Diplomatic Memos Reveal Chinese Effort to Block Guantanamo Prisoner's Asylum Bid

Article excerpt

Newly revealed documents provide a rare glimpse at the diplomatic pressure used by China in its unsuccessful efforts to stop the Swedish government from granting asylum to a Uighur prisoner released from the Guantanamo prison.

Resettling the remaining 17 Uighur prisoners is widely viewed as a critical milestone in the Obama administration's plan to close the prison camp. If Sweden's example is any indication, the imprisoned Uighurs present a foreign-policy Gordian knot.

The men are members of a largely Muslim minority in western China. They have been ruled innocent, but are considered terrorists at home. And while they are among the 30 of Guantanamo's 241 remaining prisoners who have been cleared for release, they remain behind bars.

The formerly classified Swedish government documents show how foreign-policy concerns could be contributing to their ongoing detention. Given China's rising economic and political clout, much could be at stake for countries who agree to offer homes.

The memos from the Swedish Foreign Office note how China viewed it as " 'impossible to understand' that Swedish authorities had given a visa for this terrorist," and how "very 'unsatisfied' " China was that Sweden's Migration Court had granted Adil Hakimjan protection.

The memos detail contacts between the Chinese Embassy and Sweden's Foreign Office, and highlight escalating Chinese pressure involving the potentially precedent setting case of Mr. Hakimjan, a Uighur merchant. Hakimjan's Stockholm attorney, Sten De Geer, recently obtained the documents under Swedish freedom of information law.

China's impatience with Hakimjan's asylum bid was obvious in the memos. "The Chinese Embassy in Stockholm has, a number of times, contacted the [Swedish] Foreign Office, both in this case and also referring to the more general question if Sweden is going to receive any Uighurs when the camp at Guantanamo is going to be closed," wrote the Foreign Office's China desk director in one of the documents.

Hakimjan, who was captured by a bounty hunter in Pakistan in 2001, was released from Guantanamo in 2006 and now lives in Sweden. A court there upheld his bid for political asylum in April.

Germany is now considering a US request that it accept nine of Guantanamo's Uighurs. Seven others are being considered for resettlement in the US.

China wants Uighurs returned for trial

Although the Uighurs have been cleared of wrongdoing, China views them as domestic terrorists and wants to see them returned for trial.

Following Albania's acceptance of five Guantanamo Uighurs in 2006, Albania suffered " 'a big diplomatic and economic hit,' " according to a Pentagon official quoted in a Feb. 18 Los Angeles Times story. The Times's Pentagon source added that "no one wants to do that again."

China denies that it unduly pressured the Swedes. "Saying so- called Chinese pressure is a block on the closure of Guantanamo Bay is ridiculous," Zhou Lulu, press officer for China's Stockholm embassy, said in an interview. "As we said, the Uighur terrorist suspects should be returned to China for a fair trial, but not sheltered for further terrorist activity, nor detained without trial - that is an international obligation for all countries."

Addressing the Chinese position, Amnesty International spokeswoman Sharon Singh observed that "since the Uighurs have been persecuted in the past, it's a bit dubious that the Chinese would hold fair trials for these men."

According to the documents, China repeatedly branded Hakimjan and the other Guantanamo Uighurs as "terrorists." Two of the memoranda, dated from February, detailed China's requests that information it provided on Hakimjan be turned over to Sweden's Justice Department, which was stated as done.

Subsequently, in late April, Swedish courts ultimately upheld Hakimjan's bid for political asylum. …