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The New Arab Staff

Uighur men detained in Saudi risk deportation, torture: HRW

The two men were arrested in Mecca on Friday [Getty]

Date of publication: 24 November, 2020

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Human Rights Watch has called on the Saudi authorities to immediately disclose the status of Hemdullah Abduweli, a 52 year-old Muslim scholar, and his friend, Nurmemet Rozi.
A human rights watchdog has urged Saudi authorities to "immediately disclose" the whereabouts of two Uighur Muslim men detained in the Kingdom on Friday, amid fears they may be deported to China where members of their ethnic group face systematic repression, torture and other ill-treatment.

"Saudi Arabia's attempts to seek positive publicity through hosting the G20 would be severely undercut if it detains and forcibly returns fellow Muslims back to unbridled persecution in China," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

"Saudi authorities should immediately disclose the status of the Uighur detainees and clarify why they arrested them," he added.

Hemdullah Abduweli, a 52 year-old Uighur Muslim religious scholar, was arrested in the city of Mecca along with his friend Nurmemet Rozi, Uyghur activist Abduweli Ayup told HRW.

Rozi contacted a family member to say that both men are being held in Jeddah's Bureiman prison and are "in danger", according to Ayup

Another source close to Abduweli told HRW that the religious scholar had arrived in Saudi Arabia in February to perform a religious pilgrimage.

He went into hiding after delivering a speech to the local Uighur community in which he encouraged Uighurs and Muslims to pray about conditions in Xinjang and to "fight back the Chinese invaders…using weapons", the source added.

Abduweli expressed fears to Middle East Eye early November that China had requested Saudi authories detain and deport him.

The arrests appear to follow a pattern of Uighur persecution in the Middle East, with a BBC Newsnight report last month revealing multiple cases of exiled Uighur students and pilgrims being targeted in Muslim-led countries, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt – in collaboration with Beijing.

Read more: Middle Eastern countries arrested, deported exiled Uighurs to China: report

China cables leaked last year identified nearly 6,000 Uighurs living abroad or possessing papers to travel for government tracking and surveillance.

In the official documents, the Chinese government ordered the tracking of those "for whom suspected terrorism cannot be ruled out", who should be "arrested from the moment they cross the border" and "placed into concentrated education and training".

At least one million Muslims, most of them members of the Uighur ethnic minority, are thought to be held in detention camps and centres across Xinjiang.

Beijing is accused of subjecting the detainees to torture, indoctrination and forced labour, as well as forcibly sterilising Uighur women.

Saudi Arabia has previously come under fire after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman defended China's crackdown on Uighurs.

Saudi Arabia supported joint letters in support of China's policies in Xinjiang at the United Nations in 2019 and again in 2020.  

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