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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.

By Ritt GoldsteinContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / May 12, 2009

Dalarna, Sweden

Newly revealed documents provide a rare glimpse at the diplomatic pressure used by China in its unsuccessful efforts to stop the Swedish government from granting asylum to a Uighur prisoner released from the Guantánamo prison.

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Resettling the remaining 17 Uighur prisoners is widely viewed as a critical milestone in the Obama administration's plan to close the prison camp. If Sweden's example is any indication, the imprisoned Uighurs present a foreign-policy Gordian knot.

The men are members of a largely Muslim minority in western China. They have been ruled innocent, but are considered terrorists at home. And while they are among the 30 of Guantánamo's 241 remaining prisoners who have been cleared for release, they remain behind bars.

The formerly classified Swedish government documents show how foreign-policy concerns could be contributing to their ongoing detention. Given China's rising economic and political clout, much could be at stake for countries who agree to offer homes.

The memos from the Swedish Foreign Office note how China viewed it as " 'impossible to understand' that Swedish authorities had given a visa for this terrorist," and how "very 'unsatisfied' " China was that Sweden's Migration Court had granted Adil Hakimjan protection.

The memos detail contacts between the Chinese Embassy and Sweden's Foreign Office, and highlight escalating Chinese pressure involving the potentially precedent setting case of Mr. Hakimjan, a Uighur merchant. Hakimjan's Stockholm attorney, Sten De Geer, recently obtained the documents under Swedish freedom of information law.

China's impatience with Hakimjan's asylum bid was obvious in the memos. "The Chinese Embassy in Stockholm has, a number of times, contacted the [Swedish] Foreign Office, both in this case and also referring to the more general question if Sweden is going to receive any Uighurs when the camp at Guantánamo is going to be closed," wrote the Foreign Office's China desk director in one of the documents.

Hakimjan, who was captured by a bounty hunter in Pakistan in 2001, was released from Guantánamo in 2006 and now lives in Sweden. A court there upheld his bid for political asylum in April.

Germany is now considering a US request that it accept nine of Guantánamo's Uighurs. Seven others are being considered for resettlement in the US.

China wants Uighurs returned for trial

Although the Uighurs have been cleared of wrongdoing, China views them as domestic terrorists and wants to see them returned for trial.