HONG KONG—Two prominent members of the exiled Turkic-speaking Uyghur community, many of whom oppose Chinese rule in their homeland, are on the run from the authorities following police raids on their homes.
Omer and Akbar Khan, who co-founded a charity to teach Pakistani Uyghurs their own language in the northern city of Rawalpindi, said they had fled from police after neighbors told them their close relatives had been detained for several hours.
"We didn't do anything wrong, but we have decided to stay away from the police for some time, because of the unknown fate of two other guys [we know]," said Omer Khan, 35, who recently applied for a Belgian visa to attend a training program for Uyghur activists outside China.
"A few other Uyghurs were arrested and disappeared last year," Omer Khan said.
Police detained the Khans' 52-year-old father and 50-year-old mother, along with their two younger brothers, aged 15 and 18, according to a Uyghur source who asked not to be named.
According to a neighbor, the Khan family was released after 10 hours in detention.
"The raid was so harsh," one neighbor said.
"The two brothers' faces were forcibly covered as they were being pushed to the police car."
Pressure from China
The brothers blame China, rather than their adopted homeland, and say the raid came in response to pressure from Beijing on the Pakistani authorities to step up pressure on Uyghur exiles, many of whom are vocal campaigners for independence for the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
"We believe that all this is happening under instructions from the Chinese government," Akbar Khan said.
The brothers said Pakistani authorities also detained Abdul Haliq, 29, on March 22, while Memet Rozi, 80, and Eneyetullah, 28, were detained March 26.
Omer Khan, who said his house was searched March 31, added: "They don’t like Uyghurs to undertake organized and established activities, whether they are social, cultural, or political."
He said the Khan brothers were in regular communication with the president of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, Rebiya Kadeer.
"Ms. Kadeer always encourages us to protect our national identity. Maybe this also makes the Chinese government upset," Omer Khan said.
Training plannedThe Khan brothers had planned to attend a meeting in Belgium from April 25-27 which offered training for Uyghur activists around the world.
"This also may have made the Chinese government upset. In short, being a Uyghur makes the Chinese government uncomfortable," Omer Khan said.
He said those Uyghurs already detained in Pakistan had all been close to Kadeer, whom Beijing blames for instigating deadly ethnic riots in the regional capital of Urumqi last July.
Pakistan is home to around 1,000 Uyghur families, mostly those who left China during the 1950s and 60s.
Last December, Xinjiang authorities detained Pakistani Uyghur Kamirdin Abdurahman on suspicion of "harming public order," before asking him to infiltrate Uyghur groups back in Pakistan.
Uyghur exiles fear surveillance once they leave China, especially if they have left family behind, and they say their fears have worsened since deadly ethnic riots last July—which prompted a major security crackdown.
Xinjiang has been plagued in recent years by bombings, attacks, and riots that Chinese authorities blame on Uyghur separatists.
Cambodian authorities in December returned to China a group of ethnic Uyghurs who had sought political asylum, despite international concern that they could face torture and execution for allegedly taking part in deadly ethnic riots in China this year.
Rights groups, which urged Phnom Penh to stop the deportations, say Cambodia is bound by a 1951 convention on refugees pledging not to return asylum-seekers to countries where they will face persecution.
Cambodia has already received more than U.S. $1 billion in foreign direct investment from China, which in October agreed to provide U.S. $853 million in loans to the impoverished country for dams, infrastructure, and irrigation projects.
The Chinese government has detained hundreds of Uyghurs, and at least 43 Uyghur men have disappeared in the wake of ethnic violence that erupted in Urumqi on July 5, according to Human Rights Watch, which says the actual number of disappearances is likely far higher.
Nearly 200 people were killed in the clashes, by the Chinese government’s tally. Twelve people have since been sentenced to death in connection with the violence.
Uyghurs, a distinct and mostly Muslim ethnic group, have long complained of religious, political, and cultural oppression by Chinese authorities, and tensions have simmered in the Xinjiang region for years.
Original reporting by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur service. Translated by Zubeyra Shemshidin. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.