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After eight years, secrecy still surrounds case

The 2009 arrival of the Uighurs was part of an agreement former premier Ewart Brown made with US officials from Barack Obama’s administration

It has been eight years since four prisoners were brought to Bermuda from Guantánamo Bay in the dead of night — but the cloak of secrecy surrounding their arrival has yet to be lifted.

Sunday marked the anniversary of the June 11, 2009 arrival of the Uighurs, but despite the passage of time, little has ever been revealed about the deal that brought them here.

Three public access to information requests have been made by The Royal Gazette to find out more about:

• the agreement former premier Ewart Brown made with US officials from Barack Obama’s administration;

• the reaction of the United Kingdom; and

• the permission that Khalil Mamut, Abdulla Abdulqadir, Ablikim Turahun and Salahidin Abdulahad and their spouses have since received from Government to stay here.

But most of the details remain under wraps, with only one of the Pati requests producing any disclosure.

The first request — for all correspondence between the Cabinet Office, including the Premier, and US authorities regarding the four Uighurs — hit an immediate roadblock after it was submitted in January. Cabinet Office information officer Charles Brown advised that the timeframe in the request was too broad, as it sought correspondence between January 1, 2009 to date.

This newspaper narrowed the dates to January 1, 2009 to October 31, 2010 but it was to no avail.

After repeated searches by Mr Brown, using a variety of search terms, not a single record about the Uighurs was found in the Cabinet Office’s files.

Mr Brown told this newspaper on April 25: “We have now conducted a search of the paper file, as well as the email accounts of the senior officers attached to the Cabinet Office at the time and there is no record that has been located containing any of the search terms used.”

Cabinet Secretary Derrick Binns is currently considering whether this newspaper has grounds to request an internal review over the lack of disclosure.

The second application — for all correspondence on the four Uighurs between Government House and the US authorities, Government House and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and Government House and the Government of Bermuda — was rejected by Deputy Governor Ginny Ferson on the grounds that the records were exempt from disclosure.

John Rankin, the Governor, upheld that decision and the case is under review by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The final request, to the Department of Immigration, did result in some disclosure.

This newspaper asked for all records regarding the four men, including any permission they or their dependents have to live and/or work in Bermuda, and any rejections for Bermudian status, permanent residency or any other immigration category.

Chief Immigration Officer Danette Ming released eight records: correspondence from immigration officials, with the names of the Uighurs and their dependents redacted.

The first, dated July 1, 2009, shows the men were granted special ministerial permission to reside and seek employment in Bermuda, as per section 61 of the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act.

“Prospective employers are not required to apply to this Ministry for permission to employ you,” the letter from the department’s corporate services manager states. “However, in dealing with applications, we trust that your respective employer will ensure that Bermudians and spouses of Bermudians are not disadvantaged in this regard.”

A letter dated August 5, 2011, gives permission to reside on an annual basis to an unnamed individual, on the basis that another person has agreed to be financially responsible for them. It expressly forbids the individual from seeking or accepting work.

The other letters, all from Dr Ming, deal with permission to land and reside, and permission for a child to attend preschool.

Home Affairs permanent secretary Rozy Azhar told this newspaper in a letter: “The documents sent to you were all the records in their files representing any permission the four Uighurs or their dependents have to live and/or work in Bermuda.

“I can also confirm that there were no rejections issued for Bermudian status, permanent residency or other immigration category from June 11, 2009 to date.”