Article by Uli Schmetzer
June 2, 2006
FROM THE FRYING PAN INTO THE FIRE:
In our mercenary era, when everything and everyone seems for sale and human
dignity and human rights are easily dismissed as â€˜collateral commercial damage,â
€™ the fate of five Central Asian Uighurs has hardly caused a ripple of
international interest. Yet their story is indicative of a new global order in which
people can simply vanish into the Black Holes of the System.
The five Uighurs were released from Guatanamo Bay in May this year after five
years of being subjected to interrogations, abuse and torture, first at a U.S. military
detention center in Kandahar, Afghanistan and then, after being transferred in 2002,
at Guatanamo. In the end the U.S. military had to admit (and one is baffled why it took
so long) the men were not terrorists. The five and ten other Uighurs yet to be
released are members of a Turkic ethnic group in Chinaâ€™s north-western Xinjiang
province. All of them were kidnapped from a village in Pakistan by Pakistani head
hunters. In those early days after the attack on the Twin Towers the U.S. military was
desperate to inflate its quota of â€˜terroristâ€™ arrests. The head hunters, modern
slavers, sold the Uighurs as genuine Al Queda terrorists to the United States military
for five thousand dollars each.
According to the menâ€™s American lawyers the five had left Xinjiang in search of
jobs in Pakistan and a possible visa to study in the United States.
Now comes the really sad part: After being released as â€˜mistakesâ€™ the five
asked for student permits to remain in the U.S., a country that had subjected them to
shocking indignities and the loss of five years of their lives. The U.S. refused. Other
western nations also denied them political asylum. The reason for these refusals had
nothing to do with fear of terrorism but a lot to do with politics and economics.
The men can not return to their native Xinjiang because Chinese authorities have
accused the five (and the ten others) of membership in an Islamic Uighur brotherhood
clamoring for Xinjiangâ€™s independence. The Chinese had asked the U.S. to
extradite the Uighurs, a request the U.S. did not heed, at the same time turning down
the request for asylum. Cunningly this let the U.S. off the hook and the Chinese to
pursue the wanted Uighurs elsewhere.
(The massive influx of government-sponsored Chinese settlers has turned the
Uighurs, the natives of Xinjiang, into a minority group in their own country. Now and
then radical Uighurs blow up Chinese buses, or, as happened in 1990, hang Chinese
officials from lampposts. The Chinese government has employed ever harsher
methods to stifle the simmering Uighur rebellion, one reason why Peking has thrown
its support behind the fight against Al Queda and Islamic radicals.)
Although the U.S. did not heed the Chinese extradition request it allowed Chinese
officials to interrogate the â€˜Uighur terroristsâ€™ at Guatanamo Bay. During these
questioning sessions the Uighurs allege the Chinese were allowed to use similar
interrogation methods as those used by the Americans at Abu Ghrab, methods which
the Chinese government had indignantly renounced as â€˜inhuman,â€™ one more
example, if needed, of the hypocrisy of governments.
In fact countries like Sweden, Finland, Switzerland and Turkey (among twenty
nations approached) rejected the Uighurâ€™s asylum requests. All of these nations,
like the rest of the world, are deep in debt to Chinese productivity flooding their
markets or have vulnerable joint ventures in China. No one was willing to jeopardize
Chinaâ€™s goodwill and its commercial clout for the sake of a few Uighurs from the
central Asian steppes.
But then, low and behold, the Uighurs were granted â€˜temporaryâ€™ asylum by
an impoverished Albania whose fourth largest trading partner just happens to be
Peking. Of course no one was surprised when China immediately demanded the
Albanians hand over the â€˜Xinjiang terrorists.â€™ Nor was anyone surprised by the
reply of the Albanian president, Sali Berisha, who said his country was anxious to
receive evidence from China implicating the five men as terrorists.
As Chinaâ€™s legal record has amply demonstrated in the past obtaining evidence
suitable for conviction has never been a problem for Chinese authorities.
One can only deduce that the dramatic odyssey through international prisons and
detention centers is not yet over for the unlucky Uighurs.