Uyghur Convicted of Terrorism in Indonesia Pleads For Asylum After Comrades Deported to China

Shohret Hoshur, Ahmad Syamsudin, and Ronna Nirmala
Washington and Jakarta
2020-11-25
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201125-ID-CH-uyghur-620.jpg Ahmet Bozoglan (left) walks for his appearance at the North Jakarta District Court on terrorism charges in Jakarta, July 29, 2015.
AFP

Updated at 4:30 p.m. ET on 2020-11-25

One of four Uyghur men convicted in 2015 of terror-related offenses in Indonesia has pled for help from the international community after the other three were forcibly deported to China, saying he fears persecution by authorities if he is sent there.

Ahmet Bozoglan and three others were sentenced to between six and eight years in prison and fined 100 million rupiah (U.S. $6,800) by a Jakarta court after being found guilty of entering the country using fake passports and attempting to join the Islamic State-affiliated Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT) militant group.

Radio Free Asia, a sister entity of BenarNews, recently spoke by telephone with Bozoglan, who is serving out the remaining two years of his sentence and said he fears that he too will be sent to China, even though the Indonesian government has acknowledged him as a citizen of Turkey.

Authorities in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a vast network of internment camps since early 2017.

“I’m just someone who ended up getting detained in Indonesia while looking for a way to get to Turkey, and so I’m asking for help to go to Turkey or Europe or another place to seek asylum so that I am not returned to China,” Bozoglan told RFA.

Ahmad Nursaleh, a spokesman for Indonesia’s immigration department, told BenarNews he did not know what would happen to Bozoglan after his sentence is complete.

Deported

Last month, two counterterrorism experts told BenarNews that Beijing paid the fines of Uyghur inmates Ahmet Mahmud, Altinci Bayram and Abdul Basit Tuzer – whose six-year sentences, including time in detention, were complete – and repatriated them to China.

Neither the Chinese nor Indonesian government has made formal statements about the men. But late last week, Indonesia's Ambassador to Turkey, Lalu Muhammed Iqbal, confirmed the deportation during a meeting with Uyghur activists, delegation leader Nurettin Izbasar told RFA.

Contacted by BenarNews, Iqbal responded only that “the government of Indonesia makes decisions in accordance with national laws and taking into account national security interests.”

All four Uyghurs were incarcerated at Nusakambangan, a notorious prison on an island off the coast of Central Java.

“My friends’ six-year sentences were up, but they were going to have to stay an extra six months as a fine for problems with their passports,” Bozoglan told RFA. “China paid the six months of fees and then sent the three of them back home.”

Bozoglan said the three were forced to sign documents acknowledging that their fines had been paid and that, later, they overheard the head of their prison telling guards that the Chinese embassy had footed the bill and “planned to take them to China.”

Last month, the counter-terrorism experts told BenarNews that Indonesia carried out the deportation of the men in secret because many in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation are critical of China’s treatment of the Uyghurs.

Seeking passage to Turkey

According to Bozoglan, he met the other three men in Malaysia, where they had been trying for several months to make their way to Turkey – which has an estimated population of some 60,000 Uyghurs in exile. Travel to Turkey for Uyghurs in China is prohibited by authorities due to the perceived threat of religious extremism.

“[W]e decided to try going to Indonesia in the hope we might find an easier route [to Turkey] from there,” Bozoglan said.

There, the four met people who offered to help them and to provide them with fake passports in exchange for money, he said.

At one point, drivers who were taking the Uyghurs to a safe house were detained at a roadblock in connection with drug trafficking, Bozoglan said.

At a court hearing, the drivers testified that the trio “were planning to join a terrorist group,” Bozoglan said, adding that he believes “the Indonesian police officers who interrogated the drivers forced them to say this because China was putting so much pressure on them.”

“[The police] connected us to them in interrogations, and they came to the conclusion that we had a ‘relationship.’ But there was absolutely nothing we had done connected to terrorism or to hurting other people,” Bozoglan said.

He and his three comrades “didn’t know anything” about MIT and couldn’t effectively communicate with their escorts because they didn’t speak Indonesian or English.

“We took a risk on them, and our only aim was asking for their help in getting to Turkey,” he said. “We trusted them and went wherever they asked us to.”

In court in 2015, the Uyghurs described taking a motorboat from Malaysia to Pekanbaru, Riau Province, thousands of miles from Central Sulawesi, where they were eventually arrested. Police said they were on their way to join the MIT, a band of militants based in the jungles of Poso regency.

At the time, MIT had sworn allegiance to IS and welcomed foreign mujahideen to join the group. Six Uyghur men joined MIT in Poso in 2015, all of whom were later killed, according to police.

Three Uyghur detainees arrested in Poso Regency in 2014 walk to the court room in Jakarta ahead of their verdicts on terrorism charges, July 13, 2015. (AFP)
Three Uyghur detainees arrested in Poso Regency in 2014 walk to the court room in Jakarta ahead of their verdicts on terrorism charges, July 13, 2015. (AFP)

Allegations of torture

After being detained in September 2014, Bozoglan said that Chinese authorities – including Uyghur police and embassy officials – showed up on multiple occasions and accused them of being “black coats,” or terrorists.

Later, Indonesian authorities subjected the four men to torture, he said, in a bid to get them to sign documents confessing to being involved in terrorism.

“The police took us somewhere where there were no other people and put black hoods over our heads and tortured us brutally. They obstructed our breathing, squeezed parts of our bodies, tortured us brutally,” he said.

He said that the four of them never confessed during interrogations or in court, but that they signed a document “that neither we nor our translators fully understood, because we don’t know Indonesian.”

Additionally, Bozoglan told RFA that he and his compatriots were assigned a lawyer by the Indonesian government who they were unable to speak with privately, due to the language barrier.

In the end, Bozoglan was sentenced to eight years in prison, while the other three were handed six-year terms.

When asked by BenarNews whether Chinese officials had pressured Indonesia during the investigation and prosecution of the four Uyghurs, an Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman declined to comment.

‘He is from Turkey’

Asludin Hatjani, the government-appointed lawyer who represented the four Uyghurs, told BenarNews that he was unaware of whether the three Uyghurs had been deported to China because “after they were released, they have had nothing to do with me.”

But he said that since the identification documents they produced during their trial “showed they were Turkish citizens” – something he said “was acknowledged by Indonesia.”

He said that Bozoglan’s six-year sentence was later increased to eight by the country’s High Court.

In the High Court ruling – a copy of which was obtained by BenarNews – Bozoglan is listed as the leader of the group and a Turkish national.

Asludin said that while he was representing the four Uyghurs, they had never made allegations of torture by authorities.

“There were no complaints and there were no visible signs of violence on their bodies,” he said.

Asked about the allegations, National Police spokesman Awi Setiono told BenarNews he had “no information” and referred further questions to officers assigned to the case.

According to Sidney Jones, an expert on Islamic militancy in Indonesia and the director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), Bozoglan is one of two remaining Uyghurs in Indonesia, the other being Nur Mahmet Abdullah, who was sentenced to six years in prison in November 2016 for planning to carry out a suicide bombing targeting Shia Muslims.

She said that if deported, Bozoglan should be sent to Turkey.

“He had an authentic passport. He is from Turkey but is of Uyghur descent,” Jones told BenarNews. “If he was to be deported, it would of course not be to China, but to Turkey, because his passport was valid.”

‘The same as killing them’

The forced repatriation of three of the Uyghurs comes four years after Indonesia turned down a request from the Chinese government to exchange a fugitive Indonesian banker captured in China for all four of them.

Indonesia told China that a prisoner swap wasn’t possible because the charges against the four Uyghurs were different from those against the Indonesia banker.

Back then, an Indonesian official who requested anonymity said Indonesia would face international pressure if the country agreed to deport the Uyghur prisoners to China.

“Giving Uyghurs back to China is the same as killing them. Most probably, the Chinese government will execute them instantly,” the official told BenarNews in April 2019.

In addition to its nearly four-year campaign of extralegal mass incarceration in the XUAR, the Chinese government has subjected those not detained to intense surveillance, religious restrictions, and forced sterilizations, according to a report published in June by the Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S.-based think-tank.

Chinese officials have repeatedly denied these allegations, saying the camps are centers for vocational training and that the thousands of Uyghur Muslims arrested had links to extremism.

However, reporting by RFA and other media outlets shows that detainees are mostly held against their will in cramped and unsanitary conditions, where they are forced to endure inhumane treatment and political indoctrination.

The Indonesian government has faced criticism at home and abroad for its silence on the alleged mistreatment of Uyghurs in XUAR.

Last December, thousands of people took to the streets in Indonesia and Malaysia to protest China’s treatment of the Muslim minority community.

Shohret Hoshur is a reporter for the Uyghur Service of Radio Free Asia (RFA).

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