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Rights group demands answers in Uighur case

Bangkok Post, 12 August 2011

Human Rights Watch has called on the government to explain why it handed over an ethnic Uighur arrested in Bangkok to Chinese officials without following due legal process.

The international rights group also demanded the Chinese government give it access to the Uighur man, identified as Nur Muhammed.

According to the HRW, Mr Muhammed was arrested on Aug 6 by immigration authorities at Soi Lat Phrao 112 in Bangkok.

He was taken to the Bangkok Immigration Detention Centre, where he was charged under the Immigration Act with illegal entry.

The HRW said Mr Muhammed was handed over to Chinese government officials who were already at the detention centre awaiting his arrival.

It is not known if the man has been sent back to China.

The HRW accused Thailand of violating its own legal procedures regarding illegal entry by not sending Muhammed to the court.

They handed him over to Chinese officials without asking for an extradition request or arrest warrant.

Immigration Commissioner Pol Gen Wiboon Bangthamai insisted his office followed standard procedure.

“We were not pressured by Chinese officials. The man was not entitled to political asylum. The Chinese officials showed us photo evidence of his taking part in riots, and an arrest warrant. They asked for our cooperation and we obliged,” Pol Gen Wiboon said.

The HRW, however, said there was a chance the man could be in danger if he was sent back to China.

Tension erupted between the Uighurs and Chinese government following unrest in July 2009 in Xinjiang.

The government should have alerted the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which would have made an assessment about whether the man could make a claim for asylum.

The protests in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, were one of the worst ethnic clashes in China. Many Uighurs fled China in the wake of the unrest.

Veerawit Tianchainan, executive director of the Thai Committee for Refugees Foundation, said Thailand had no asylum-related law, and few guidelines for law enforcers to follow.

The Immigration Bureau should have a screening mechanism in place to verify if those who stand to be deported were likely to face persecution in their home countries, said Mr Veerawit, who has been working on Mr Muhammed’s case with the HRW.

He said the man is known as a leader of an asylum group. While other group members were offered protection by the United Nations, Mr Muhammed was on the run. He fled from China to Cambodia and Thailand. “He should have been given access to the UNHCR so the agency could verify if he faced persecution or not,” Mr Veerawit said.