrity is clearly put in the UN Charter. No government wants fragmentation of its own state."

The case is currently awaiting a decision by Sweden's Migration Court of Appeal on whether to hear the Migration Board's arguments.

Sten De Geer, Hakimjan's Swedish attorney, says the Chinese Embassy's "warning Sweden against giving Adil asylum, in my view, explains the incredible zeal and effort by the Migration Board to secure Adil's deportation to Albania."