Swedish court secures ex-Guantánamo Uighur's asylum quest

Adil Hakimjan, the first freed Guantánamo prisoner to be granted asylum in Europe, says he is 'very happy.' President Obama called Friday for seven of the 17 remaining Uighurs at the prison to be released.

Johannes Lindgren
Adil Hakimjan, a Uighur freed from Guantánamo prison in 2006, and his attorney, Sten De Geer, in Stockholm, Sweden.

On Wednesday, a Swedish court upheld the asylum bid of a Uighur freed from Guantánamo prison in 2006.

Adil Hakimjan, a former merchant, this February became the first of Guantánamo's ex-detainees to avoid return to their homeland and instead be granted asylum in the European Union.

The asylum grant was challenged, but Wednesday's action ensures Mr. Hakimjan will be allowed to stay in his adopted home of Sweden.

"I'm very happy. I can start my new life," an elated Hakimjan said Thursday morning, speaking through a translator. "Sweden is a very good country."

Taking a more somber tone, he then observed, "I hope the world now realizes I'm not a dangerous person and that my friends are not, as well," referring to the 17 Uighurs cleared of wrongdoing by the Bush administration in September 2008, but yet remaining in Guantánamo prison.

In March 2005, Hakimjan was himself cleared of any wrongdoing by a US military tribunal. He had left China in 1999, a victim of what Amnesty International recently termed "harsh repression of ethnic Uighurs," but in the aftermath of 9/11, his journey led not to freedom but into the hands of a bounty hunter in Pakistan and, eventually, the US terror prison at Guantánamo. (For the full story on Hakimjan's journey, click here.)

On Friday, the Obama administration announced plans to resettle seven of Guantánamo's 17 remaining Uighurs – a Turkic, largely Muslim people centered in China's Xinjiang province – within the US. But just as the White House decision prompted criticism from some in the US and China, Sweden's decision in February to grant Hakimjan asylum also had its detractors.

Sweden's Migration Board earlier said "there's no possibility" under Swedish law for Hakimjan to receive asylum, adding that Sweden's Migration Court had "totally misjudged the case," and so explained the basis for their legal appeal against Hakimjan's asylum grant.

On Wednesday, the Appeals Court refused to hear the case, effectively contradicting the Migration Board assertions and upholding the original court decision.

The Migration Board declined to comment upon the decision.

Sten De Geer, Hakimjan's attorney, also declined to comment on the Migration Board's challenge to his client's quest for asylum. He said that he was "very happy Adil's 10-year ordeal is ended."

Hakimjan hopes his wife and children, still in China, will someday be able to join him, Mr. De Geer says, adding that the reunification, "of course, depends upon the decisions made by the Chinese authorities."

China sees the Guantánamo Uighurs as suspected "domestic terrorists," and has pressured Sweden not to grant Hakimjan protection. China has also pressured the US to return Guantánamo's Uighurs to China, which Washington – noting the persecution they would likely suffer – has refused.

A request to China's Stockholm embassy for comment on Wednesday's Court action went unanswered. A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy here had earlier explained China's opposition to those who support political autonomy for Uighurs. No government, the spokesperson said, "wants fragmentation of its own state."

The Chinese government has previously asked for Hakimjan's asylum bid to be denied.

Julia Hall, former senior legal counsel at Human Rights Watch and a recognized authority on national security law and counterterrorism policy, says Wednesday's decision to uphold Hakimjan's asylum "is what every single European government should be doing – they should not be caving in to Chinese pressure, they should be making an independent assessment."

Ms. Hall says the decision is "very important for other European governments who are considering giving Guantánamo Uighurs a safe home."

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