A family of suspected Uyghur Muslims at the centre of a diplomatic tussle between China and Turkey must remain in detention until their true nationalities are proven, a Thai court ruled today.
The case is being closely monitored because any eventual outcome could have an impact on hundreds of suspected Uighurs held by immigration authorities in Thailand since last year.
Those detained have said they are from Turkey and want to return there.
But Beijing claims they are Uighurs from its restive northwest region of Xinjiang and is seeking their repatriation, something human rights groups say could leave them open to abuse.
Uyghurs, who number around 10 million in Xinjiang, are a Turkic-speaking ethnic minority who have long chafed under Chinese control.
The family at the centre of the case, who use the surname Teklimakan, were detained by Thai police in March 2014 after illegally entering the country along its eastern border with Cambodia.
Lawyers had been seeking their release from detention.
But a court in Bangkok rejected that request today, saying the authorities needed “to wait for national identification documents from the two countries (China and Turkey)”.
“Now it’s up to the (Thai) government to decide which country they will be sent to”, the family’s lawyer Worasit Piriyawiboon said.
He expressed relief that the group would not be returned to China for the meantime at least.
Responding to pressure from Beijing, countries including Cambodia, Malaysia and Pakistan have all in recent years forcibly returned fleeing Uyghur to China.
Chinese officials have taken a close interest in the Thai case, attending earlier hearings but declining to speak to reporters.
Attending a hearing earlier this week Ahmet Idem Akay, first counsellor for the Turkish embassy, said that the Teklimakan family were Turkish citizens.
“For us this is a humanitarian issue,” he said.
The same day a senior police officer told reporters that members of Thailand’s National Security Council were due to travel to China this week to discuss the “sensitive issue” after an earlier trip to Turkey. – AFP, March 27, 2015.