Srinagar: Amid media attention on the plight of three Uyghur siblings arrested at the Indo-China border in 2013, Jammu & Kashmir’s bureaucratic administration has shifted them to a Haryana prison even though they are not acclimatised to hot weather conditions. This, despite the brothers’ request to be sent to a colder place while they were lodged in Jammu’s Central jail.
They have been in detention under the Public Safety Act (PSA) for the past eight years after they completed their one-and-a-half-year sentence in 2015.
Shifted to Haryana
J&K’s prison authorities on June 24 shifted Adil, Abdul Khaliq and Salamu, natives of the Kargiliq area of Xinjiang province of China, to Haryana’s Karnal. “I came to know that they were removed from Central Jail Jammu on Saturday and were shifted to Haryana. I don’t know whether they have reached the jail safely,” said Muhammad Shafi Lassu, a lawyer and human rights activist fighting to seek their release.
They were shifted to Haryana after the J&K home department on May 30, 2023 ordered their removal from the Central jail in Jammu.
On June 20, the home department ordered their detention under the PSA for a period to be decided by an advisory board or till their deportation to their native country. Since 2015, the authorities have kept issuing fresh orders against them every six months to keep them in detention under the PSA, which has been termed a “lawless law” by Amnesty International. The latest detention order was set to expire on June 24, 2023.
Lassu said that the government’s decision to shift them to Haryana is grave injustice to the siblings. “When they were lodged in Central jail Jammu, I had written to J&K home department to shift them to colder places like Ladakh or Kashmir as they were not acclimatised to hot weather conditions prevailing in summers in Jammu,” he said.
US-based Uyghur lawyer and human rights advocate Rayhan Asat told The Wire that shifting them to Haryana was a “heartless act” and “exposed the government’s lack of compassion”. “Three young men have been subjected to nearly a decade of wrongful imprisonment in what is a total miscarriage of injustice. When these boys demanded livable conditions and requested to be moved from their overcrowded prison that was made even more intolerable by the scorching summer conditions, the Indian government callously relocated them to a city besieged by relentless heat waves,” she said.
“I fervently implore the Indian authorities to promptly and unconditionally release these innocent boys and provide them with the compensation they so rightfully deserve after enduring ten years of wrongful incarceration,” said Rahyan, who is a fellow with the Atlantic Council.
They have been shifted to Haryana at a time when their plight has caught the attention of rights bodies and the Uyghur diaspora in Western countries after news reports of their ordeal appeared in media outlets like the Berlin-based Fair Planet, Al-Jazeera and Radio Free Asia (RFA).
Authorities of the J&K prison department refused to comment on the matter.
“I have been on leave for the past 10 days and cannot say anything about it,” said Veerinder Kumar Bhat, Superintendent of Central Jail, Kotbhalwal, Jammu.
J&K’s principal secretary, home department, Raj Kumar Goyal didn’t respond to repeated calls from this reporter.
An official of the Haryana prison department, wishing not to be named, confirmed that they have been lodged in Karnal jail.
Arrest, trial and asylum plea
Adil, Abdul Khaliq and Salamu – then aged 23, 22 and 20 respectively – were detained by the Army near Sultan Chusku glacier in Ladakh’s Leh district on June 12, 2013. The next day, the Army handed them over to the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), which interrogated them for more than two months before handing them over to the local police.
Later, the police presented a chargesheet against them in a court in Nobra, Ladakh.
On July 17, 2014, the court sentenced them to one-and-a-half years in prison for entering India without valid travel documents and possession of knives at the time of the arrest.
After completing their sentence in 2015, the trio was immediately booked under the PSA – which is also used to keep foreigners behind bars till their repatriation.
In February 2016, the brothers petitioned the Union home ministry (MHA) to grant them asylum in India, citing China’s atrocities against the Uyghurs. Turning down their plea, the home ministry decided to repatriate them to China and asked the J&K government to complete the required formalities.
“This has reference to the Superintendent, District Jail, Leh Ladakh’s letter NO. ESSST/DJL/2016/ 1780, dated 29-2-2016 on the subject cited above. The matter has been considered by this ministry and it has been decided to deport/ repatriate three Chinese nationals Adil/ Abdul Khaliq and Abdul Salam sons of Thursum R/0 Xinjiang, China (Uighur) presently lodged in district Jail Leh to their native country,” read the MHA’s communique to the J&K government in 2016.
“You are therefore requested to complete the deportation process of the above China (Uighur) nationals in consultation with Ministry of External Affairs (South East Asia division) for issuance of travel documents for deportation to their native country at the earliest provided that there is no pending court case against them and they are not required in any other case,” the letter adds.
However, the trio approached the J&K high court against their repatriation to China, and the matter is still being heard in court.
India’s refugee policy and stance on Xinjiang
India doesn’t have a refugee law or policy, which allows the authorities to deal with refugees arbitrarily.
Despite its strained relations with China, India prefers to remain silent on the human rights situation prevailing in China’s Xinjiang province.
Ladakh, which was part of the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir till October 30, 2019, shares a border with Xinjiang.
In 1949, top Uyghur leader, Isa Yusuf Alptekin along with a few hundred Uyghurs arrived in Kashmir to seek asylum after Beijing occupied East Turkestan (Xinjiang). They lived in Kashmir for five years until their departure to Turkey.