Authorities in Sweden are gearing up to deport two Muslim ethnic minority Uyghurs to China after their requests for political asylum were refused, sparking fears that they may face persecution on their return.
Merhaba Dilmurat, 23, said she had received notification from Swedish immigration officials in March that they planned to deport her, which she appealed.
Her appeal was recently rejected, and Dilmurat now fears she will be jailed for speaking out about government policies in her native Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region if she returns to China.
"If I go back to China, they will sentence me for using media articles to oppose the Chinese government," said Dilmurat, who is a native of Xinjiang's capital Urumqi, where many Uyghurs chafe under Chinese rule.
Activists in Sweden have campaigned for several weeks on behalf of Dilmurat and fellow asylum-seeker Tughluq Hemit, whose deportation notice was also served in March.
Hemit said he had fled to Sweden in 2009 following deadly ethnic clashes between Han Chinese and Uyghurs in Urumqi in early July, after which many of his friends were detained.
"I took part in demonstrations; I took part in a lot of activities," he said. "Now, the Swedish immigration bureau wants to send me back there because they think I won't have any problems."
"[They say] the Chinese government doesn't know I took part in these activities, but how could they not know?" Hemit said.
"Right now we are in a lot of danger."
Ethnic violence between Han Chinese and Uyghurs in Urumqi flared for three days beginning on July 5, 2009, leaving nearly 200 people dead, according to official media reports.
Calls to the Swedish immigration bureau went unanswered during office hours on Monday.
Uyghurs, who form a distinct, Turkic-speaking minority in northwestern China's Xinjiang, say they are subjected to political control and persecution for seeking meaningful autonomy in their homeland, and are denied economic opportunities stemming from Beijing's rapid development of the troubled region.
In a recent interview, Swedish immigration spokeswoman Charlotte Jacobson, said anyone seeking political asylum in Sweden must undergo due process, which includes the right of judicial appeal to two higher levels of court.
However, Uyghurs in Sweden have said the Swedish immigration authorities treat them as if they were Han Chinese citizens, and appeared not to understand that they could face retaliation and further persecution if they returned.
In January, Sweden repatriated two Uyghurs: Adile Omer, a 25-year-old woman, and Faruh Dilshat, a 23-year-old man.
Last October, nearly a dozen Uyghurs in the Netherlands were refused political asylum three or more times and were put under intense pressure from Dutch authorities to return to China.
They were among more than 50 Uyghurs from Xinjiang who had applied for asylum in the Netherlands.
Many of those applicants also said they thought the Dutch authorities were unaware of the gravity of the crisis faced by many Uyghurs.
In December 2005, a Uyghur seeking political asylum in Denmark named Burhan Zunun committed suicide after officials pushed him to return to China, highlighting the fear Uyghur refugees face of mistreatment at the hands of Chinese authorities.
Many Uyghurs have been deported in recent years from countries with strong trade and diplomatic ties to China, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Laos.
Chinese authorities, wary of instability and the threat to the Communist Party's grip on power, often link Uyghurs in Xinjiang to violent separatist groups, including the Al-Qaeda terror network.
In October, Xinjiang courts sentenced four Uyghurs to death for violence in two Silk Road cities in July which left 32 people dead.
Meanwhile, authorities in Xinjiang are stepping up probes into the lives of local residents ahead of the sensitive July 5 anniversary of ethnic violence in the regional capital, Urumqi, local residents said.
"Acting on arrangements made by relevant, higher departments, the neighborhood committees and police stations will carry out checks on all homes in the [residential districts]," read a notice posted on Gujiangbage street in the southern city of Hotan, which has also seen repeated clashes between police and local Uyghurs, as well as all-out attacks on public targets.
"If there is anyone in the house who refuses to open the door, and who refuses to cooperate with the investigation, we will force entry and the residents will have to bear the consequences," the notice said.
An Urumqi resident surnamed Zhang said the authorities had been targeting private Koran study groups in particular, which have now been banned outside of officially approved mosques.
"Lately they have been carrying out raids on private Koran study groups in the southern part of Xinjiang," Zhang said. "They have been getting very strict ... [My friends in Hotan told me that] there is a raid every two or three days now."
Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.