Defying China: Malaysia’s Mahathir Says Uyghurs Released Because They Did Nothing Wrong

By Reuters
October 15, 2018 Updated: October 15, 2018

KUALA LUMPUR—Malaysia freed 11 ethnic Uyghur Muslims who fled to the Southeast Asian nation after a Thai jailbreak last year because they did nothing wrong there, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Oct. 15

Reuters, citing the men’s lawyer, reported last week that Malaysia had released the 11 from detention and sent them to Turkey, disregarding China’s request to hand them to Beijing.

“They have done nothing wrong in this country, so they are released,” Mahathir said in brief comments to reporters in parliament, the first from the Malaysian government since their release.

Malaysia’s move was likely to strain ties with China, which already have been tested since Mahathir won a stunning election victory in May and canceled more than $20 billion worth of projects awarded to Chinese companies.

China, which had asked for their extradition, said Oct. 12 that it “resolutely” opposed Malaysia’s decision to release the 11 Uyghurs and send them to Turkey.

Prosecutors in Muslim-majority Malaysia dropped charges against the Uyghurs on humanitarian grounds, their lawyer said.

The men were detained and charged with illegally entering Malaysia after November’s daring prison break, during which they punched holes in a prison wall and used blankets as ladders.

Reuters reported in February that Malaysia was under great pressure from China to send the men there. Some Western missions sought to dissuade Kuala Lumpur from sending them to China, which has been accused of persecuting Uyghurs.

The Chinese regime has used the excuse of potential Islamic threats, “extremism,” and ethnic riots to crack down on the Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang region.

China is believed to be holding up to one million ethnic Uyghurs, the United Nations human-rights panel said in August. Uyghurs and other Muslims are held in concentration camp-like facilities, known as “re-education” centers, are forbidden from using Islamic greetings, must learn Mandarin Chinese, and also sing propaganda songs, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.

U.S. lawmakers proposed legislation on Oct. 10 that urged President Donald Trump to condemn “gross violations” of human rights and to press for closure of the “re-education camps” in Xinjiang. The proposal would place sanctions on China that include banning sales of U.S.-made goods or services to Xinjiang state agents and the barring of certain Chinese entities—including the Xinjiang police bureau—from purchasing U.S.-made equipment that might be used for surveillance.

Xinjiang has been transformed into a vast security state, packed with police stations, street cameras, and security checkpoints at which electronic identity cards are scanned.

Over the years, hundreds, possibly thousands, of Uyghurs have escaped the unrest by traveling clandestinely via Southeast Asia to Turkey.

93-year-old Mahathir, in his second stint as premier, has been vocal in supporting Muslim communities against persecution.

By Joseph Sipalan. Epoch Times staff Emily O’Neill contributed to this report.