Pakistani authorities have deported five ethnic Uyghurs to China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region where they may face persecution on their return, according to the head of a Uyghur exile group.
“According to the information we received, all five were Uyghurs,” said Omer Khan, the founder of the Omer Uyghur Foundation in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.
They were believed to have been forcibly repatriated this week to Xinjiang, where Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness.
“The deportation of Uyghurs is happening a lot these days [in Pakistan], but this is one of the rare cases which has been exposed to the media,” Omer Khan said.
On Tuesday, the Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported that five “Chinese citizens” had been arrested in different parts of the country and deported on Monday.
The report claimed that the group, which included two children and a woman, was brought to Benazir Bhutto International Airport where they boarded flight CZ6008 operated by China’s Southern Airline to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang.
Dawn quoted an unnamed source who said that another “Chinese national,” Abduxur Ablmit, was to accompany “his compatriots,” but was offloaded because the flight captain refused to accept him for “unspecified reasons.”
“Ablmit, blindfolded and handcuffed like the other five, had been allotted a seat on the flight,” the newspaper reported.
Dawn also identified one of the five as Manzokra Mamad, who it said was accompanied by a young girl and boy.
The report said that the reason for the deportation was unclear, but noted that Pakistani security agencies had extradited “Xinjiang separatists” before on at least three occasions—14 in 1997, seven in 2002, and nine in 2009.
Pakistani authorities could not be reached for comment on the deportation or the identities of those involved.
“We have been able to confirm the names of two people—Abdushukur Ablimit and Menzire Memet,” Omer Khan said.
The Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) issued a statement Wednesday condemning “in the strongest possible terms” Pakistan’s decision to extradite the five Uyghurs, saying the group “will face harsh punishment.”
“Uyghurs who have been extradited to China in the past, were detained, imprisoned, sentenced, tortured, executed, or disappeared after their return to China,” the exile group said.
The WUC said that following a series of violent attacks by Uyghurs on Chinese security personnel in Xinjiang over the last month, Pakistan immediately affirmed that it would extend its full support to China over the Uyghur issue.
“The WUC believes Pakistani authorities acted on request of the Chinese government in order to underline the positive relations between the two countries,” the group said.
It said that by extraditing the Uyghurs to China, Pakistan violated the U.N. Convention Against Torture (CAT) which prohibits parties from returning anyone to a state "where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture."
Omer Uyghur said that he believed the five deportees may have been part of a larger group of 12 Uyghurs who were captured by police in western Pakistan last year as they made their way to Turkey to seek asylum. He said he was unsure what had become of the remaining seven.
He added that another Uyghur, named Omer Muhter, 33, has been missing from Rawalpindi in Pakistan since last January and may have been deported to China as well.
The group of 12 came from various parts of Xinjiang and had been living in Central Asian countries working as traders since the beginning of 2000, but after participating in activities sponsored by local Uyghur exiles, found themselves placed on a wanted list by police back home.
They gathered in Pakistan and decided to make their way through Iran to Turkey where they would apply for asylum, but were detained by authorities in the restive Pakistani province of Balochistan because they lacked the requisite travel documents. The next day, they were transferred to a jail in Islamabad.
While in detention in the capital, they met a Turkish citizen named Mujahid Elwerdi and asked him to pass on information about their case to the outside world.
Elwerdi mentioned the situation of the Uyghurs in a phone call to his father, Saleh Elwerdi, who then passed the information on to the East Turkestan Foundation in Turkey.
“The situation of these 12 Uyghurs is severe,” Mujahid Elwerdi told his father. “Their passports are fake and they have no money and one of their kids is sick. If they are deported back to China, they could face execution. You need to inform relevant groups of what is happening to them.”
In a telephone conversation last year in August, a staff member of the Turkish embassy in Islamabad named Ali Beg, confirmed that the group of Uyghurs were being held by Pakistani authorities.
However, Beg said that because the Uyghurs were not Turkish citizens, the embassy could not help them.
Threat of deportation
China has used its economic influence in the region to detain and repatriate a number of Uyghurs who have fled the country after being accused of carrying out “separatist” activities against the state.
Another Uyghur, Nur Muhemmed, was arrested by Thai authorities Saturday for illegally entering the country, and exile groups have expressed concern that he could be deported to China and face punishment.
Cambodia deported the majority of 22 Uyghurs who sought refuge status through the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Phnom Penh shortly after they fled China in the aftermath of deadly ethnic violence that gripped Urumqi in July 2009.
China also used its influence in May to convince Kazakh authorities to deport another Uyghur, Ershidin Israil, a former geography teacher, who was initially given refugee status by the UNHCR and accepted for resettlement by Sweden.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA’s Uyghur service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.