Uncertainty over Uighurs
The United States is attempting to confirm recent media reports that as many as four of the 20 ethnic Uighur asylum seekers deported from Cambodia to China in 2009 have been sentenced to life in prison.
“We’re seeking to confirm these reports with the Chinese,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said at a press briefing on Friday, adding that the US goverment “has repeatedly called on the Chinese…to provide information on the whereabouts of all 20 of the Uighur asylum seekers”.
In December 2009, 20 Uighur asylum seekers were deported to China after attempting to seek refugee status through the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Phnom Penh.
They were reportedly held at the Interior Ministry on December 18 before being flown to an undisclosed location in China the following day.
It was reported that a few days after the deportation, China signed off on US$1.2 billion in economic aid agreements with Cambodia.
On Thursday, a Radio Free Asia report, which cited “family sources” and authorities in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in northwestern China, stated that two asylum seekers had been sentenced to life imprisonment, and a third had received a 17-year jail sentence.
The following day, an RFA report stated that a further two asylum seekers had received life sentences and another 12 had received various jail sentences, attributing the information to family sources and lawyers.
US Embassy spokesperson Sean McIntosh said via email yesterday that the embassy was aware of the reports but could not provide “independent confirmation”.
Yang Tianyue, spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh, told the Post that he had not been contacted about the matter.
In a statement released on Friday, the World Uighur Congress condemned the reported sentences “in the harshest possible terms”.