Kazakhstan made conflicting accusations
|Publisher||Radio Free Asia|
|Publication Date||8 June 2011|
|Cite as||Radio Free Asia, Kazakhstan made conflicting accusations, 8 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e0c3b2813.html [accessed 5 March 2015]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Kazakh authorities 'manipulated' a monitoring organization in order to deport a Uyghur refugee.
Authorities in Kazakhstan fed contradicting accounts about the background of a Uyghur refugee to an organization monitoring his safety before deporting him last month to China, where he could be punished, according to a lawyer overseeing the case.
They told the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that Ershidin Israil was a Chinese spy but informed the European Union that he was a terrorist, said Kathy Polias, who was assigned by the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) to prevent his forcible return to China.
"The fact that the Kazakhstan government was telling drastically different stories about Ershidin to two entities at the same time showed clearly that the government was lying and playing games with this man's life," Polias said in a statement to RFA.
The UNHCR stripped him of his refugee status despite being aware of the conflicting versions of Israil's background, paving the way for Kazakhstan to deport him to China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where he is likely to face punishment for exposing torture and death in Chinese prisons, she said.
Israil, a 38-year-old former geography teacher, was initially given refugee status by the UNHCR and accepted for resettlement by Sweden after having fled on foot across the border to Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city, from Xinjiang in July 2009.
Polias said that in February this year, a UNHCR contact told her Kazakh authorities provided the refugee organization with information that Israil was a Chinese government agent sent to Kazakhstan to spy on the Uyghur community there.
At nearly the same time, she said she was informed that Kazakh authorities told the European Union's office in the Kazakh capital Astana that Israil was a terrorist.
"UNHCR was aware of this contradiction in Kazakhstan's claims about Ershidin," she said.
"When UNHCR staff interviews an applicant for mandate refugee status, they watch for inconsistencies in the applicant's stories to determine if he or she is telling the truth. Why doesn't the same rule apply to governments?"
Polias said that the UNHCR was also aware that Chinese authorities tried to arrest Israil in September 2009, immediately after he provided details to RFA of the death in detention of a fellow Uyghur arrested following unrest in Xinjiang that July.
"The timing shows that Ershidin's provision of information to RFA was the reason that the authorities wanted him," she said.
The UNHCR has refused to provide details of Israil's case, citing its policy of confidentiality.
Arrested for terrorism
After nearly a year in UNHCR protection, in June 2010, Israil was arrested on terrorism charges in Almaty following a request from Interpol, Kazakh foreign ministry spokesman Ilyas Omarov was quoted by foreign news agencies as saying.
Omarov said that Kazakh authorities had refused to acknowledge Israil's refugee status, saying that he had allegedly confessed to taking part in a "terrorist act" in July 1997 and citing his "possible complicity in preparing a terrorist act in 2009."
The Kazakh Supreme Court upheld the refusal last month.
Omarov said Israil was "handed over to the Chinese side as requested under the Interpol system" on May 30.
Chinese officials "gave written guarantees that Israel would not be executed" upon his return home, he said.
Polias said Uyghur rights groups were "really worried solely about Kazakhstan and China" as Israil's refugee status came under scrutiny.
"We never imagined that UNHCR would betray Ershidin, a refugee who desperately needed its help. We didn't even think that was possible."
Polias said she was shocked to learn that the UNHCR withdrew Israil's refugee status based on information from the Chinese government, which she called "notorious for lying and falsifying evidence."
"[China] consistently labels Uyghurs who peacefully protest government policies as terrorists, terrorizes and persecutes its own citizens, and repeatedly tries to pressure its neighbors to violate their commitments under refugee law and return political dissidents to China," she said.
"What happened to looking at the source of the evidence in addition to the evidence itself?"
Enver Israil, Ershidin Israil's brother, said that it was only after relocating to Kazakhstan that he learned Chinese authorities were trying to arrest his brother as a terrorist. In Xinjiang, he had only been aware that his brother was wanted for "leaking state secrets" about the death in detention case.
He said he had been surprised when he saw a picture attached to a copy of the documents of his brother with a long beard, which he said his brother had never worn.
"Besides that, when the Kazakh authorities presented the picture to me, they said it was taken when Ershidin was on trial [in China] in 1999," he said.
"Everyone knows that in the Chinese system, no one is allowed to attend a trial with a beard."
Ershidin Israil had previously served a six-year jail sentence in China in 1999 for "acts of separatism."
WUC secretary Dolkun Isa said Israil's case demonstrates the powerful influence China maintains over its western neighbor.
"I think Kazakhstan has tried to discourage Uyghur activists around the world not to assist in Ershidin's case by calling him an agent [of the Chinese], but I don't know why they made such contradictory accusations to the E.U. and the UNHCR," he said.
Alim Seytoff, president of the Uyghur American Association, called on the international community to press China over Israil's case.
"Ershidin has now been sent into the black hole that is China's legal system, where the only thing that is certain is that he will face torture and a lack of due process," Seytoff said in a statement.
"Chinese silence about Ershidin's situation is unacceptable. The world community must insist that China provide answers regarding his current status, or he will simply disappear."
Polias stressed that the UNHCR has much explaining to do over Israil's deportation.
"I am very concerned that there may have been gross irregularities and deficiencies in the way that UNHCR handled Ershidin, and in the name of justice, I respectfully ask the U.N. to conduct an internal probe on the decision to withdraw the status," she said.
"I am very concerned that upon hearing about this decision, Uyghur refugees will lose trust in UNHCR and choose to stay on the run rather than approach UNHCR for help."
Reported and translated by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.