BANGKOK (AlertNet) – Malaysia should immediately ensure that five Chinese citizens of Uighur ethnicity among at least 16 arrested in raids earlier this month are not forcibly returned to China, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday.
The group also urged the Chinese government to account for the whereabouts of at least 11 Uighurs who already have been removed from Malaysia, including a man married to a Malaysian citizen.
Such forced returns violate international law, HRW said in a statement.
Even if countries are not party to the Refugee Convention like Malaysia, refoulement, the expulsion of persons who have the right to be recognised as refugees to countries in which they might be subject to persecution, still applies.
HRW said China’s record of torture, disappearance, and arbitrary detention of Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority, puts these people at grave risk of torture if they are returned to China.
“The treatment of these Uighurs is a litmus test for Malaysia’s commitment to basic principles of refugee protection,” Bill Frelick, HRW’s refugee policy director, said.
“The Malaysian government should have immediately granted (the United Nations refugee agency) UNHCR access to the Uighurs to determine their protection needs, especially since Uighurs are known to be vulnerable to abuse in China.”
Malaysia is not alone in sending the Uighurs back to China.
Thailand, Pakistan and Cambodia have also handed them over to Chinese government officials despite outcry from rights groups and in Cambodia, despite the Uighurs being under the protection of the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.
Their whereabouts remain unknown.
Uighurs fled China after the Chinese government crackdown that followed inter-ethnic clashes in Xinjiang in July 2009.
“A recent wave of Uighur forced returns shows the bullying hand of China,” said Frelick. “Malaysia, Thailand, Pakistan, and all other countries, particularly in the region, should stand together to resist this pressure.”