Updated at 2:40 p.m. ET on 2015-07-13
A court in Indonesia has sentenced three Uyghur men to six years in prison and a $7,500 fine after convicting them on charges of attempting to join a local terrorist group and of entering the country illegally.
Their lawyer, Asludin Hatjani, said the prosecution had failed to furnish direct evidence linking his clients to terrorism. He argued they were Turkish citizens vacationing in Indonesia.
A decision on whether to appeal the verdict within a seven-day window granted by the court will be taken in consultation with Turkish officials, he said.
“We will use the seven days given to consult with the embassy of Turkey, whether to appeal or not,” Asludin Hatjani said.
Judge Kun Marioso, who led a panel of three judges, said the defendants came to Indonesia with the intention of joining the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT) and “performing acts of terror.”
Government lawyers had argued that the three Uyghurs – Ahmet Mahmud, Altinci Bayram, and Abdul Basit – entered Indonesia with fake Turkish passports and were en route to meet Indonesia’s most wanted terrorist, Santoso, when they were arrested in Central Sulawesi last September.
Ahmet Bozoglan, a fourth Uyghur man arrested at the time and accused of being their leader, was tried separately; his verdict is scheduled for July 29.
Santoso’s group uses violence to try to establish an Islamic state, notably by carrying out attacks on local police, Kun told the North Jakarta District Court session Monday in announcing the verdict.
MIT is believed to have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State (IS), and Santoso has welcomed foreign mujahidin to join the group, security officials say.
During the trial, which started March 23, prosecution witnesses said the four Uyghurs were in touch with one of five foreign nationals who had reportedly joined the MIT. They also stayed at the same lodging in Bogor, West Java, where the five other foreigners had stayed before travelling to Sulawesi.
"With the offenses and crimes they have committed linked to terrorism, each defendant will be sentenced to six years in prison and a fine of 100 million rupiah ($7,500)," Kun said.
The verdict comes amid an international outcry over Thailand’s forced repatriation of nearly 100 Uyghur refugees late last week. Chinese officials say the refugees were on their way to Turkey, Syria or Iraq to join IS.
Prosecutor Nana Riana said the three Uyghurs would serve their sentence in an Indonesian prison, unless there is a request from their government to send them back to their country of origin.
However, their citizenship has not yet been established.
Contacted by BenarNews at the start of the trial, officials at the Turkish embassy in Jakarta would not confirm or not deny that the men were Turkish citizens.
“You should take into account what the lawyer says,” Ambassador Zekeriya Akcam said in a statement sent to BenarNews in early April.
“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] judiciary system of [the] Indonesian Republic and cannot make any comment beyond that.”
Earlier this month the embassy denied a request for legal assistance from the fourth defendant, Ahmet Bozoglan.
During the trial of the other three defendants, prosecutor Nana Riana attacked the men’s claim of Turkish citizenship, challenging them to sing Turkey’s national anthem and arguing that their passports were false.
The uncertainty over their citizenship would not affect the verdict, she said.
“Going forward, their citizenship status may influence the extradition agreement between Indonesian officials and the government of Turkey or China,” Nana told BenarNews last week.
“If they are not Turkish citizens, possibly the court will destroy their passports,” she said.
The Uyghurs are a Muslim minority within China, and mostly live in the western Xinjiang region. Uyghurs also are spread across Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkey.
Uyghur advocates say China has trumped up allegations of “Uyghur terrorism” to justify repression in Xinjiang province. As many as 700 people are believed to have been killed in political violence in the Xinjiang region from 2013 to 2014, the U.S.-based Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) reported earlier this year.
Chinese state-run newspaper Global Times on Friday accused “Turkish agents” of helping an illegal migration of Uyghurs out of China by giving them Turkish documentation once they arrived in Southeast Asia, the Associated Press reported.
Before the Jakarta trial began, Indonesian counterterrorism officials said Chinese officials had contacted them seeking repatriation of the four Uyghurs arrested in Sulawesi.
On Monday, a spokesman for Indonesian’s National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) said the fate of the men could not be decided until the judicial process was complete, including any appeals.
“If the court rules that they falsified Turkish passports, then they are not citizens of Turkey, and we will get back to the Chinese government,” Irfan Idris told BenarNews.
“We can’t make a decision or confirm until the results of the trial are known,” he said.
Dimas Gantari contributed to this report.