A video clip of a Uyghur mother and her 13-year-old daughter asking for help after being detained in Saudi Arabia and told they would be sent to China has recently surfaced on social media, highlighting the use by China of soft allies to circumvent criminal justice processes and ensure that political refugees and Muslims are returned.
Rights group Safeguard Defenders has called on Saudi authorities to immediately release Abla Buhelchem and her daughter Babure Miremet, along with two other Uyghur men being held without charge by Saudi police.
“We call on the Saudi authorities to immediately release four Uyghurs – including a 13-year-old girl and her mother – who are at serious risk of enforced disappearance, torture and forced separation if returned to China,” the group said. in a press release. on its website.
Abla Buhelchem and her daughter were arrested near Mecca and told by police that they would be sent back to China along with Abla Buhelchem’s ex-husband, Nurmemet Rozi and Hemdulla Weli, both detained without charge since November 2020.
Both Rozi and Weli were in Saudi Arabia on pilgrimage, an act the CCP considers “extremist” along with many other required expressions of Islamic faith, and were detained at the request of the Chinese Embassy.
He said the two men had been transferred from the detention center where they were being held to March 2022and their whereabouts are currently unknown.
Gross, flagrant or massive violations of human rights”
On Friday April 1, United Nations legal experts said the four should not be sent to China under any circumstances.
“The prohibition on refoulement is absolute and non-derogable under international human rights and refugee law,” the statement said. “States are required not to expel any individual from their territory where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she might suffer serious human rights violations in the State of destination, including, where appropriate , the existence in the State concerned of a series of serious, flagrant or massive violations of human rights”.
Abdul Ayup, a Uyghur scholar based in Norway, said he last heard of Abla Buhelchem on April 9.
“By then she had already arrived at the Riyadh detention center,” Ayup said.
Abduweli, a person familiar with the situation, said all four were still being held in Saudi Arabia at the April 28. He said he tried to warn Abla Buhelchem of the danger and advised her to leave the country, but she wanted to stay and tell her ex-husband’s story to the international community, fearing he would disappear and be forgotten.
“My friends who work in the Saudi government told me privately that Uyghurs should not come to Saudi Arabia.”
“As far as I know, there has been no clear charge so far, and officials have not explained why they were arbitrarily arrested without any documents,” Abduweli said. “It’s very strange.”
Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s secretary general for the Middle East and North Africa, said the forced repatriation of the four Uyghurs was “unconscionable” and a breach of Saudi Arabia’s obligations under international law.
“In China, they will be arbitrarily detained, persecuted and possibly tortured,” Maalouf said.
Arab world repatriations
In 2020, Saudi Arabia and 45 other countries signed a letter of support for China’s mass detention camps in Xinjiang, marking a “turning point” for Saudi foreign policy, according to Kissinger Institute for US fellow Bradley Jardine. -China Relations.
At least five other governments in the Arab world – Egypt, Morocco, Qatar, Syria and the United Arab Emirates – have detained, extradited or participated in cross-border crackdowns on Uyghurs at the behest of China.
And the problem is not limited to the Middle East.
“It is very difficult for Uyghur defenders to travel to Central Asia now,” Omer Kanat, chairman of the executive committee of the World Uyghur Congress, told RFA after being sent back to Turkey from Kazakhstan. “I was stopped by border officials during a visit to Kazakhstan. I was interrogated by Kazakh security officers at the airport, who asked me why I had come to Central Asia.”
Beijing’s allies among Central Asian nations are grouped under its Shanghai Cooperation Organization initiative.
“They told me that no member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization would let me in, then they sent me back to Turkey,” Omer Kanat said.
According to statistics from the Uyghur Human Rights Project and the Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs, the Chinese government has detained, deported or extradited more than 1,300 Uyghurs since the start of China’s “war on terror” in 2014, the most of them being predominantly Muslim. countries.
The US-based Freedom House described in a recent report several key features of transnational repression in China.
Political dissidents, activists also expelled
China will target ethnic groups like the Uyghurs, but also political dissidents, rights activists, journalists and former officials using its overseas networks.
Between the launch of the SkyNet program in 2014 and June 2021, China has repatriated nearly 10,000 people from 120 countries and regions, according to the report. Yet, according to Safeguard Defenders, only 1% are brought back to China using legal procedures; more than 60 percent are just put on a plane against their will.
“The diversity of the CCP’s so-called ‘extradition’ is something that worries us,” Safeguard Defenders’ Chen Yanting told RFA. “For example, Interpol’s red notice mechanism is increasingly being used to persuade other countries to cooperate.”
“Another example is [legal] extradition on the surface, but China will use illegal methods behind the scenes alongside the formal extradition process.
Many people are forced to return home when authorities threaten to detain their loved ones.
“This kind of situation is very common, and many Uyghurs in the United States and Europe have received [Chinese police harassment] calls,” said Omar Kanat, citing the case of a friend who received a message from her relatives asking her to go to the Chinese embassy and tell them that she loves China.
SkyNet operates under the Surveillance Law of the People’s Republic of China, using it to legitimize what are effectively overseas renditions and kidnappings.
Chinese journalist Li Xin and human rights defender Tang Zhishun were abducted in Thailand and Myanmar respectively, while Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai was taken from his vacation home in Phuket, Thailand.
Another Chinese national, Wang Jianye, was executed after being extradited from Thailand in 1995 despite assurances that he would not face the death penalty.
“First, China’s diplomatic assurances are not credible, and second, the extradited person’s human rights cannot be guaranteed, and there is a strong chance that he or she will be persecuted,” Chen Yanting said.
Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), agrees, saying any country that believes China’s diplomatic assurances are either naïve or negligent, warning countries with current extradition requests to China not to ignore reality.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.