KUALA LUMPUR: China is using its economic clout to attempt to extradite 11 ethnic Uighur Muslims detained in Malaysia, Asia Times reported.
It seems likely, according to the report, that Putrajaya will eventually comply with China’s extradition requests, as it has in the past.
The 11, among 20 Uighur migrants who escaped a jail in southern Thailand last November, are being held in an immigration detention centre without being charged. They want to be sent to Turkey as they identify themselves as Turkish citizens.
Malaysia is currently in talks with Thai authorities over the fate of the detained Uighurs, though neither party has reached a resolution.
The Asia Times report said Chinese state-owned firms had come to the rescue of 1Malaysia Development Berhad by purchasing two 1MDB-related entities last year, enabling the firm to settle a multimillion-dollar debt to Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Company.
China is Malaysia’s top trading partner and biggest source of foreign direct investment, channeling billions towards Malaysian property development, port and rail infrastructure, pipelines and industrial facilities, and a string of infrastructure projects.
According to the report, many observers see China’s economic largesse as a political life raft for Prime Minister Najib Razak. This meant, it said, Najib was “strongly incentivised to avoid making any political decision that could be deemed as unfavorable by Beijing”.
The report noted that Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had told reporters last year that biometric information provided by Chinese authorities had enabled the arrest of 29 Uighur militants since 2011, all of whom were deported to China. This included six Uighurs sent back to China in 2012, despite their pending refugee status determinations, it added.
It said Zahid had also called for intensifying cooperation with China under the Mutual Legal Assistance framework, which enables both sides to request the deportation of nationals wanted for trans-border offenses.
The report noted several instances of Putrajaya tracking down and deporting opponents of its allies, including three Turkish men suspected of supporting Fethullah Gülen, an exiled preacher blamed by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for a failed 2016 coup attempt, and Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari, in 2012, who was labelled an apostate by Saudi clerics amid accusations he had insulted Prophet Muhammad in a tweet.
Oganisations such as the Malaysian Bar and Human Rights Watch have warned the Malaysia government to tread carefully and keep within the confines of international law, saying the 11 could face risks if sent back.
The Uighur are a Turkic people indigenous to the Xinjiang region of China. Following violent attacks by Uighur separatists, Beijing tightened security in the area.
The report quoted Ahmad Farouk Musa, director of the Islamic Renaissance Front, as saying: “If these Uighurs were simply escaping from the political persecution by the Chinese Communist Party, then they should be protected at any cost, even if it will upset the Chinese, whom the Malaysian government is now indebted to.
“Uighur asylum seekers are entitled to a fair hearing – they must first be proven to be involved in terrorism before the government entertains any deportation request.”
If Putrajaya gave in, Farouk said it would undermine the Malaysian government’s attempts to “posture as a defender of Islam ahead of an election season”.
“They held demonstrations for the Rohingyas and the Palestinians to further their political mileage. Nothing concrete was done on an international level. And their blatant refusal to grant political asylum to the persecuted Uighurs reveals their true colours,” he was quoted as saying.