China is repeating calls for 17 Uighurs in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to be repatriated to China. The Uighurs are from a Muslim minority group that
lives in far northwestern China. U.S. authorities have cleared them of being enemy combatants, but they are now embroiled in a dispute over where to send them once they are released. Stephanie Ho reports from Beijing.
U.S. authorities picked up the Uighurs in Afghanistan and Pakistan more than seven years ago, along with other suspected terrorists.
Now, the 17 Uighurs have been cleared of being enemy combatants and U.S. authorities want to free them. But the sticking point is where they should go once they are released.
In 2006, U.S. authorities released five Uighurs from Guantanamo and sent them to Albania.
Now, though, the Bush administration has been having a harder time finding a third country to accept the Chinese Muslims. The White House fears the detainees could be tortured if they are turned over to China.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said fears of persecution are not valid.
Qin says people who worry that the Uighurs will be tortured if returned to China have a "biased mind." He says China is a country ruled by law, and that Chinese law forbids torture.
At the same time, Qin said China considers the 17 men
members of a U.N. and U.S.-recognized terrorist
organization known at the East Turkestan Islamic
Qin says as such, these people should be brought to
justice. He says he hopes the United States will, "honor its obligations and fulfill its anti-terrorism commitment," by repatriating the Uighurs to China.
A U.S. federal appeals court Wednesday temporarily blocked a judge's decision to immediately free the Chinese Muslims into the United States. The emergency stay was issued at the request of the Bush Administration, and orders at least another week to give the U.S. government more time to make arguments in the case.
The appeals court move comes one day after a U.S. district judge ordered the government to free the detainees by Friday, since they were found not to be threats to the United States.
The Uighurs are a Muslim minority that live in the far western Chinese region known as Xinjiang. Beijing has cracked down on what it says are violent separatists in Xinjiang, which has led Uighurs to charge severe repression.
The Uighur case is among dozens of Guantanamo cases currently being reviewed by federal judges after the Supreme Court ruled in June that foreign detainees at Guantanamo have the right to appeal to U.S. civilian courts to challenge their imprisonment.