Four Uyghurs arrested by Indonesia over their alleged links to the Islamic State (IS) terror group will be put on trial in Jakarta and then returned to China, BenarNews has learned.
The four, picked up on Sulawesi island on September 13, 2014, will be charged under anti-terrorism laws, according to Irfan Idris, a spokesman for the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT).
The four are suspected of funding travel by Indonesian citizens to join IS, he said.
“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,” Irfan told BenarNews after a BNPT event in Jakarta on Thursday.
The Uyghurs are a Muslim minority within China, and mostly live in the western Xinjiang region. Uyghurs also are spread across Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan.
The four suspects were arrested, along with three Indonesians, in the remote Poso regency of Central Sulawesi province – a hotbed of terrorist activity, according to Indonesian officials.
“They could be linked with terrorism or the international militant organization ISIS,” police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar told reporters a day after their arrest, using another acronym for the Islamic State terror group.
The four entered Indonesia through Malaysia with false Turkish passports purchased for $1,000 each in Thailand, authorities said at the time.
China keenly interested
China wants the four to be 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.
Chinese officials claim that about 300 Uyghurs from Xinjiang have joined IS.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party Secretary in Xinjiang said last week that “extremists from Xinjiang who have joined the Islamic State” in the Middle East had been arrested after they returned home.
Rights groups accuse Chinese authorities of heavy-handed rule in Xinjiang, including violent police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic religious practice, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people.
Irfan of the BNPT said the Chinese were worried about the spread of IS on their soil, since the province is near Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“Just like in Indonesia, a country that is not safe cannot develop,” he said.
He said he hoped a decision would be taken soon about dates for the prosecution.
“No further steps have been taken. We are awaiting the decision of the police,” he said.
Police also confirmed that the Uyghurs will be put on trial in Jakarta.
“They face charges under Law No. 9, 2013 on the Prevention and Combatting of Terrorism Financing, based on their activities in Poso. And if it’s proven that they used false Turkish passports, they can be charged under Law No. 6, 2011 on Immigration,” police spokesman Rikwanto told BenarNews.
The charges have been handed to a court in Jakarta, and “they are still waiting for a trial date,” Rikwanto said.
Uyghur advocates based in the United States say China has trumped up allegations of “Uyghur terrorism” to justify repression in Xinjiang province.
“Governments and multi-lateral agencies must strengthen their support for Uyghur rights by treating China’s terror allegations with utmost skepticism and challenging Chinese officials on their appalling human rights record in East Turkestan,” Alim Setyoff, president of the Uyghur American Association, said in Washington on Monday.
Many Uyghurs living in China and in exile refer to Xinjiang as East Turkestan, because the region came under final control by China following two short-lived East Turkestan republics in the 1930s and 1940s.
Last year, Beijing intensified its targeting of Uyghurs with an "anti-terror" campaign in Xinjiang, Amnesty International said in its annual global human rights report.
As many as 700 people are believed to have been killed in political violence in the Xinjiang region from 2013-2014, with ethnic Uyghurs three times as likely as Han Chinese to have died in clashes, the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) reported earlier this month.
Chinese state-controlled media reported that less than a third of the clashes took place in that time period, and described more than two-thirds of the 37 incidents it did report on as "terrorist" events, UHRP said.