Uyghurs detained in Saudi Arabia face risk of deportation to China

Family members of Hamidulla Wali and Nurmemet Rozi worry the two will face torture if returned to Xinjiang.
By Jilil Kashgary
Mask-clad Muslim pilgrims keep a safe social distance amid the coronavirus pandemic as they circumambulate around the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the center of the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on the final day of the annual Muslim Hajj, Aug. 2, 2020.
AFP/HO/Saudi Ministry of Media

Two Uyghur men arbitrarily detained in Saudi Arabia since November 2020 are believed to be at risk of being forcibly repatriated to China, an international rights group said Wednesday.

Religious scholar Hamidulla Wali (in Chinese, Aimidoula Waili) and his roommate Nurmemet Rozi (Nuermaimaiti Ruze) traveled to the country from Turkey on a Muslim religious pilgrimage to Mecca and were arrested on Nov. 20. Authorities allegedly have never told them why they were arrested and detained, according to rights groups.

Family members of the two men told London-based Amnesty International on March 16 that Wali and Rozi had been transferred from Jeddah to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital, in a move they believed was a precursor to extradition.

A source who declined to be identified for safety reasons told RFA on Friday that Saudi authorities revoked Rozi’s Saudi Arabian residency card on Wednesday and sent an official notice about it to his local sponsor.

Amnesty has urged Saudi authorities to stop plans to extradite the two Uyghur men to China, saying they would be at high risk of torture given the government’s crackdown on Muslim minorities in the country’s far-western Xinjiang region.

“If sent to China, it is highly likely that these two men will be subjected to arbitrary detention and torture in Xinjiang’s network of repressive internment camps or prisons, where hundreds of thousands of other Uyghurs have faced grave human rights violations,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, in a statement.

She noted that under international law, the Saudi government has an obligation not to extradite Wali and Rozi to China.

“The Saudi authorities should halt all plans to deport the men and immediately release them from detention, unless they are to be charged with a recognizable criminal offence,” Maalouf said.

The Saudi government has publicly supported China’s antiterrorism measures in what rights activists have said is a tacit approval of the crackdown on predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang.

Saudi authorities have returned other Uyghurs back to China after they traveled to the country for work or to make a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Nuriman Hamidulla, Wali’s daughter, told RFA on Friday that her father is in danger.

“From what we hear now from our source in Saudi is that there is a huge risk of deportation and the source says maybe international organizations and media can help us by publicizing their cases,” she said.

Nuriman also said she met with a lawyer in Turkey about how to prevent them from being deported, but that there is no way to do so in Saudi Arabia using legal channels. Through the lawyer in Turkey, Wali’s family contacted the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Ankara, but no one responded.

“From what we know from the past is that the Uyghurs who were deported back to China from Saudi Arabia were all first transferred to a prison in Riyadh, then they were deported back to China,” she said.

Turkish authorities told Wali’s family that they can do nothing because Wali is not a Turkish citizen even though he holds a long-term residence permit.

In a previous RFA report, Wali said he arrived in Saudi Arabia in February 2020 to perform the umrah hajj, a form of the holy Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca that can be made at any point during the year. He also said he was unable to return to Turkey, where he has been a resident since 2016, after travel routes were shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

At the time, Wali also told RFA that a source in Saudi Arabia had informed him that Chinese authorities made an official request to the Saudi government to arrest and deport him to China, though he did not elaborate on the reason. He said he was also advised to go into hiding shortly before police first began looking for him in July.

Wali, the former owner of Hadiya Clothing, was arrested in Xinjiang in August 2013 after one of his factory employees was accused of inciting protesters to attack police stations. He spent several months in prison, where he was tortured, but eventually was declared innocent of participating in the deadly riot.

Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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