The whereabouts of 11 Uyghurs deported by Malaysia to China are still unknown nearly one month after their extradition, though Beijing is required by law to inform family members of their jailing.
“Yes, he was captured and deported back to China. So far, we have no information about whether he is dead or alive,” said the father of Kurban Haji, 28, who was part of the group deported in mid-August after being accused by Malaysian immigration officials of involvement in a human-trafficking ring.
Siajahmat Haji said his friends and family at home in western Xinjiang region's Hotan city have been searching for his son since his deportation, but have had no luck finding him.
“I’ve asked my relatives to look for him through the local government and relevant places. They said they had no information about him,” Siajahmat Haji told RFA from Saudi Arabia where he was traveling with his wife.
He said he was puzzled over Kurban Haji’s deportation, as his son had a 10-year permit for residency in Malaysia following his marriage to a Malaysian woman after arriving in the country in 2006.
The extradition of the 11 marked the latest in a series of Uyghur deportations from countries with strong trade and diplomatic ties to China, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos.
Most of the Muslim Uyghurs who have been deported had fled the Xinjiang region, where they say they face discrimination.
Their extradition has drawn widespread condemnation from international rights groups who say the Uyghurs are likely to face torture or even death upon their return.
In China, the authorities are required by law to notify family members when someone has been detained or jailed.
Siajahmat Haji said that he and his wife had planned to stay longer in Saudi Arabia, but would have to return to Hotan to locate their son.
“We had planned to stay here until the end of Eid Al Adha (the Muslim holiday of sacrifice), but right now, since we haven’t had any news about our son, we must go back [to Hotan] and look for him,” he said.
“I’m worried that the police will harass me when I return and put me in jail, but I have to go back and look for my son. I haven’t committed any crime.”
Siajahmat Haji said his son had been traveling with him in Saudi Arabia in August when he received a phone call urging him to return to Malaysia, where he had been living with his wife for nearly five years.
“He left in haste. He didn’t say who called him, but we assume it may have been one of his friends. We’re not sure.”
“He held legal documents in his hand and his passport from the Chinese government. He also had a visa and a 10-year residency certificate in Malaysia,” he said.
“I assume that as soon as he arrived in Malaysia, he was arrested by police.”
Kurban Haji originally relocated to Malaysia in September 2006 and studied for a year, but was forced to suspend his studies due to financial difficulties, his father said.
“After that he started a restaurant business. He’s a good cook and made a living that way after the year in school,” he said.
Additionally, his father said, Kurban Haji had been helping to arrange schooling for Uyghurs who went to study in Malaysia.
“He is married, but he doesn’t have children … His wife Amina is Malaysian and I’ve been talking to her by phone. She is grieving and trying desperately to find her husband,” Siajahmat Haji said.
“If he hadn’t been arrested, he would be here with us and would have stayed until the end of Eid Al Adha. He would have taken us home with him to Malaysia and everything would have been fine.”
Kurban Haji and the ten other deportees were part of a larger group of 16 Uyghurs who were detained on Aug. 6 in separate raids in the capital of Kuala Lumpur and in the country’s southern Johor Bahru city, which lies across a narrow strait from Singapore.
An official with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) in the capital said that the agency had tried to meet with the men before they were deported but were refused permission by Malaysian authorities.
The official said at the time that the five Uyghurs who remain in detention had all previously applied for refugee status with the agency and that the UNHCR would continue to try to meet them "to assess their conditions and to finalize our review of their claims for asylum."
Following reports of the repatriation, international rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, exile group the Uyghur American Association, and two senior U.S. lawmakers issued statements condemning Malaysia’s move.
The Malaysian government should publicly explain why it “violated due process standards” when it turned over the Uyghurs, including Kurban Haji who is married to a Malaysian citizen, Human Rights Watch said.
The returns demonstrate a pattern going back to December 19, 2009, when the Cambodian government returned to China 20 Uyghurs, including a pregnant woman and two infants, who had been under the protection of the UNHCR, the group said.
In many of the cases, the governments removed the Uyghurs—sometimes by turning them over to the Chinese embassies—without according them basic due process or, in the case of Cambodia, respecting UNHCR protection status, it said.
Reported and translated by Mamatjan Juma for RFA’s Uyghur service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.