Human Rights Watch Friday called on the Chinese government to reveal the fates of 20 ethnic Uighur asylum seekers who were forcefully deported from Cambodia to China in December.
The 20 Uighurs, including two young children, were arrested and put on a plane to China on Dec 19 while the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was in the process of assessing their applications for refugee status. Their forced repatriation raised international condemnation of Cambodia.
“Uighur asylum seekers sent back to China by Cambodia have disappeared into a black hole,” Sophie Richardson, the Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
“There is no information about their whereabouts, no notification of any legal charges against them and there are no guarantees they are safe from torture and ill-treatment,” Ms Richardson said.
The refugees had fled Urumqi in China where deadly riots between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese arose in July 2009, events that Rights Watch say have lead to the widespread arrests and then sentencing to death of 14 people, both Uighur and Han.
“China’s record of torture, disappearance, and arbitrary detention of Uighurs, as well as the politicized nature of judicial proceedings in past cases of forced repatriation, raise serious concerns that these individuals are currently at risk of torture and ill-treatment,” according to the statement.
“The Chinese government should immediately make a public statement about the whereabouts and status of the Uighurs repatriated from Cambodia.”
Qian Hai, spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh, said he was unaware of the details of what has happened to the Uighurs.
“They are in China. We handled the Uighurs according to Chinese law,” he said, declining to comment on the statement by Rights Watch.
Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the Cambodian government has not inquired about the Uighurs since deporting them.
“It is not the business of the Cambodian government to do so,” he said.
“When the Cambodian government sent them back to China, the Cambodian government was implementing immigration law, so when they arrived in China it is China’s affair.”