A lawyer defending four Uyghurs in a terrorism trial in Jakarta says they are Turkish citizens, although Indonesia has indicated that it might send them to China afterward.
The four, arrested in Central Sulawesi province last September, stand accused of travelling there to visit Indonesia’s most wanted terrorist, Santoso, and of using fake Turkish passports and visas to enter the country.
China has not intervened in the case of the four men, attorney Asludin Hatjani told BenarNews this week, when asked about Beijing’s involvement. Indonesian officials believe that these Uyghurs come from China’s northwestern Xinjiang region.
“China has nothing to do with it, because the documents they have state that they are Turkish citizens. And they are recognized by the Turkish government. The proof is that the Turkish government has provided translators,” said Asludin, who had defended Bali bomber Umar Patek at his trial in 2012.
“In Indonesia, terrorism is handled through law enforcement. If they are not guilty, they must be released. If they are guilty, it has to be proven,” he said.
“Regarding the immigration violation, in my view, they have full documentation. It remains to be proven whether it is false or not.”
Officials at the Turkish embassy in Jakarta did not deny Asludin’s claim about his clients beingTurkish citizens.
“You should take into account what the lawyer says. On the other hand, [the Indonesian] Attorney General officially asked the Turkish embassy to provide the translator for the court. So this is what procedure says, and we follow that,” Ambassador Zekeriya Akcam said in a statement sent to BenarNews on Thursday.
“Since the court process is going on, we are not allowed to make any statement except what the court says,” he added. “We trust [the] judiciairy system of [the] Indonesian Republic and cannot make any comment beyond that.”
In mid-March, before the trial got under way, Indonesia’s National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) said the four would be deported to China after the trial.
“They will be prosecuted. Once the indictment is completed, they will be returned to China. After that, it’s up to the Chinese government whether they want to detain them, sentence them to death, or free them. It depends on the laws in force there,” BNPT spokesman Irfan Idris told BenarNews then.
China wants the four repatriated, and the BNPT has been working with the Chinese government on the matter, Irfan said.
“We have gone there several times to coordinate with them. They have also visited here. We have agreed to find a good solution,” he said.
According to Indonesian officials, the four suspects were arrested, along with three Indonesians, in Poso regency, a hotbed of militant activity.
The Uyghurs claim they were tourists.
“We just asked someone to take us around. The accusation of wanting to meet with Santoso is false. We don’t speak Indonesian, so there seems to have been a misunderstanding,” defendant Ahmet Bozoglan told the North Jakarta District Court through a translator on March 31st.
Uyghurs are a Muslim minority within China, and mostly live in Xinjiang. They also are spread across Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkey.
Rights groups accuse Chinese authorities of heavy-handed rule in Xinjiang, including violent police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic religious practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people.
Chinese officials claim that about 300 Uyghurs from Xinjiang have joined the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group. Earlier on, BNPT officials had said that the four Uyghurs picked up in Poso were suspected of financing travel for Indonesians to join IS.
The four have been charged under anti-terrorism and immigration laws, public prosecutor Dicky Octavian said.
“The four defendants were involved in dangerous activities linked to terrorism in Poso and the Santoso group,” Dicky told BenarNews.
The trial opened March 23 and continued Thursday with testimony from witnesses for the prosecution.