Saturday, December 27, 2008

China wants Uighurs returned from Guantanamo

You may remember the story from October about a federal judge ordering the release of 17 Uighurs from the prison at Guantanamo Bay (Uighurs are a Muslim ethnic minority group from Xinjiang Province in Northwestern China). The US government had decided long ago that the men, picked up during a security sweep in Afghanistan in 2002, were not actually terrorists, nor "enemy combatants", but with no country offering to take them in, and not wanting to give them permission to emigrate to the US (which does have a refugee Uighur population), we kept them in jail. Now China has stepped up to say they'd like their people back.

But the reason the US government didn't send them home to China in the first place is the near surety that the Chinese would jail, torture and then possibly shoot the Uighurs. China has long been pursuing a campaign of oppression against the Uighur population in Xinjiang because they have pushed for some degree of local autonomy (for a very brief period in the 1940's Xinjiang was an independent country called East Turkmenistan before being overrun by the Chinese Red Army). In fact China has been pursuing the same pattern of religious and cultural oppression of the Uighurs, while trying to displace them by moving waves of ethnic Han Chinese into Xinjiang that they have been doing for years now in the region just south of Xinjiang, Tibet. The Uighurs’ problem is that they don't have a cute and cuddly, philosophy-spouting spokesman like the Dalai Lama to lobby for their cause – probably why kids on college campuses across the country wear "Free Tibet" T-shirts instead of "Free Xinjiang" ones.

China didn't put in a claim for the Guantanamo Uighurs until Germany began talking with the US about taking them in. Hopefully the US will continue to do the right thing and not send them back to a brief and unpleasant future in China.
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