Rights groups condemned Cairo and Beijing at the weekend for the detention and deportation to China of Uyghur students studying in Egypt, where desperate Uyghurs continued to try to avoid being rounded up by authorities.
At least 200 Uyghurs, many of them religious students, have been detained since July 4, rounded up in restaurants and at airports as they tried to flee to safer countries, they told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
A Uyghur student in Egypt told RFA his pregnant wife was detained on Sunday along with an older woman and a young man as they fled to an airport in Hurghada.
“I was hoping to send my nine-months-pregnant wife accompanied by an older lady and several Uyghurs to Turkey through Hurghada. I sent them off to Hurghada on a bus leaving at 1:30 p.m.,” said the student, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“I received a message from them around 7:00 p.m. that they were stopped and detained by police on their way to Hurghada airport,” he added.
“I was in constant contact with them fearing the worst. But I was reassured many times by them that they would be released soon and taken to the airport. In the end, they were detained at the police station,” said the student.
“Their phones seemed to have been taken away from them. All of their phones are turned off.”
Forced to sign extremist confessions
Egypt's state-owned Middle East News Agency (MENA) quoted unnamed officials as denying on Sunday that Egyptian authorities were targeting Uyghur students.
Human rights and Uyghur exile groups condemned China and Egypt for violating the rights of the Uyghurs and breaking a UN treaty forbidding forced repatriation.
“We strongly condemn the Chinese government for exporting its repression of the peaceful Uyghur people into other countries,” Omer Kanat, director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, said in a statement.
“The detained and deported Uyghurs were simply religious students studying at Al-Azhar University. They didn’t commit any kind of crimes,” said Kanat.
“The only reason they were rounded up was because the Egyptian authorities followed through on the Chinese request to deport them to China. These Uyghur students were forced to sign a form stating they had joined extremist organizations by the Egyptian authorities and then were deported,” he added.
Human Rights Watch, which said that at least 62 Uyghurs had been detained since July 3, said Uyghurs deported to China face a serious risk of arbitrary detention and torture.
“The Egyptian authorities should halt this outrageous round-up of Uyghurs,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Uyghurs living in Egypt should be free from fear of arbitrary arrest and deportation to a country where they risk persecution and torture.”
The Daily News Egypt website quoted the Egyptian Commission of Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) as saying on Sunday that 12 Uyghur students were deported to China on July 6, while Egyptian authorities have arrested at least 80 Uyghur students in Cairo and 20 in Alexandria and Hurghada.
The student whose expectant wife was detain told RFA “I am so worried right now and I do not know what to do.”
“I had decided to send my pregnant wife to Turkey first because I didn’t want her to give birth in Egypt. Once she gives birth, then we have to go to the Chinese Embassy to get birth certificate. Then, we will get caught and deported,” he said.
“Her due date is just few days away. I simply cannot understand how the Egyptian police could possibly detain a nine-months-pregnant woman.”
Reported by Kurban Niyaz for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff. Written in English by Paul Eckert.