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Saudi Arabia Continues to Detain Uyghur Scholars At Risk For Deportation Back to China

Visiting China in February of 2019, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman stated: “We respect and support China’s rights to take counter-terrorism and de-extremism measures to safeguard national security.”

Human Rights Watch, among numerous other human rights organizations, are calling upon Saudi authorities to clarify the status of two Uyghur Muslim men, both of Chinese nationality, who were arrested in Saudi Arabia on the 20th of November.

If forcibly returned to China, Human Rights Watch is arguing that Saudi Arabia is putting them at serious risk of arbitrary detention and torture by Chinese authorities.

China is being accused of severe human rights violations and of conducting genocide towards the Uyghur ethnic minority of northwestern China, in the area known as Xinjiang in Chinese and East Turkistan for Uyghurs. Since at least 2016, China has been operating horrifying concentration camps for Uyghur and other ethnic minority Muslims of the region, detaining up to reportedly 2 million civilians in what is being called the largest mass incarceration of people since the Holocaust of World Word II.

Once detained in these concentration camps across Xinjiang/East Turkistan, Uyghur Muslims are subjected to torture – both physical and psychological, and even forced sterilization and mass rapes – as well as forced indoctrination and renouncement of the Muslim faith. China’s campaign of genocide, although relatively ignored by the wider international community, continues to eradicate the Uyghur Muslims’ population, culture, history, language, and religious faith.

The two Uyghur men who were detained in Saudi Arabia were Hemdullah Abduweli, a 52-year-old religious scholar, and his friend Nurmemet Rozi. Rozi managed to contact a family member to state they are being held in Jeddah’s Bureiman prison and are “in danger“. Abduweli had previously arrived in Saudi Arabia in February to perform hajj, and has reportedly been in hiding ever since giving a speech to the Uyghur community in Saudi Arabia, urging them to pray for the community being persecuted back in China.

Abduweli had also previously spoken to Middle East Eye in early November, stating that he feared for his life and that he believed Chinese authorities had sent a request to Saudi Arabia to detain and deport him. His subsequent arrest has shocked and infuriated both the Uyghur community abroad as well as human rights organizations across the world.

Abduweli Ayup, a Uyghur activist in touch with the Uyghur community in Saudi Arabia, was the one to alert Human Rights Watch about the detention of the two Uyghur men. Ayub has previously documented at least five cases of Uyghurs being forcibly deported by Saudi Arabia back to China between the years 2017 and 2018. This worryingly points towards Saudi Arabia’s continued disregard for human rights – it’s blatant partnership and support for the Chinese regime, despite the ongoing genocide against Uyghur Muslims, is sickening at best.

Visiting China in February of 2019, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman stated:

We respect and support China’s rights to take counter-terrorism and de-extremism measures to safeguard national security.”

Saudi Arabia has also previously endorsed and signed join letters in support of China’s human rights record, along with a number of other Muslim-majority countries, including the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Algeria, Egypt, Pakistan, Somalia, and Sudan.

Under both customary international law and as a signatory of the Convention Against Torture, Saudi Arabia is in fact obliged to ensure that the people they choose to arrest are not forcibly sent back to their home countries where they would risk being subjected to torture or other human rights violations. Saudi Arabia is clearly in breach of the Convention Against Torture if it chooses to deport Uyghurs back to China amidst the ongoing genocide.

Joe Stork, the Deputy Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch, stated:

Saudi authorities should immediately disclose the status of the Uyghur detainees and clarity why they arrested them. Muhammed bin Salman’s apparent endorsement of China’s persecution of the Muslim Uyghur community is bad enough, but his government should not play a direct role in it by deporting Uyghur men back to possible arbitrary detention and torture.”

In stark contrast to Saudi Arabia, Pope Francis has for the first time publically stated that the Uyghur Muslims are among the world’s most persecuted peoples in his newly published book “Let Us Dream: The Path to A Better Future”. While the Pope does not go into detail over the specific plight of the Uyghur Muslims, the fact that the leader of the Catholic world has openly recognized the suffering of the Uyghur Muslims is arguably more than any major Muslim leader has done of yet.

While much of the Muslim world remains silent on this issue in the face of China’s lucrative economic and financial partnerships, the fact remains that millions of Uyghur and other ethnic minority Muslims continue to be subject to torture, detention, and even death under China’s campaign of genocide. It remains to be seen what will happen to these most recent Uyghur men detained in Saudi Arabia, as their loved ones continue to wait for an explanation as to why they were arrested in the first place.

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