PETALING JAYA: An opposition MP today questioned whether the government was pressured by the Chinese government to send 11 Uighur Muslims, who escaped to Malaysia from a Thai prison, back to their home country.
Klang MP Charles Santiago asked whether the decision to extradite the 11 men to China was influenced by the government’s “close ties with China”.
“Not only Malaysia, other Southeast Asian countries, like Thailand and Cambodia, also seem to behave favourably towards China.
“Is Malaysia ‘kow tow-ing’ to China as its new boss?” he asked when commenting on an extradition request received by Putrajaya from Beijing.
Santiago said the 11 men may be persecuted when they were taken back to China as it was China’s policy to act against religious groups in the country.
Yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told reporters that the government had received China’s official request to extradite the Uighurs.
“Our principle is, if a country requests for their people be extradited, we will consider it based on the extradition agreement, which is also included in the Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) treaty,” he was reported as saying by Bernama.
Meanwhile, human rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) said it was worried for the men’s safety once they were flown back to China.
“The government must not deport these men to China where Uighur Muslims commonly face persecution after being accused of being involved in ‘separatist’ activities.
“Hundreds of other Uighurs who were previously deported from Thailand and Malaysia were imprisoned or not seen again, their whereabouts unknown or unaccounted for,” said LFL executive director Eric Paulsen.
He urged Putrajaya to turn down China’s request to take the men back.
“The Malaysian government must not sacrifice these men in the name of diplomatic expediency.
“Instead, the government must protect their rights to claim asylum, provide them with full recourse and due process of the law, access to legal counsel as well as the UNHCR,” Paulsen said.
It was reported last week that the 11 Uighurs, who escaped from a Thai prison by digging holes in the wall and using blankets last year, had been arrested by the Malaysian authorities.
The 11 men were part of a group of 200 Uighurs arrested in Thailand four years ago.
Members of the group identified themselves as Turkish citizens and asked to be sent to Turkey but more than 100 were forcibly returned to China in July 2015, a move that sparked international condemnation, including from rights groups which feared they could face torture in China.
The Chinese government had last month barred Muslim children from attending religious events in Gansu, northwest China, as well as demolished a church in Shanxi, in northern China.
It was reported that the Chinese government would be implementing stricter regulations on religion from February, as part of a broader effort to put religious practice directly under the state.