In the first interview with one of the six Uighurs recently released from Guantánamo to the Pacific nation of Palau, Radio Free Asia in Washington D.C. spoke by phone to Anwar Hassan, who revealed that, although the men were enjoying their new-found freedom, they were all concerned that they were unable to contact their families. As RFA described it, “Hassan said that strict Chinese government controls on Internet and phone communication with the Uighurs’ homeland following ethnic violence in July have prevented them from doing so.”
“We haven’t been able to talk to our family members yet,” Anwar Hassan said in the telephone interview. “We have stayed eight years in the jail … Our biggest desire on getting out of the jail was to talk to our family members and let them know we are alive and give them some peace of mind,” he said.
He added, “Even though we are free now, in one sense our situation isn’t too different from when we were in jail, as the Chinese government has blocked all communication channels to our homeland. I think this is because the Chinese government does not want the outside world to know what happened in our homeland so they can strike harder against our people. Now, this has become our main concern.”
Three of the recently released Uighurs in the kitchen of their new home in Palau, November 2, 2009 (Photo: Bernadette Carreon, AFP, Getty Images).
RFA explained that Hassan, and the other men who flew to Palau with him — Ahmad Tourson, Abdul Ghappar Abdul Rahman, Edham Mamet, Adel Noori and Dawut Abdurehim — received a warm welcome from the country’s president, Johnson Toribiong. “The president of Palau greeted us and met with us when we got here,” Hassan said. “He is a very easy-going and pleasant man. Everybody here is very good to us.”
However, he also explained that he and his companions “had very mixed feelings on the occasion of their release,” as RFA described it. “We spent eight years of our lives over there for nothing. There was no reason given for that kind of treatment, and even thinking about the experience causes great pain,” he said. “On the other hand,” he added, “when the Chinese government demanded that the US hand us over to them, the American government refused to give us to them, so when we think about that, we are very happy to be here.”
Hassan also explained that Palau “won’t be the final destination for the men, who have been caught up by political forces far beyond their control,” as RFA put it. “We are living here temporarily,” he said. “So our main concern is: where is our next stop? When will it happen? How soon? All of these questions are bothering us right now.”
For Agence France-Presse, Bernadette Carreon visited the men in Koror, the capital of Palau, and reported that they “spent their first day of freedom on Monday shopping.” As they walked around the shops being greeted by the local people, they were accompanied by their translator, Mampimin Ala, who was flown in from Australia to help them adjust. AFP also explained that they had “penciled in a day’s swimming at the spectacular Rock Islands … after revealing that was one of life’s treats they missed most while detained at the US naval base in Cuba.”
George Clarke, one of the lawyers for the men, who traveled to Palau with them, told AFP, “They have not touched the water for eight years,” adding, “They are happy that the Palawan people have accepted them and relieved that they have finally been released from jail,” Gitanjali Gutierrez, another of their US lawyers, said it was “important for them to meet as many locals as possible in the next few days as [they] rebuild their lives in freedom.”
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009, details about my film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
For a sequence of articles dealing with the Uighurs in Guantánamo, see: The Guantánamo whistleblower, a Libyan shopkeeper, some Chinese Muslims and a desperate government (July 2007), Guantánamo’s Uyghurs: Stranded in Albania (October 2007), Former Guantánamo detainee seeks asylum in Sweden (November 2007), A transcript of Sabin Willett’s speech in Stockholm (November 2007), Support for ex-Guantánamo detainee’s Swedish asylum claim (January 2008), A Chinese Muslim’s desperate plea from Guantánamo (March 2008), Former Guantánamo prisoner denied asylum in Sweden (June 2008), Six Years Late, Court Throws Out Guantánamo Case (June 2008), Guantánamo as Alice in Wonderland (July 2008), From Guantánamo to the United States: The Story of the Wrongly Imprisoned Uighurs (October 2008), Guantánamo Uyghurs’ resettlement prospects skewered by Justice Department lies (October 2008), A Pastor’s Plea for the Guantánamo Uyghurs (October 2008), Guantánamo: Justice Delayed or Justice Denied? (October 2008), Sabin Willett’s letter to the Justice Department (November 2008), Will Europe Take The Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners? (December 2008), A New Year Message to Barack Obama: Free the Guantánamo Uighurs (January 2009), Guantanamo’s refugees (February 2009), Bad News And Good News For The Guantánamo Uighurs (February 2009), A Letter To Barack Obama From A Guantánamo Uighur (March 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: A Start On Guantánamo, But Not Enough (May 2009), Pain At Guantánamo And Paralysis In Government (May 2009), Guantánamo: A Prison Built On Lies (May 2009), Guantánamo: A Real Uyghur Slams Newt Gingrich’s Racist Stupidity (May 2009), Free The Guantánamo Uighurs! (May 2009), Who Are The Four Guantánamo Uighurs Sent To Bermuda? (June 2009), Guantánamo’s Uighurs In Bermuda: Interviews And New Photos (June 2009), Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo on Democracy Now! (June 2009), Guantánamo And The Courts (Part One): Exposing The Bush Administration’s Lies (July 2009), Is The World Ignoring A Massacre of Uighurs In China? (July 2009), Chair Of The American Conservative Union Supports The Guantánamo Uighurs (July 2009), Three Uighurs Talk About Chinese Interrogation At Guantánamo (July 2009), House Threatens Obama Over Chinese Interrogation Of Uighurs In Guantánamo (July 2009), A Profile of Rushan Abbas, The Guantánamo Uighurs’ Interpreter (August 2009), and the stories in the additional chapters of The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras 1, Website Extras 6 and Website Extras 9.
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Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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