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Malaysia defies China's demands and releases Uighur

The Uighur men faced an uncertain future if they were returned to China [AFP]

Date of publication: 12 October, 2018

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Malaysia has freed 11 ethnic Uighur Muslims, after ignoring demands from China to deport the group.
Malaysia has defied China's demands to handover 11 Uighur Muslims, by releasing the group following their dramatic escape from a detention centre in Thailand.

Beijing had demanded the men be deported back to China.

The group, from China's persecuted Muslim minority, were being held at an immigration detention centre in southern Thailand, before they escaped in November, using blankets to climb out of their cells.

They then crossed over the border by land to Malaysia, where they were caught and charged with illegal entry.

Southern Thailand and Malaysia share a common border, which is easily penetrable.

The group were freed and flew to Turkey on Tuesday, their lawyer Fahmi Abdul Moin told AFP.

"Prosecutors decided to drop all charges on humanitarian grounds," he said.

Read also: Explainer: China's persecution of Uighur Muslims

Their lawyers wrote to the Malaysian attorney general urging that the charges be withdrawn, Fahmi added.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) welcomed the group's release.

"These 11 men faced detention, torture or worse if they were returned to China," HRW deputy director for Asia Phil Robertson said.

In February, China called on Malaysia's previous government to repatriate the group, but new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has taken a more independent stand with Beijing than his predecessor Najib Razak.

He has cancelled more than $20 billion worth of mega-infrastructure projects backed by Chinese firms, including rail and gas pipelines.

Najib's government last year deported to China 29 Uighurs it said were involved with Islamic militants.

Uighurs are persecuted in western China, where they are subject to strict regulations suppressing public displays of religion.

Over a million Uighur and other Muslim minority people have been detained in re-education camps for offences as minor as making contact with family members outside the country or sharing Islamic holiday greetings on social media, the UN says.

Beijing has denied reports of the camps but evidence is mounting in the form of government documents and testimonies from former detainees.

The US has accused China of the unprecedented repression of its ethnic minorities, including Uighurs, with authoritarian tactics potentially constituting "crimes against humanity".

This includes forcing Uighur state workers to abandon their Muslim practices to prove their loyalty to China and separating children from their families.

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