Diplomatic memos reveal Chinese effort to block Guantánamo prisoner's asylum bid
The US has cleared the Uighur prisoners at Gitmo of wrongdoing, but China calls them "terrorists." Seventeen Uighurs are seeking political asylum in Sweden, Canada, the US, and Germany.
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Following Albania's acceptance of five Guantánamo Uighurs in 2006, Albania suffered " 'a big diplomatic and economic hit,' " according to a Pentagon official quoted in a Feb. 18 Los Angeles Times story. The Times's Pentagon source added that "no one wants to do that again."Skip to next paragraph
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China denies that it unduly pressured the Swedes. "Saying so-called Chinese pressure is a block on the closure of Guantánamo Bay is ridiculous," Zhou Lulu, press officer for China's Stockholm embassy, said in an interview. "As we said, the Uighur terrorist suspects should be returned to China for a fair trial, but not sheltered for further terrorist activity, nor detained without trial – that is an international obligation for all countries."
Addressing the Chinese position, Amnesty International spokeswoman Sharon Singh observed that "since the Uighurs have been persecuted in the past, it's a bit dubious that the Chinese would hold fair trials for these men."
According to the documents, China repeatedly branded Hakimjan and the other Guantánamo Uighurs as "terrorists." Two of the memoranda, dated from February, detailed China's requests that information it provided on Hakimjan be turned over to Sweden's Justice Department, which was stated as done.
Subsequently, in late April, Swedish courts ultimately upheld Hakimjan's bid for political asylum.
Mr. De Geer, Hakimjan's attorney, says the memos underscore the "fierce urgency for now is that Europe loudly reaffirm its unwavering commitment to a fundamental value system based on respect for, and defense of, human rights." He further observed that the "imminent fate of Guantánamo's Uighurs will constitute our litmus test."
For Washington, the resettlement of those found innocent of wrongdoing, yet remaining at Guantánamo, is key to the prison's closure.
The Obama administration's intent to resettle seven Guantánamo Uighurs in the US has raised domestic debate, with critics casting Uighurs as Islamic jihadists intent on forming terror cells. This is despite the fact that the Bush administration cleared all of the Uighurs of wrongdoing in September 2008.
Canada was earlier approached by three Guantánamo Uighurs seeking protection, with the outcome of the cases uncertain. Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade declined to comment on the status of the cases.
Seema Saifee, attorney for two of the Uighurs seeking sanctuary in Canada, says that the "determination to offer refugee protection to the Uighurs must be made according to Canadian law and regulations, not politics."
Roots of China's angst over the Uighurs
Uighurs are facing similar issues regarding their homeland, China's Xinjiang Province, as those endured by Tibetans, says Central Eurasian expert Gardner Bovingdon. He says China's playing of the terrorist card is part of "its strategy for exploiting the 'global war on terror' to serve its particular political purposes in Xinjiang, and also abroad – wherever Uighurs exist in diaspora."