Uyghurs in Saudi Arabia risk deportation to China

Activists and human rights groups are calling on Saudi Arabia not to deport four members of the Uyghur Muslim minority back to China.

The calls came after a woman published a video online last week. In the video, a Uyghur woman in a black hijab says that she and her 13-year-old daughter are in a police car and being taken to the airport in Riyadh, the capital, to be deported.

“Please save us. Please save us quickly,” she pleads.

“Buheliqiemu Abula and her teenage daughter, 13, were made to take tests for COVID-19 today in preparations for their deportation to China,” Amnesty International said in an April 13 statement.

Abula’s ex-husband and a friend of his, also Uyghurs, have been detained in Saudi Arabia since November 2020, according to France 24.

Related: This Uyghur woman was separated from her husband by Chinese authorities. She hasn’t given up hope.

Activists and human rights groups say if the four are deported to China, they could face grave danger.

“We were quite shocked to see the video. We know that if they were sent back to China, they would be facing arbitrary detention, they would be taken to […] internment camps where they would face risk of torture as well as persecution.”

Alkan Akad, China researcher with Amnesty International

“We were quite shocked to see the video,” said Alkan Akad, China researcher with Amnesty International. “We know that if they were sent back to China, they would be facing arbitrary detention, they would be taken to […] internment camps where they would face risk of torture as well as persecution.”

There is considerable and reliable evidence that the government in Beijing is committing human rights violations against the Uyghur people, Akad added.

These range from forcibly putting them in so-called reeducation camps, and subjecting them to forced labor, torture, sexual assault and sterilization. Some people have simply disappeared.

Related: US bans some solar products from Xinjiang, citing human rights abuses of Uyghur people

Aydin Anwar, an Uyghur American and advocate for Uyghur rights, said that more than 90 of her relatives have gone missing from inside China.

In a talk that Anwar gave at Duke University last year, she listed some of the things that could get Uyghur people in trouble with the Chinese government.

“Abstaining from alcohol, praying, fasting, going to a mosque, telling others not to sin, having too many children, having WhatsApp,” she said, going on to list more examples.

Several countries, including the United States, have called China’s actions against the Uyghurs genocide.

“I believe this genocide is ongoing and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state,” said former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a press statement.

Nury Turkel, vice chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, said that what is shocking to him is that some Muslim-majority nations have looked away, or worse.

“Over the years, particularly in the last 3-4 years, the Chinese Communist Party has been actively recruiting, enlisting support from the Muslim countries. And Saudi Arabia has been one of the key players in this,” he said.

During a 2019 visit to China, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was quoted by state-owned CCTV saying that “China has the right to take anti-terrorism and deextremism measures to safeguard national security.”

The Saudis also endorsed China’s policies in two joint letters to the United Nations.

Related: New Zealand condemns China’s treatment of Uyghurs but won’t call it ‘genocide’

“It is unconscionable knowing that Saudi Arabia and this particular Saudi leader, who is groomed to be the custodian of the two holiest mosques, does not even raise a finger to the Chinese,” Turkel said.

The Saudi Embassy in Washington did not respond to The World’s request for comment for this story.

But it’s not only the Saudis, Turkel added, who are taking China’s side. Pakistan, Iran, Syria and the Palestinian authorities have all sided with Beijing.

Turkel explained that China has presented a soft image of itself in many Muslim-majority countries by building schools, roads and hospitals in these countries.

“And they say ‘where the West bomb your cities and kill your people, we’re here to build your country,’” he said.

And then, there are the economic ties.

The Chinese are “buying silence from these countries,” Turkel said. “Some of these [Muslim-majority] countries believe mistakenly that they can use China to counter Western influence, the United States, in particular.”

Meanwhile, in the wake of the news about the deportation of the mother and daughter, along with two other Uyghur men, activists in the US pressured Saudi Arabia to halt their deportation.

Some took to the streets, including Mosaab Sadeia, who attended a protest in New York City.

“The message that we were sending was [this is] an absolute desecration of Ramadan, it’s a violation of Islamic values and it’s a violation of international law.”

Mosaab Sadeia, Free Uyghur Now

“The message that we were sending was [this is] an absolute desecration of Ramadan, it’s a violation of Islamic values and it’s a violation of international law,” he said.

Sadeia, who leads a group called Free Uyghur Now, said the activists even called the airline that was scheduled to take the four individuals back to China and pleaded with the representatives to “be on the right side of history.”

Related: US Customs and Border Protection monitors imports to curb products made by forced labor

Their efforts paid off. At least for now.

“Literally, the flight was supposed to take off at 7:04 [p.m.] Eastern time, and at  7:08 [p.m.] we got the news that they did not board the flight,” Sadeia said.

That was on April 14. Human rights groups believe the four individuals are still in Saudi Arabia. They say they don’t know much about their current conditions.

Akad from Amnesty International said that none of the detainees have been charged with a crime and that one thing is absolutely clear: They don’t want to go back to China.

“One of the detainees told the authorities that they would rather die in Saudi Arabia than be sent to China,” Akad said.

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