Malaysia has freed 11 ethnic Uighur Muslims who escaped from immigration detention in Thailand, their lawyer said on Friday, ignoring a request from Beijing to deport the group to China.
In the dramatic breakout last November, 25 members of the persecuted minority used blankets to climb out of their cells in a daring pre-dawn escape from immigration detention in southern Thailand.
Eleven of them, all men, escaped overland to neighbouring Malaysia, where they were caught and charged with illegal entry.
The group were freed and flew to Turkey on Tuesday, said their lawyer Fahmi Abdul Moin. "Prosecutors decided to drop all charges on humanitarian grounds," he said.
The decision was made after lawyers wrote to the Malaysian attorney general urging that the charges be withdrawn, Fahmi added.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) welcomed the group's release. "These 11 men faced detention, torture or worse if they were returned to China," HRW deputy director for Asia Phil Robertson said.
China had asked Malaysia's previous government to repatriate the group in February, but new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has taken a more independent stand with Beijing.
Mahathir's predecessor Najib Razak was seen as too friendly with Beijing. (AFP)