Crimes against humanity: Saudi Arabia is 'turning a blind eye to genocide' if Uyghurs are deported back to China
The lives of two Uyghur businessmen hang in the balance as Saudi Arabia becomes the latest Muslim nation to join the ranks of countries willing to kowtow to China and deport those from the Muslim minority taking refuge on their soil.
Wali Hamdullah and Nur Muhammed Rozi, whose Hajj pilgrimage from Turkey ended abruptly more than a year ago following their mysterious detention in the Saudi capital, have become victims of a tense standoff between the Gulf country, Beijing, and activists demanding their release and return to Turkey.
The duplicity of states willing to trade Uyghurs for loans and infrastructure projects has been well documented and most recently the case of Idris Hasan detained in Morocco attracted sympathy from the world but impotence in the face of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) pressure on Casablanca to return him to China.
Despite a CCP-initiated Interpol Red Notice accusing Hasan of terrorism, which was subsequently revoked by Interpol, the Uyghur activist was ordered back to China by the Moroccan Court of Cassation on December 15, 2021. Blind to the likelihood of torture or worse, the judgement went ahead. His fate is now in the hands of the Moroccan Prime Minister, following appeals by Safeguard Defenders and NGO's to the UN Committee Against Torture.
The tragedy of the Hamdullah family began in 2016 just as the roundups and extrajudicial sentencing of Uyghurs began in earnest in their homeland. As an ardent Muslim, Hamdullah became an underground religious leader risking all to pass on his faith to the next generation. He sent his two eldest daughters to Turkey for their Islamic education, planning to join them later.
Shockingly, unable to get passports for his two youngest he was forced to leave them behind with their mother, and reluctantly departed without them.
Refusing to depend on handouts or charity, he trained as a tailor and started to save for the trip of a lifetime to Mecca. All contact with home was lost following threats from the Chinese government, and the pain of separation took its toll.
Taking heart from the news that many Uyghurs had successfully completed Hajj from China in 2019 and returned safely, Hamdullah and his friend Nur Muhammed Rozi decided it was safe to travel there from Turkey in February 2020.
Anticipating trouble while in Saudi Arabia, he spoke to the UK-based Middle East Eye in November 2020 telling of missionary work he had carried out in Mecca and a rallying speech he had made to Uyghurs inside the Gulf Kingdom, which he thought might have angered Beijing. He feared returning to Turkey in case he was arrested at the airport and sent back to China.
Saudi-based Uyghurs informed the daughters later of their father's arrest. News that the Saudi government had ordered their extradition to China on January 3, 2022, has devastated them and the worldwide Uyghur community, fearing for their own safety were similar orders to be made against their countrymen, not only in Saudi Arabia but around the world.
Speaking to The New Arab this week, Hamdullah's 21-year-old daughter Sümeyye Aytürk was distraught. "My father has done nothing wrong. He was an independent, hard-working and kind man," she said. "He was good-natured, outgoing and hospitable. It is heartbreaking to think that his simple pilgrimage to a Muslim country should have ended with his extradition to China."
Having already endured the harrowing estrangement from their mother, their younger brother and sister, the thought that they might be watching their father setting off on a journey to his own death is agonising. "We miss our father very much," she said. "We deeply feel the separation from our family and our homeland and our hearts are breaking to think that we might be parted from him forever."
"These two individuals risk losing their lives if they are extradited to China... This is against Islamic principles, international law and human rights conventions"
Increasing economic and political ties between Beijing and Riyadh ensures that there is intolerance to criticism on either side and so any demands by China to return what they claim to be "stray" Uyghurs are unlikely to be opposed.
The International Union of East Turkestan NGO's described the detention without trial of their countrymen as "deeply worrying." The group has stepped up rescue efforts and appeals to the Turkish authorities to intervene, citing previous repatriation orders from Muslim states that resulted in the torture, disappearance and death of those sent back. "These two individuals risk losing their lives if they are extradited to China," they said. "This is against Islamic principles, international law and human rights conventions."
Sumayye is pleading with the international community to step in and save her father. "We hope that our brothers and sisters around the world will work together to prevent my father from returning to China, and to allow him to be reunited with his daughters," she said.
The East Turkestan Union of NGO's reminded King Salman bin Abdulaziz of his duty as a Muslim to prioritise Islamic brotherhood and values by giving the Uyghurs legal assistance to fight their case and refusing to extradite them. "We invite Saudi Arabia to allow them to return to Turkey or another safe country as soon as possible," they urged.
"If Saudi Arabia deports these two Uyghur men, it will be sending a clear message that it stands arm-in-arm with the Chinese government and its crimes against humanity targeting Turkic Muslims,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
“Deporting people to places where they would face arbitrary detention, torture, or worse, risks further tarnishing Saudi Arabia’s global human rights image.
"Under the customary international law principle of nonrefoulement and as a party to the UN Convention against Torture, Saudi Arabia is obligated to ensure that no one in its custody is forcibly sent to a place where they would risk being subjected to persecution, torture, or other serious human rights violations," he added.
The author is writing under a pseudonym to protect her identity