Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Mahathir puts Uighur rights above China ties

Malaysian leader's move to send ethnic Uighur Muslim detainees to Turkey defied a Chinese extradition request and threatens to roil already strained bilateral relations

China and Malaysia’s relations are set for a new test after the Muslim-majority country freed 11 ethnic Uighur Muslim detainees it held on humanitarian grounds, ignoring a months-old request from Beijing for their repatriation on security grounds. The detainees had been charged with illegally entering Malaysia after escaping a jail in Thailand last November.

Malaysian prosecutors dropped charges against the Uighurs, a Turkic language-speaking Muslim ethnic minority indigenous to China’s western Xinjiang province. Last week they were allowed to travel to Turkey, where thousands have fled to seek asylum from Chinese persecution and are welcomed by Turkish nationalists who regard them as kin.

The Uighur detainees had been imprisoned in Thailand since 2014 and were ordered to remain in custody until their nationalities could be proven, a situation complicated by the fact that both China and Turkey claim them as their citizens. Twenty prisoners staged a jailbreak last year using blankets to scale barbed-wire fences, with some crossing into neighboring Malaysia.

“They have done nothing wrong in this country, so they are released,” Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told reporters in his first public comments on the issue since charges against the Uighur detainees were withdrawn. A statement by China’s Foreign Ministry, however, took a hard diplomatic line against the decision.

Read the full story at 
Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.