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Egypt detains Muslim Uighur students in wide sweep, plans to deport them to China

Many Uighurs complain of cultural and religious repression and discrimination by China [AFP]

Date of publication: 7 July, 2017

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Chinese students from the Uighur ethnic minority have been detained in Egypt in a broad police sweep that has shaken the country’s sizeable Uighur student and expatriate community, activists said.

Egyptian authorities have arrested "dozens" of students from China's Uighur Muslim ethnic minority "apparently to deport them" following a request from Beijing, Human Rights Watch said, amid accusations Cairo is trying to appease China.

"The authorities should disclose their whereabouts, on what grounds they are held, and give them access to lawyers," Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's Middle East director, said in a statement tweeted on Wednesday by the organisation.

"Egypt should not deport them back to China, where they face persecution and torture," said Whitson.

A traditionally Muslim group, many Uighurs complain of cultural and religious repression and discrimination by China.

Asked about the report, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said, "as far as I know, China's embassy in Egypt has sent consular officials to conduct consular visits," without elaborating.

Uighur students and activists said police had raided two restaurants frequented by them in Cairo on Tuesday and arrested at least 30 people.

According to Turkey-based Uighur activist Abduweli Ayup, the detained students include 20 from Cairo's al-Azhar University who were stopped in the city of Alexandria on their way out of the country late on Wednesday and told they would be deported to China.

Ayup said he had heard directly from some of the detainees and their relatives.

China's vast Xinjiang region, home to many Uighur, has been racked for years by a series of violent attacks which Beijing blames on exiled Uighur separatist groups whom it says are aligned with foreign terrorist networks.

Rights groups have countered that unrest in the region is largely a response to repressive policies, and that tighter measures are counterproductive and have turned Xinjiang into a police state with widespread arbitrary detentions and invasive surveillance.

The detentions in Egypt, a popular destination for religious study among China's Muslims, were seen by activists as a possible sign that China's security crackdown in Xinjiang is extending its reach overseas.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson appeared to acknowledge on Thursday that Chinese citizens had been detained in Egypt, saying at a regular briefing that consular officials would visit them. He gave no further details.

Another activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said overseas groups had managed to move 60 Uighur students out of Egypt to safety in Turkey this week, but 20 were held while trying to fly to Dubai.

Lucia Parrucci, a spokesperson for the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation advocacy group, said that a 1 July raid at the Asian restaurant in Nasr City caught 37 Uighurs, mostly student patrons and restaurant workers.

Unverified videos shared on social media purportedly showed more than 70 Uighurs sitting on a floor in a government building and others being driven in a truck in handcuffs.

Abdullah, an Asian student of Islam at al-Azhar university, said Uighurs were being detained in the Hay el-Sabia area of Cairo's Nasr City district. He gave only his first name for fear of reprisals.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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