Four Uyghur Muslims convicted in 2015 of terror-related offenses in Indonesia were deported last month after the Chinese government paid the fines imposed on them, two counter-terrorism experts told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, on Friday.
When asked where they had been sent, both experts confirmed that the four men were deported to China, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a network of internment camps as part of an extralegel campaign of incarceration that began in early 2017.
"They were deported in September and the fines were paid by the Chinese government," Deka Anwar, a researcher at the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), told BenarNews.
The four - Ahmet Mahmud, Altinci Bayram, Ahmet Bozoglan ,and Abdul Basit Tuzer - were sentenced to six years in prison and were fined 100 million rupiah (U.S. $6,812) by a Jakarta court after being found guilty of entering the country by using fake passports and for attempting to join the Islamic State-affiliated Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT) militant group.
Muhammad Taufiqurrohman, a senior researcher at the Center for Radicalism and Deradicalization Studies (PAKAR), said that the four men were repatriated to China after immigration officers transported them to a detention center from Nusa Kambangan, an island-prison complex off Java, on Sept. 17.
"Immigration officers came to Nusa Kambangan with a letter to pick them up, saying they were to be transferred to an immigration detention center," Taufiqurrohman told BenarNews. He also confirmed the information that Chinese authorities had paid the Uyghur men's fines.
On Friday, BenarNews contacted the Chinese embassy in Jakarta for comment on the four men's deportation, but officials there did not immediately respond.
The spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Teuku Faizasyah, said he had no information on the matter and asked BenarNews to contact the Ministry of Law and Human Rights.
Reinhard Silitonga, the director general of corrections at the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, told BenarNews he couldn't confirm whether the four men had been deported.
And officials at the immigration department could not be reached immediately to confirm that the Uyghurs had been expelled.
PAKAR's Taufiqurrohman said Indonesia carried out the deportation of the four men in secret because many in the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation criticize China's alleged mistreatment of the Uyghurs, who mostly live in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in northwestern China.
"The [Indonesian] government would be heavily criticized and be labelled complicit in the Chinese government's oppression of Uyghur Muslims," if the deportation of the four Uyghurs was made public, Taufiqurrohman said.
For more than three years, the Chinese government has allegedly imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs in detention camps and subjected those not detained to intense surveillance, religious restrictions, and forced sterilizations, said a report published in June by the Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S.-based think-tank.
Chinese officials have repeatedly denied these allegations, saying the camps are centers for vocational training and that the thousands of Uyghur Muslims arrested had links to extremism.
BenarNews informed Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International in Indonesia, about Deka's and Taufiqurrohman's assertion that Indonesia had deported the four Uyghurs who had been in prison on terrorism charges.
Usman said the Indonesian government must provide an explanation on the fate of the four Uyghurs.
"The Indonesian government must immediately provide an official statement regarding the truth of the report about the deportation of the four Uyghurs," Usman said.
"Deporting them to a country that could put them at real risk of human rights violations is illegal under international law. We understand that the pandemic situation poses challenges to the government, but deporting foreigners who are at risk of being subjected to human rights violations is not a solution."
Four years ago, Indonesia had turned down a request from the Chinese government to exchange a fugitive Indonesian banker captured in China for the four Uyghur prisoners serving terrorism-related sentences.
Indonesia told China that a prisoner swap wasn't possible because the charges against the four Uyghurs were different from those against the Indonesia banker.
Back then, an Indonesian official who requested anonymity said Indonesia would face international pressure if the country agreed to deport the Uyghur prisoners to China.
"Giving Uyghurs back to China is the same as killing them. Most probably, the Chinese government will execute them instantly," the official told BenarNews in April 2019.
In the years since, the Indonesian government has faced criticism at home and abroad for its silence on the alleged mistreatment of Uyghurs in XUAR.
"Indonesia - which has played a positive role in the Rohingya refugee crisis - has shown its commitment to promoting rights elsewhere in the region. It should do no less for China's Muslims," Human Rights Watch said in January.
Last December, thousands of people took to the streets in Indonesia and Malaysia to protest China's treatment of the Muslim minority community.
"The Indonesian government must not remain silent about the suffering there, because according to our constitution, occupation and oppression must be abolished," a 48-year-old protester told BenarNews during a demonstration outside the Chinese embassy in Jakarta.
Days before the protest, Moeldoko, President Joko Widodo's chief of staff, said Indonesia would not interfere in Chinese domestic affairs when asked why the government was not more vocal about the Uyghur issue.
"Each country has its own sovereignty to regulate its citizens. The Indonesian government won't interfere in the domestic affairs of China." Moeldoko said.
His comments came after The Wall Street Journal reported that Beijing had launched a "concerted campaign" to convince Indonesia's religious authorities and journalists that the Xinjiang camps were a "well-meaning effort" to provide job training.
Expatriate communities in Turkey, other nations
Thousands of Uyghurs have fled China since their alleged persecution began in 2012, and made their way to Turkey and other countries.
IPAC's Deka said that between 2014 and 2016, at least 13 Uyghurs had entered Indonesia illegally via Malaysia and joined radical groups.
They had left China, via the border with Laos, for Thailand, and then continued their journey to join the thousands of Uyghur asylum seekers in Malaysia, Deka said.
"In Malaysia, they got help to forge documents so they could go to Turkey. However, many of those who made it to Turkey were eventually deported back to Kuala Lumpur. Some of them then crossed to Batam via Johor," said Deka, referring to an Indonesian island near Singapore.
"In Batam, they were picked up by members of the Bahrun Naim network," he added, referring to an Islamic State fighter from Indonesia who died in Syria in 2018.
The four Uyghurs convicted in 2015 came to Indonesia with the intention of joining the militant MIT group and "performing acts of terror," said the judge who led a panel of jurists that convicted the men.
While the Uyghurs' lawyer had argued that they were Turkish citizens vacationing in Indonesia, government lawyers said the men had fake Turkish passports and were en route to meet Indonesia's most wanted terrorist of that time, Santoso, when they were arrested in Central Sulawesi in September 2014.
Santoso was killed by security forces in July 2016.
Deka and Taufiqurrohman said the four Uyghurs were among the last Uyghur militants in Indonesia after others were killed by police and troops hunting for MIT militants in Central Sulawesi.
Six Uyghur men who joined MIT were killed in 2016 during a large security operation in Poso regency.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
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