Three Uyghur businessmen with Turkish citizenship have been detained by authorities in Tajikistan, sparking fears that the men may have been held due to pressure from China, according to Uyghur groups.
They claimed that on Jan. 8, security forces in Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe first picked up Ablimit Dawatoglu, whose brother was executed years ago by authorities in China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
The following day, Kamiljan Omeroglu and Ehmet Rashidi were held when they went to the police department in Dushanbe to inquire about Dawatoglu.
The Turkish embassy in Dushanbe has not been able to reach the three men and their families have not received any information about their detentions.
Tajik officials are tight-lipped about the case and the circumstances that provoked the detentions remain unclear.
The three had left the Xinjiang region within the past ten years, before receiving Turkish citizenship. They were in Tajikistan on business at the time of their arrests.
Tajikistan’s neighbors Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan have previously deported Uyghurs to China, including an ethnic Uyghur with Canadian citizenship. Many of those sent back to China have faced prison sentences or execution on charges of "splittism" and "separatism."Arrests unconfirmed by Tajikistan
Turkish officials have not received a response from Tajikistan to inquiries about the arrests.
Mustafa Turkel Yilmaz, press officer for the Turkish embassy in Dushanbe told RFA on Jan. 21, “We were informed of the issue on Jan. 9 by a civil society group in Turkey. We then conveyed a request to Tajikistan Foreign Ministry to confirm the arrest of our three citizens, but unfortunately, although more than ten days have passed we have not gotten any answer and we are still trying to get an answer from the ministry.”
According to him, Turkish foreign ministry officials in Ankara also contacted the Tajik embassy in Ankara, Turkey to confirm the issue, but the result was same.
“We still are expecting an answer from Tajik officials. We do not wish to comment about the issue unless we get an official response from the ministry,” he said.
A staff member at the Tajik embassy in Ankara, Turkey refused to comment on the issue. Turkish citizens
The three men had left the Uyghur region of China in the past decade. Two of them had received Turkish citizenship over the last three years while the third received it four months ago.
The three men were not business partners but frequently traveled between Turkey and Tajikistan together for business.
Ablimit Dawatoglu and Ehmet Reshidi own stores in Dushanbe where they sold Chinese goods, including cloth. They are married to women with Tajik citizenship.
Ablimit Dawatoglu had a brother who was executed in the 1990s in Hotan, in the Uyghur region of China, on charges of "splittism." Because of this family background, he was under the scrutiny of Chinese state security and left China a few years after his brother’s execution, Uyghur groups said. Pressure from China?
“We strongly believe that the three were arrested at China’s request,” said Hidayitulla Oghuzhan, spokesman for the East Turkistan Education and Solidarity Association, a Uyghur organization based in Turkey.
“Turkish officials still have not been able to have access to the three, and based on this situation and a lot of experience we have had, we are assuming that the three have already been deported to China or their extradition is under way,” he said.
“We call on the international community to prevent another tragedy like Huseyin Jelil’s from occurring again,” he said, referring to an Uyghur of Canadian citizenship who was arrested in Uzbekistan and extradited to China in 2006. He is currently serving a life sentence in Liudawan Jail in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region.
Chinese authorities blame overseas Uyghur separatists for orchestrating violence in China in recent years, including the ethnic unrest that broke out in Urumqi in July 2009.
Last year, Cambodia deported to China 20 Uyghurs seeking asylum from persecution related to that unrest. Laos also returned seven asylum-seekers to China in December.
Some Uyghur groups claim there have been many more arrests of Uyghurs in Central Asian states following pressure from Beijing but they are holding back details.
“There are a certain number of Uyghur refugees detained in other Central Asian countries but because of Chinese demands we have not publicized [these cases] yet, because we are still expecting a correct solution [to be reached] between the countries and UNHCR officials,” said Rebiya Kadeer, president of the World Uyghur Congress.
Last week, Tajikistan agreed to give away around 1,000 square kilometers (386 square miles) of its land to China in a bid to end a land dispute dating back a century.
According to the East Turkistan Education and Solidarity Association in Istanbul, Uyghurs in Turkey plan to hold a protest in support of the three men on Tuesday in front of the Tajik embassy in Ankara. Reported by Shohret Hoshur and Erkin Tarim for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.