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02-02-09, 20:11
Canada preferred destination for 6 Gitmo detainees

Detainees include 3 Chinese Muslims which the Middle Kingdom wants returned

By Janice Tibbetts, Canwest News ServiceFebruary 2, 2009 3:01 PM


In this photo reviewed by the U.S. Military, a guard leans on a fencepost as a Guantanamo detainee jogs inside the exercise yard at Camp 5 detention center, at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Jan. 21. Six prospective refugees from Gitmo are Uyghurs, three others from undisclosed countries.

In this photo reviewed by the U.S. Military, a guard leans on a fencepost as a Guantanamo detainee jogs inside the exercise yard at Camp 5 detention center, at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Jan. 21. Six prospective refugees from Gitmo are Uyghurs, three others from undisclosed countries.
Photograph by: Brennan Linsley, Reuters

OTTAWA - Six Guantanamo Bay detainees, backed by Canadian sponsors, are seeking refugee status in Canada with the pending closure of the U.S. detention centre in Cuba, including three Chinese Muslims who have been cleared of posing a threat to American security.

Human rights lawyers and other supporters have filed a formal application for Anvar (Ali) Hassan, an ethnic Uyghur who says he will be tortured or even executed if he is forced to return to China.

The 34-year-old prisoner, one of 17 Chinese Muslims sent to Guantanamo after being captured in Pakistan in 2002, is a “test case” of sorts in an international bid to find them safe homes, George Clarke, Hassan’s Washington-based lawyer, told Canwest News Service.

“We’re looking to find him a way out of Guantanamo and obviously Canada is on anybody’s short list,” Clarke told Canwest News Service.

“If they got comfortable in taking one or two guys, why wouldn’t they be comfortable in taking 17?”

Many other countries have been approached in the last couple of years to take the Guantanamo Uyghurs after they were cleared almost three years ago of being a terrorist threat to the U.S.

A judge ordered their release last September, but no country has been willing to offer them asylum.

China has unsuccessfully pressed the U.S. to return them to their homeland, saying that they are terrorists who are seeking an independent Muslim homeland in northwestern China.

Hassan, a dissident who fled China to live and train in a camp in Afghanistan in 2001, was among about two dozen Uyghurs who fled after the U.S. moved against the Taliban and were later caught in the hills of Pakistan.

The Chinese authorities have asserted that the Uyghur detainees were fighting with the Taliban forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Hassan’s sponsor is the Don Valley Refugee Resettlement Organization, a group of eight churches in the Toronto area.

A summary of his case, supplied by his lawyers, says that he admitted to military training in Afghanistan, but that his motivation was “to fight to oppressive Chinese government.”

He says that he was tortured and beaten in prison in China in 1999, where he was held for one month for “being Uyghur.”

Mehmet Tohti of the Uyghur Canadian Society said that Canada came close to accepting Guantanamo Uyghurs in 2006, but backed off for fear of reprisal from China at a time when Canadian officials were trying to negotiate with authorities over the fate of Huseyin Celil, a Canadian citizen and ethnic Uyghur being held in China on terrorism charges.

Canada’s efforts failed and Celil was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2007.

Tohti said that bid to bring the detainees to Canada has been revived, in part, because there is a feeling that Canada has nothing to lose now that it has been snubbed by Beijing in the Celil appeal.

Tohti said Canada should “get the score equal” with China by ignoring the country’s international plea to reject the Guantanamo Uyghurs.

Moreover, permitting them to come to Canada would send a signal of Canada’s willingness to co-operate with the Obama administration, which is seeking countries to accept Guantanamo detainees in light of the planned closure, Tohti said.

Last October, the Anglican Diocese of Montreal sponsored a refugee application for Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian detained at Guantanamo since 2002. Like the Uyghurs, he has not been charged with anything.

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said there has been no word from the Immigration Department on the fate of Ameziane, who lived in Montreal for five years during the 1990s.

Hassan’s bid to come to Canada is expected to be followed by five other attempts from Guantanamo detainees in the next few months, accompanied by sponsors who have come forward to support them, said Dench.

Three prospective refugees are Uyghurs, the others are from undisclosed countries, she said.
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