Ex-Gitmo Inmate Seeks Life in Swede
by Malin Rising
November 27, 2007
SUNDBYBERG, Sweden (AP) — It's been a long journey: from China to Afghanistan to the U.S. lockup for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay.
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 four and a half years and during that time I thought to myself that maybe this is my life," Al-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 once thought he would never see again.
Al-Hakim was released last year from Guantanamo along with four other Uighurs, a minority group of Turkic-speaking Chinese Muslims, after the U.S. admitted they were not terrorists. Authorities believed they might face persecution if returned to China, so they were sent instead to Albania, the only country that would receive them.
But the Uighurs found themselves isolated and jobless in a nation where no one spoke their language.
Al-Hakim took advantage of an invitation to attend a human rights conference in Sweden, where his sister had sought shelter in 2002. He applied for asylum on Nov. 20 after arriving on a four-day visa.
The chances for approval were uncertain. Al-Hakim likely will be allowed to stay pending a final 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.
He calmly recalled the tumultuous decade that brought him here.
Al-Hakim left China in 1999, fed up with what he said was harassment and discrimination by Chinese authorities. Two years earlier, he said, he had been detained and beaten after attending a protest over 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 a year as a refugee in Kyrgyzstan, Al-Hakim and fellow Uighur Abu Bakker Qassim decided to move on to Turkey.
Their journey took them through Afghanistan — an unsafe destination in the fall of 2001 as the United States launched its military campaign against the Taliban.
As bombs rained down on an Afghan mountain village where they had joined other Uighurs, the men fled to Pakistan — only to be detained and handed over to U.S. authorities for $5,000 each, Al-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 Guantanamo. At that point, the Americans knew they were not terrorists, Al-Hakim maintains.
"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 came only after a lengthy legal battle when a military tribunal ruled Al-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," Al-Hakim said.
Beijing wanted the Uighurs 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, and Albania finally agreed.
Lawyers in the U.S. and Sweden as well as human rights groups helped Al-Hakim obtain his visa for Sweden.
As he awaits a decision on asylum, the joy of being reunited with his sister and her family is tempered by the absence of his wife and children, who remain 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."
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