International

US releases last of Uyghur prisoners from Guantanamo

Authorities determined detainees had no involvement with armed groups

An abandoned camp and tower at the US Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on Aug. 8, 2013.
CHANTAL VALERY/AFP/Getty Images

The government of Slovakia has taken three more prisoners from Guantanamo, putting the United States closer to its goal of shutting the prison on the base in Cuba where the prison population to now 155.

The facility has held 779 prisoners in little over a decade since the first detainees arrived, international advocacy group Human Rights First estimated earlier this year.  

U.S. military officials said Wednesday that the three prisoners — Yusef Abbas, Saidullah Khalik, and Hajiakbar Abdul Ghuper — are the last of nearly two dozen members of an ethnic Muslim group from China known as Uyghurs, who were detained at Guantanamo as suspected allies of the Taliban.

The U.S. later determined they had no involvement with armed groups, and a U.S. judge ordered their release in 2008.

The Uyghurs occupy an unfortunate position in Chinese-U.S. relations. In little over a decade since former-President George W. Bush inaugurated his controversial global "War on Terror," Beijing has accused Uyghur rioters of being part of a number of armed separatist groups. 

Uyghur rights advocates and Chinese affairs analysts have questioned the existence of these groups, saying that Beijing hopes to capitalize on the international movement against armed groups to brutally pacify Uyghurs in the country's strategically important far Western region of Xinjiang.

Rights groups have said China overplays the threat that Uighurs pose to justify its tight control of energy-rich Xinjiang, which strategically borders India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. In September, Chinese President Xi Jinping signed a number of major energy deals with Kyrgyzstan. In one of them, roughly half of $3 billion in expenditures were earmarked for constructing a pipeline to pump Kyrgyz oil to Xinjiang.

Beijing-based Uyghur rights advocate Ilham Tohti told Al Jazeera in August that by cracking down on religious freedom and through a series of killings of alleged "terrorists" this year, the Chinese government hopes to silence Uyghurs, securing its investments.  

This meant that U.S. could not send them back to China because of concerns they might face persecution and torture there, and few other countries were willing to accept them.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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