Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Photo Credit: White House cropped photo of Shealah Craighead.
The Saudi authorities should immediately clarify the status of two Chinese Muslim Uighur men who died on Aug.. They were arrested in Saudi Arabia on November 11, 2020, and disclosed the grounds for their detention, Human Rights Watch said today. The Saudi authorities should not forcibly return the men to China, where they are at serious risk of arbitrary detention and torture.
The arrests were made on the eve of the G20 Summit, which took place on Jan.. and 22. November was practically hosted by Saudi Arabia. Human Rights Watch previously urged G20 member countries to urge Saudi Arabia to end its relentless assault on fundamental freedoms, including the detention and harassment of dissidents and human rights defenders, illegal attacks on civilians in Yemen and disregard for international demands for accountability for the country Murder by state agents of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
« Saudi Arabia’s attempts to generate positive publicity by hosting the G20 would be greatly undercut if they detained other Muslims and forcibly led them back to the rampant persecution in China, » said Joe Stork, assistant director for the Middle East at Human Rights Watch. “The Saudi authorities should immediately disclose the status of the Uighur detainees and explain why they have arrested them. ”
Abduweli Ayup, a Uyghur activist who is in contact with the Uyghur community in Saudi Arabia, told Human Rights Watch that the Saudi authorities put Shirtullah Abduweli (or Aimidoula Waili in Pinyin on his Chinese passport), 52, a Uighur Muslim religious scholars, arrested on the evening of the 20th. November in Mecca with his friend Nurmemet Rozi (or Nuermaimaiti on his Chinese passport). Ayup said Rozi managed to contact a family member to say they are being held in Jeddah’s Bureiman Prison and « are in danger. ». Both men are based in Turkey.
Abduweli came to Saudi Arabia in February for a religious pilgrimage. He had been in hiding since giving a speech to the Uyghur community there, encouraging Uyghurs and Muslims to pray about conditions in Xinjiang and « fight the Chinese invaders with weapons, » said another source, the one with Abduweli spoke.
Speaking to the Middle East Eye in early November, Abduweli said he feared Chinese authorities had asked Saudi Arabia to arrest and deport him. Middle East Eye posted photos of Abduweli’s Chinese passport, Turkish residence card and information on the Saudi visa.
Uyghur activist Ayub said he previously documented five cases of Uyghurs who Saudi Arabia forcibly returned to China between 2017 and 2018.
Uyghurs are Turkish-speaking Muslims, most of whom live in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China. The Chinese government has long been hostile to many expressions of Uighur identity and imposed far-reaching controls, including religious restrictions, on daily life in Xinjiang. Since the end of 2016, the Chinese government has dramatically escalated repression in Xinjiang as part of alleged counter-terrorism efforts, exposing the region’s 13 million Turkish Muslims to forced political indoctrination, mass surveillance and strict restrictions on movement. An estimated one million of them were held in « civic education » camps.
Much of this repression is aimed at Uighur religious practices. Uyghurs are detained and detained for studying the Koran, making pilgrimages without government authorization, wearing religious clothing and other « abnormal » thoughts or behaviors that express « excessive religious passion ». Estimated 16. 000 mosques in Xinjiang, or 65 percent of the total, have been destroyed or damaged as a result of government measures since 2017.
During a visit to China in February 2019, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of the country, appeared to support the Chinese government’s policies in Xinjiang. China’s official Xinhua news agency quoted Mohammed bin Salman as saying, « We respect and support China’s rights to take counter-terrorism and counter-extremism measures to ensure national security . . . « Saudi Arabia approved joint letters in support of Chinese policies in Xinjiang to the United Nations in 2019 and again in 2020.
China’s record of arbitrary detention, torture and disappearance of Uyghurs and the lack of independence of the judiciary raise serious concerns that Shirtullah Abduweli and Nurmemet Rozi face the threat of torture and other ill-treatment during their deportation.
Under customary international law and as a party to the Convention against Torture, Saudi Arabia has a duty to ensure that no one in custody is forcibly sent to a place where they are at risk of persecution, torture or other serious human rights violations.
There have been several incidents in recent years where Uyghurs have been forcibly returned to China in violation of international law. In July 2017, Egypt arrested 62 Uyghurs and deported at least 12 to China. In August 2015, Thailand forcibly returned 220 Uyghurs to China. In December 2012, Malaysia deported six Uyghurs to China. In all cases, Human Rights Watch was unable to obtain any further information from the Thai, Malaysian or Chinese governments about the whereabouts or welfare of the deportees.
« Mohammed bin Salman’s blatant approval of China’s persecution of the Muslim Uyghur community is bad enough, but his government shouldn’t play a direct role in pushing Uyghur men back into possible arbitrary detention and torture, » Stork said.
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Uyghurs, Saudi Arabia, China, Xinjiang, human rights, Mohammed bin Salman
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