Bulgaria must not expel Uighurs: European rights court

A woman takes part in a pro-Uighur rally in Brussels, the de facto capital of the European Union, Belgium. (AFP)
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Updated 20 February 2020

Bulgaria must not expel Uighurs: European rights court

  • The court was ruling in an application by five Muslims who fled China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) under accusations of ‘terrorism’ links
  • Bulgaria refused their asylum applications, saying they had failed to show they had to leave China because of ethnic or religious persecution

STRASBOURG, France: The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) warned Bulgaria on Thursday that expelling asylum-seeking members of China’s Muslim Uighur community “would constitute a violation” of their rights.
Back in China, the Uighurs could be “at risk of arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and death,” the court said in its ruling, telling Bulgaria “not to remove the applicants.”
Sending them back to China, or to another country without guarantees that their rights would be protected, would violate articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights — the right to life and the right not to be tortured.
The court was ruling in an application by five Muslims who fled China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) under accusations of “terrorism” links. They arrived in Turkey between 2013 and 2015, and made their way to Bulgaria in July 2017, albeit illegally.
Bulgaria refused their asylum applications, saying they had failed to show they had to leave China because of ethnic or religious persecution, or that they would face any if they returned.
They were also considered a security threat for allegedly having undergone training for the separatist East Turkistan Islamic Movement, listed as a “terrorist” group by the United Nations.
Bulgarian authorities were preparing to expel the five people when they appealed to the ECHR.
The court ruled in January 2018 that Bulgaria should not remove the applicants while the case was pending.
“The relevant information on the current situation in the XUAR showed that the Chinese authorities had proceeded with the detention of hundreds of thousands or even millions of Uighurs in ‘re-education camps’, where instances of ill-treatment, torture and death of the detainees had been reported,” the court said Thursday.
“That had been the case of many Uighurs who had returned to China after leaving the country or who had been forcibly repatriated,” it said.
Given the general situation and the applicants’ individual circumstances, “there were substantial grounds for believing that they would be at real risk of arbitrary detention and imprisonment, as well as ill-treatment and even death, if they were removed to their country of origin,” it added.
There were also no guarantees that, in sending them to a third country, Bulgaria would “properly examine whether they would in turn be sent from there to China without due consideration for the risk of ill?treatment and even death.”
Two of the five Uighurs have since left Bulgaria on their own accord, and the ruling does not apply to them.


UK business minister’s illness stirs virtual parliament debate

Updated 1 min 36 sec ago

UK business minister’s illness stirs virtual parliament debate

LONDON: Britain’s business secretary was tested for the coronavirus Thursday and went into self-isolation after sweating through a speech in parliament that reinvigorated a debate on whether lawmakers were ending virtual sessions prematurely.
UK politicians have been fighting for days over Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to end remote video conference sessions that began when the virus was still spreading fast in April.
Johnson is trying to coax frightened Britons to start taking their children back to school and resume some semblance of the old way of life because the virus — after officially claiming more than 40,000 lives — is now slowly fading.
But his efforts to get lawmakers back into the House of Commons have run into problems.
Many complained bitterly after having to stand in a long queue that twisted through the halls of parliament in order to take a socially distant vote on Tuesday.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma’s shaky appearance on Wednesday only added to their concern.
The 52-year-old mopped his forehead with a handkerchief and rubbed his face several times while trying to finish a speech at the podium.
Several alarmed lawmakers later noted they had stood in the queue next to him during Tuesday’s vote.
Sharma’s spokeswoman said the minister was “feeling unwell” but did not specify if he had the virus.
“In line with guidance he has been tested for coronavirus and is returning home to self-isolate,” she said.
The House of Commons said a deep cleaning of the chamber has been performed as a precaution.
The main opposition Labour party’s business spokesman Toby Perkins said it was “ridiculous” for Sharma to show up to work sick.
“It was the height of irresponsibility for him to be in parliament sniffling, sweating and snorting from the despatch box,” he added.
Labour’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Lisa Nandy said “reckless doesn’t even begin to describe” the government’s decision to end virtual parliament hearings.
Lawmakers will vote later Thursday on whether to allow those in the high-risk category or aged 70 and over to vote by proxy.
But government minister Brandon Lewis denied that Sharma’s illness supported the opposition’s case for homeworking parliament sessions.
“It is important for parliamentarians to be able to properly scrutinize legislation,” Lewis told the BBC.
A poll by YouGov showed that just 12 percent of UK respondents thought lawmakers should have to vote in person during the health crisis.