KUALA LUMPUR: Eleven Uighur Muslims who escaped to Malaysia from a Thai prison last year were charged in the Magistrate’s Court today with entering the country illegally.
They pleaded not guilty to the charge under Section 6(1)(c) of the Immigration Act.
Zakaria Arman, Salehudin Ali, Jaefar Amin, Osman Abbas, Alin Osman, Asen Ziyali, Taher Kasim, Ibrahim Rexiti, Nurudin Muhammad, Abdul Kader, and Yusuf Ahmed are believed to be between 20 and 40 years old.
If found guilty, they face a maximum fine of RM10,000 or five years’ jail, or both.
Their pleas were recorded for the first time in court after the charges were read to them by a Turkish interpreter.
Their case was previously postponed twice as the court was unable to engage a Turkish interpreter.
Magistrate Zuhair Rosli did not grant bail. The case will be mentioned again on May 31.
The 11 men were represented by lawyer Fahmi Abd Moin while deputy public prosecutor Najwa Bistaman appeared for the prosecution.
It was reported in February that the 11 men had escaped from a Thai prison by digging holes in the wall and using blankets to lower themselves down.
They apparently crossed the border into Malaysia and were subsequently arrested by the authorities.
The 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.
The move sparked international condemnation, including from rights groups which feared they could face torture in China.
The US government has also raised concerns on the possible deportation of the 11 men.
The Chinese government reportedly implemented stricter regulations on religion beginning this year, as part of broader efforts to put religious practices directly under the state.
Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was reported as saying in February that Malaysia had received an official request from the Chinese government to extradite the 11 men to China.