Eleven Uyghur Muslims who are charged with illegally entering Malaysia and could be deported to China have asked the attorney general to drop the charges as they prepare for trial in September.
During a court hearing in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, magistrate Wong Chai Sia set Aug. 8 to hear the results of the application to have charges dropped and calendared a trial for Sept. 12.
The ethnic Uyghurs’ attorney, Khairul Anwar Ismail, said he expected the trial to proceed if the attorney general rejected their application.
The Uyghurs, who risk religious persecution if they are sent to China, have been detained at the Sungai Buloh Prison outside Kuala Lumpur since February or earlier.
The men were part of a group of 20 who escaped a Thai immigration detention center in November 2017 by digging holes in a wall and using blankets as ladders before crossing the border to Malaysia.
“The Uyghur said they’re Turkish and not Chinese as claimed by the Chinese government,” Khairul told BenarNews. “Nobody can prove they are from China.
“Apart from the Chinese government’s request for them to be deported, I heard the Thai authorities are also considering having them back,” he said.
Khairul said the Malaysian government should consider their application on humanitarian grounds.
“Malaysia is not their final destination, the Uyghur men who have no passports want to go to Turkey. They’re also not a security threat to Malaysia,” he said.
The 11 were among more than 200 Uyghurs detained in March 2014 after being found at a popular tourist spot in Thailand’s southern Songkhla province. It was not clear how they had arrived there.
Human rights groups speak out
An Amnesty International official said the Chinese government has been asking governments to deport Uyghur, including students, back to China.
“It has created a sense of horror among the overseas Uyghur community,” Frankie Poon, a researcher on China at Amnesty International’s East Asia Regional Office in Hong Kong, told BenarNews.
“The international community, including Malaysia, needs to work on stopping China from doing this unless they can provide strong reasons for doing so,” he said. “We haven’t seen any good reason so far.”
Poon said the Uyghurs face the potential risk of arbitrary detention in facilities known as “re-education centers,” where some reports said hundreds of thousands of Uyghur and other Muslim minorities are detained.
“The Malaysian government should seriously observe the non-refoulement principle not to return anybody to a country like China where there are serious human rights concerns and a high risk of people being subjected to torture and other ill-treatment,” Poon said.
Latheefa Koya, executive director of Malaysian human rights NGO Lawyers for Liberty, said Malaysia is bound by international law.
“Their claim for asylum must be processed and if it’s clear they’re asylum seekers, they should be released and given protection, not jailed or charged for illegal entry,” she told BenarNews.
In February, Malaysia received an official request from the Chinese government to extradite the 11 men to China. Then-Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said that the Malaysian government would seek to resolve the issue diplomatically.