Share story

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia has released 11 ethnic Uighur Muslims after dropping charges against them for entering the country illegally and rejecting China’s request that they be deported back to Beijing, their lawyer said Thursday.

Fahmi Abdul Moin said the 11 men flew out of Kuala Lumpur late Tuesday and have arrived in Turkey.

The men were part of a group that was detained in Thailand in 2014. They bolted from their Thai prison last November by using blankets to climb out of their cells and made their way to Malaysia. Their release, which came under a new Malaysian government that unexpectedly won general elections last May, appeared to be a departure from the country’s past norm of forcibly repatriating Uighur Muslims to China despite concerns it could endanger their lives.

Fahmi said prosecutors agreed to drop the charges against the men after defense lawyers made an appeal on humanitarian grounds. He said the men wanted to go to Turkey, as they claimed they were from Turkistan and there is a large Uighur community in Turkey.

Home ministry officials couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

China has insisted that Uighur refugees be sent back, saying that some Uighurs, a Muslim minority from the restive western region of Xinjiang, are extremists who have ties to foreign terror groups. It has given little evidence to support that.