China has asked Malaysia to deport 11 ethnic Uighur Muslims who were part of a group that escaped from Thailand’s immigration detention center, the Malaysian deputy premier said Saturday.
In the dramatic breakout last November, a group of 25 Uighurs used blankets to climb out of their cells in a daring pre-dawn escape from their cell in southern Thailand.
Southern Thailand and Malaysia share a common border which is easily penetrable.
It is the first time Kuala Lumpur has confirmed that detained the escaped Uighurs after human rights groups and the United States urged the predominantly Muslim Southeast Asia country against sending the Uighurs back to China.
The Uighurs are a Muslim minority that faces repression in western China.
Deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is also the minister for internal security, said China, a close economic and political ally of Malaysia has made request for the 11 Uighurs.
“We have received an official request from China to extradite the 11 Uighurs,” he was quoted as saying by the official Bernama news agency in the southern Johor state.
“Our principle is that if a country requests that their people be extradited, we (will consider it) based on the extradition agreement,” he added.
Ahmad Zahid said Malaysia will consider China’s request upon completion of police investigations into the 11 Uighurs if they were involved in terror activities.
On Friday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Malaysia not to deport the 11 Uighurs.
“Uighurs forcibly returned to China face credible threats of imprisonment and torture, so it’s critical that Malaysia does not forcibly expel to China anyone the Chinese claim is a Uighur,” HRW Asia director Brad Adams said in a statement.
In 2017, Malaysia said it had deported 29 Uighurs suspected to be involved with Islamic militants.
Two years earlier Thailand deported more than 100 Uighurs back to China sparking an outcry.