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Govt frees 11 Uighurs, defying Beijing handover request

  • Demonstrators burning a Chinese flag protesting China's treatment of ethnic Uighur Muslims in front of the Chinese consulate in Istanbul.

Kuala Lumpur (AFP) -- Malaysia has freed 11 ethnic Uighur Muslims who escaped from immigration detention in Thailand, their lawyer said Friday, ignoring a request from Beijing to deport the group to China.

In the dramatic breakout last November, 25 members of the persecuted minority used blankets to climb out of their cells in a daring pre-dawn escape from immigration detention in southern Thailand.

Eleven of them, all men, escaped overland to Malaysia where they were caught and charged with illegal entry.

The group were freed and flew to Turkey on Tuesday, their lawyer Fahmi Abdul Moin told AFP.

"Prosecutors decided to drop all charges on humanitarian grounds," he said.

The decision was made after lawyers wrote to the Attorney-General urging that the charges be withdrawn, Fahmi added.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) welcomed the group's release.

"These 11 men faced detention, torture or worse if they were returned to China," HRW deputy director for Asia Phil Robertson said.

China had asked the previous Barisan Nasional government to repatriate the group in February, but new Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has taken a more independent stand with Beijing.

Last year, Najib's government deported 29 Uighurs it said were involved with Islamic militants.

Uighurs are persecuted in western China, where they are subject to strict regulations suppressing public displays of religion.

Over a million Uighur and other Muslim minority people have been detained in re-education camps for offences as minor as making contact with family members outside the country or sharing Islamic holiday greetings on social media, the UN says.

Beijing has denied reports of the camps but evidence is mounting in the form of government documents and testimonies from former detainees.

A scathing US congressional report released this month accused China of the unprecedented repression of its ethnic minorities, including Uighurs, with authoritarian tactics potentially constituting "crimes against humanity".



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