Cambodia sends 20 Uighur asylum seekers back to China

BBC  Dec 19, 2009

A group of 20 Uighurs who fled to Cambodia after ethnic riots in July have been deported back to China.

The United Nations refugee agency strongly condemned the deportation, saying Cambodia had committed a grave breach of international refugee law.

The decision follows intense pressure by China, which has referred to the group as criminals.

Uighur protestors dragged away by Han police officers
Uighur protestors dragged away by Han police officers

Human rights groups have warned that the the Uighurs are likely to face persecution on return to China.

"Cambodia will be sending these Uighurs to a terrible fate, possible execution and likely torture," said Amy Reger, a researcher at the Washington-based Uighur American Association.

She cited the case of Shaheer Ali, a Uighur political activist who fled to Nepal in 2000 and was granted refugee status by the United Nations. He was forcibly returned to China from Nepal in 2002 and executed a year later according to state media.

The expulsions came ahead of a visit to Cambodia by Chinese Vice-President Xi Jingping on Sunday. There has been no immediate comment from the Chinese foreign ministry.

Death sentences

A protest by Uighurs in the city of Urumqi, in East Turkistan, erupted into violence in July, leaving at least 197 people dead.

Shops were smashed and vehicles set alight while passers-by were set upon by rioters in the city, whose population is mostly from China's dominant Han group.

Twelve Uighurs were sentenced to death after the riots.

Tensions between the mainly-Muslim Uighurs of East Turkistan occupied by China since 1949 and the ruling Han have been growing in recent years. Millions of Han have moved to East Turkistan in recent decades.

Many Uighurs want more autonomy and rights for their culture and religion than is allowed by Beijing's strict rule.