Sweden: Chinese Muslim freed from Guantánamo seeks new life in Sweden

It's been a harrowing journey: from repression in China to war in Afghanistan and four long years at Guantánamo Bay as a captive in the war on terror.

Adel Abdu al Hakim hopes it ends here, in his sister's tidy apartment in a suburb of the Swedish capital.

''I was in prison for 4 ½ years and during that time I thought to myself that maybe this is my life,'' Hakim, 33, told The Associated Press in an interview. ``Now I just want to live the life of a normal person.''

Last week he arrived in Sweden to reunite with relatives he had thought he would never see again.

Hakim was released last year from Guantánamo along with four other Uighurs, a minority group of Turkic-speaking Chinese Muslims, after the United States admitted they were not terrorists. Authorities believed they might face persecution if returned to China, so they were sent instead to Albania, the only other country that would receive them.

But the Uighurs found themselves isolated and jobless in a nation where no one spoke their language.

Hakim took advantage of an invitation to attend a human rights conference in Sweden, where his sister sought shelter in 2002. He applied for asylum on Nov. 20 after arriving on a four-day visa.

The chances for approval were uncertain because the case is unique in Sweden. Hakim likely will be allowed to stay in the country pending a decision, although authorities could deport him immediately if they determine his case has no merit.

''We have fought for a very long time and now we are very happy to be together,'' he said, surrounded by his sister, Kavser, and her daughters in the living room of the apartment in Sundbyberg, just outside Stockholm.

Calmly, he recalled the tumultuous decade that brought him here.

He left China in 1999, fed up with harassment and discrimination by Chinese authorities. Two years earlier, he said, he had been detained and beaten after attending a demonstration against the mistreatment of Uighurs in his home town.

Critics accuse China of using claims of terrorism as an excuse to crack down on peaceful pro-independence sentiment among Uighurs.

After spending his first year as a refugee in Kyrgyzstan, Hakim and fellow Uighur Abu Bakker Qassim decided to move on to Turkey.

Their journey took them through Pakistan and Afghanistan -- clearly an unsafe destination in fall 2001 as the United States launched its campaign against the Taliban.

As bombs rained down on a small Afghan mountain village where they had joined other Uighurs, they fled to Pakistan -- only to be detained and handed over to U.S. authorities for US$5,000 each, Hakim said. ``It was all about money.''

Shackled and hooded, they were transferred to a prison camp in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where they spent six months before being moved to Guantánamo. At that point, the Americans already knew they were not terrorists, Hakim said.

''In the last interrogation in Afghanistan, the Americans acknowledged that they had arrested us by mistake, but said they could not let us go so easily,'' he said.

The formal acknowledgment of this mistake came only after a lengthy legal battle in which a military tribunal ruled Hakim and other Uighurs were not enemy combatants.

''Of course I was angry. I tried to hide my emotions, but I still cried a lot,'' Hakim said.

Beijing wanted the Uighur detainees sent back to China, saying they were part of a violent Muslim separatist movement fighting for an independent state of ``East Turkistan.''

U.S. authorities resisted, but declined to let them into the United States. Appeals went out to third countries to give them shelter, but all were rejected before Albania, an small ex-communist country, said yes.

Lawyers in the United States and Sweden as well as human rights groups helped Hakim obtain his four-day visa for Sweden.

As he awaits his asylum decision, the joy of being reunited with his sister and her family is tempered by the absence of his own wife and children, who still live in China.

''I don't have the possibility to get them from over there. The Chinese authorities won't allow it,'' he said. ``My children keep asking when I will come back . . . why I don't want to come and get them, why all children have fathers and they don't.''

Source: Miami Herald (English)

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