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Uyghur Leaders Again Barred from Travelling Abroad

Press Release – For immediate release
27 June 2011
Contact:  World Uyghur Congress
0049 (0) 89 5432 1999 or [email protected]

Two prominent members of the exiled Uyghur community in Pakistan have again been barred from travelling abroad. The brothers Akbar and Omer Osman, who co-founded a charity to teach Pakistani Uyghurs their own language in the northern city of Rawalpindi, planned to fly to Istanbul on 17 June 2011 to attend the one week conference “East Turkestan Brothers’ Union Summit” organized by Uyghur groups in Turkey. However, at Islamabad´s airport Pakistani authorities told them that they were not allowed to travel abroad. Since that day, police is closely monitoring every movement of the two brothers and policemen have been stationed in front of their homes.

Akbar said in an interview with Radio Free Asia that he and his brother had obtained visas, received their boarding passes, and had even checked in their luggage before they were approached by flight attendants and told they could not board. On 21 June, the brothers traveled to Pakistan’s Ministry of Interior to ask why they had been banned from international travel and they were told that the Chinese embassy in Islamabad had demanded to block their travel plans. When they asked the Pakistani officials on how they might be removed from the no-fly list, they were told they should go to the Chinese embassy in Islamabad and get a letter from them before they would take their names off the no-fly list. However, both Akbar  and Omer, who are Pakistani citizens who had been born and raised in the country, refuse to  follow Chinese demands and will instead fight the decision to place them on the no-fly list at the Pakistani Supreme Court and are preparing an appeal.

It is not the first time that Pakistan´s authorities are obstructing travel plans of the two brothers. In spring 2010, Akbar and Omer, along with two other Uyghurs, were invited by the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) to participate in an international conference entitled “Uyghurs´ Call for Dialogue with China” which took place at the end of April 2010 in the European Parliament in Brussels. However, soon after applying for their visa, they had to flee from police after neighbours told them their close relatives had been detained for several hours. They went into hiding for several days and were not able to attend the conference.

The WUC harshly condemns Pakistan´s actions to prevent Akbar and Omer, who had valid passports and visa, from travelling to Turkey, and is extremely worried that Pakistani authorities follow instructions and pressure from China. Beijing is trying to silence Uyghur voices not only on a national level, but also abroad and especially in neighbouring countries. Pakistan is home to around 3000 Uyghur families, mostly those who left China during the 1950s and 60s and live predominantly in the cities of Rawalpindi, Karachi, Gilgit, and Islamabad.

China and Pakistan have close economic and political ties. Pakistan is has observer status with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). In the last decade, Beijing has extended its campaign of intimidation into neighbouring countries by using bilateral agreements with SCO member and observer states to force the return of Uyghurs suspected of “separatist activities”, including asylum-seekers and refugees. China is regularly equating Uyghurs peaceful dissent with terrorism, separatism and extremism and is pressuring its neighbours to adopt Chinese politics into the national agenda. Especially Uyghurs in Central Asia are facing harsh persecution by the national authorities. As an example, on 30 May 2011, the Uyghur refugee Ershidin Israel was extradited from Kazakhstan to China in severe violation of international law standards.

In addition, only few weeks ago, Pakistan and China signed a new agreement to strengthen intelligence cooperation and “to enhance cooperation with Pakistan on fighting terrorism and cross-border crimes in a bid to create a sound security environment for the economic and social development of both countries.”

It is not the first time that China tries to influence Pakistan´s national politics regarding the Uyghur diaspora community. In December 2009, Chinese authorities detained Pakistani Uyghur Kamirdin Abdurahman on suspicion of “harming public order,” before asking him to infiltrate Uyghur groups back in Pakistan.

In addition, China also has a track record of publicly executing, torturing and imprisoning Uyghurs who have been forcibly sent back from Pakistan. These include:

  • In May 1997, 12 Uyghurs were sent back from Pakistan to China and executed immediately after their return
  • In April 2002, Pakistan sent Ilham Tohti, Abdul Latif Abdulqadir, Enver Dawut back to China. All are believed to have been detained secretly by the Intelligence Bureau in Rawalpindi before their deportation. There is no further information about their current legal status, treatment or state of health.
  • Muhammed Tohti Metrozi and Abdulwahab Tohti were forcibly returned to East Turkestan by Pakistan in July 2003. He had been recognized as a refugee by UNHCR in Sweden and was awaiting resettlement in Sweden.  He was forcibly returned to China along with fellow Uyghur, Abdulwahab Tohti.  Muhammed Tohti was detained by the Chinese authorities in Urumchi on July 16, 2003 upon his forcible return. A court in East Turkestan sentenced Tohti Metrozi around April 10, 2004, to life in prison for separatism, a crime under Article 103 of China’s Criminal Law, in reported connection to his applying for refugee status, housing Uyghurs in Pakistan who had fled China, and allegedly belonging to a “separatist” organization. Tohti Metrozi reportedly rejected the charges in court. The Xinjiang High People’s Court rejected Muhammed Tohti Metrozi’s appeal on February 15, 2005. He is held in the Xinjiang No. 1 Prison in Urumqi. It is unknown when and if Abdulwahab Tohti was tried and sentenced.
  • Ismail Semed was executed in February 2007 after being deported from Pakistan to China in 2003. Semed was known to have been politically active in support of Uyghurs’ human rights. Semed was sentenced to death in October 2005 on charges of “attempting to split the motherland” and other charges. Chinese authorities accused him of having been a founding member of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). This accusation, which apparently led to the “splittism” charge, appears to have been based solely on second-hand testimony that was obtained through torture.
  • Businessman and Uyghur activist Osman Alihan was extradited in July 2007 from Pakistan. Alihan was one of around 20 Uyghurs named on a “wanted list” given to the Pakistani authorities by the PRC government in the lead-up to a Pakistan-China Joint Working Group on Terrorism held in Beijing not long before his detention by Pakistani security forces. In addition to his business activities, Alihan had been working to help impoverished Uyghur students in Pakistan and Turkey. His current whereabouts are unknown.

In all of these cases, Pakistan acted in clear violation of the principal of non-refoulement, which protects refugees from being returned to places where their lives or freedoms could be threatened.

The WUC calls on the Pakistani government to respect its own constitution and international treaties it is part of, and guarantee freedom of movement to all citizens, including Uyghurs.

Less than two month ago, Uyghur leaders from Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan were barred from travelling to Washington, DC to attend an international conference on the future of East Turkestan.

See also:

Pakistan Uyghurs in Hiding
Radio Free Asia, 06 April 2010

World Uyghur Congress Strongly Protests Travel Refusal for Uyghur Exile Leaders from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan

3 May 2011

China vows to fight terrorism with Pakistan
Xinhua, 20 May 2011

Pakistan, China agree to strengthen intelligence cooperation
7 June 2011

Uyghurs Face Travel Ban
RFA, 23 June 2011-06-24