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25-06-08, 22:14
Uighur Justice

By NURY A. TURKEL

FROM TODAY'S WALL STREET JOURNAL ASIA

June 26, 2008

The controversy over the right of habeas corpus for U.S. terror detainees has obscured the fact that the legal process put in place by Congress for settling other detainee appeals has been quietly at work. On Monday, an appeals court hearing one such case found that Huzaifa Parhat, a Uighur from China, was not an "enemy combatant." The court ordered the military to release him, transfer him to another prison or hold a new hearing.

Mr. Parhat and the 16 other Uighurs currently detained in Guantánamo have all been cleared for release by the U.S. military. Congress is also supportive. On June 4, Rep. Bill Delahunt (D., MA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R., CA) proposed resettlement for them in the U.S. The two Congressmen have also petitioned Defense Secretary Robert Gates for assistance.

Resettling these detainees might not be simple, but after their six years of detention, it is the right thing to do. Uighurs are an ethnic Turkic people who live in China's vast northwest regions. The 17 Guantánamo Uighurs were captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Many were snared by bounty hunters and sold to the U.S. military. Some of these Uighurs may admittedly be fighters. But they have no beef with the U.S. or its allies -- their fight is against China.

Like Tibetans, Uighurs have endured decades of discrimination and brutal oppression under Chinese rule. A religious and ethnic minority, they are routinely denied basic civil, religious and political rights. Uighurs are -- almost without exception -- the only ethnic group in China to be routinely executed for political offenses. Since 9/11, China has used the U.S.-led "war on terror" as an excuse to oppress Uighurs with impunity, persecuting many who have peacefully protested their treatment. China regularly dubs Uighur historians, poets and writers "intellectual terrorists" and sends them to jail. In 2005, a young intellectual, Nurmemet Yasin, was sentenced to a decade in prison for writing an allegory likening the Uighur predicament to that of a pigeon in a cage.

To its credit, the Bush administration has refused China's requests to repatriate the Guantánamo Uighurs, recognizing that such an action would effectively condemn them to prolonged torture, imprisonment or death once they reached China. In 2006, however, the U.S. sent five Uighurs to Albania, without notifying their attorneys. Today, four of them reside there in a kind of permanent limbo, unable to reconstitute their families or to work, while the fifth is seeking asylum in Sweden.

Until Communist China recognizes Uighurs' democratic freedoms, U.S. resettlement is a far better solution. Uighurs constitute perhaps the most pro-American and pro-Western Muslims in the world. In the early 20th century, the Uighurs' homeland of East Turkistan was the first secular and democratic republic in the Muslim world, outside of Turkey. The Uighurs want to re-establish this republic, complete with guarantees of religious freedom and peaceful enjoyment of their human rights. Many Uighurs fully agree when America professes the need to end tyranny in the world. They maintain that democracy and respect for human rights is the best defense against terrorism.

Americans, the most welcoming of people, certainly have a right to ask why they should welcome the Guantánamo Uighurs. Many probably don't realize that they are already living amongst Uighur-Americans. Uighurs have fled Chinese communist persecution since 1950s. Most of us were granted asylum by the U.S. government and are now contributing members of American society as scientists, professors and doctors, among other professions. Uighurs have one of the highest percentages of asylum approval in the U.S.

Opening America's doors to the Uighurs would be a constructive step toward regaining the respect of American allies who have been critical of the Bush administration's detention policies. Remember: Uighurs remain in Guantánamo not for the danger they pose to the U.S., but for the danger China poses to them. According to media accounts, American diplomats have reached out to over 100 countries to seek resettlement for the Uighurs. But these efforts have largely failed. A number of countries have reportedly been threatened with economic and political repercussions by China, should they accept any of the Guantánamo Uighurs.

China's reaction to a U.S. resettlement of Uighurs would be fiercely negative. But the U.S. can explain that it is acting in accordance with the rule of law. Further, none have been judged to a threat to the U.S. If the U.S. resettled the 17 Guantánamo Uighurs, the over 10 million Uighurs inside China would learn of this decision via America's Radio Free Asia broadcasts -- as they have learned of so many others of American efforts to promote human rights inside China. They would understand that American society will not assist China in crushing the Uighurs and their secular democratic aspirations.

Mr. Turkel is a lawyer and former president of the Uyghur American Association.

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