updated 10/9/2008 8:39:38 AM ET 2008-10-09T12:39:38

China on Thursday rejected concerns that it would torture Chinese Muslims held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay if they are returned to China, saying they will be dealt with according to the law.

China has called on the U.S. to repatriate 17 Chinese Muslim detainees who were to have been released this week, saying they are terrorists and should be brought to justice, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a news conference.

"Some people may worry whether these people could be tortured in China, I believe this is biased. China is a country under the rule of law, and forbids torture by any Chinese authorities, be they judiciary or public security," Qin said.

President Bush's administration is trying to find a country to accept the group and has said the detainees might be tortured if they are turned over to China.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said it would postpone release of the detainees for at least another week due to objections by the Bush administration.

Captured in Pakistan and Afghanistan
The move came a day after U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina ordered the government to free the detainees by Friday, saying they have been cleared of wrongdoing.

"We have raised our position to the U.S. and we hope they will take this position seriously and repatriate these 17 people to China shortly," Qin said.

The detainees, captured in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2001, are Uighurs from Xinjiang — an isolated region that borders Afghanistan, Pakistan and six Central Asian nations — who say they are oppressed by the Chinese government.

Slideshow: Behind the walls Qin said the men are members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which China says is an Islamic terrorist group that seeks to split the western region of Xinjiang from China. China has blamed sporadic violence and attacks in the region on the group. The U.S. listed it as a terrorist organization in 2002.

The Uighur detainees have become a diplomatic and legal headache for the U.S., which no longer wants to hold them but does not know where to send them. Many countries fear diplomatic repercussions from China if they receive them.

Albania accepted five Uighur detainees in 2006 but has since balked at taking others.

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