The authorities in Saudi Arabia have arrested two Uyghur Muslims who face persecution and torture if they are deported to China. Such a move by the Saudis would be unacceptable and lacking in compassion. Hemdullah Abduweli, 52, is a scholar and was arrested in Makkah whilst on the Umrah pilgrimage, along with his friend Nurmemet Rozi. Both men are reported to have been residents of Turkey who were stranded in Saudi Arabia due to the coronavirus travel restrictions. Ever since, they allege that they have been hunted down by the Saudi authorities at the request of the Chinese government, which wants them to be deported. Rozi has managed to contact a family member to say that they are being held in Jeddah's Bureiman Prison and fear that they are "in danger".
Abduweli told Radio Free Asia that, "A few days before the police came looking for me, a local man came and told me… that my situation was 'problematic'. He explained that China had made a request for me and that [the Saudis] were planning to hand me over. He said they had an agreement and that people were going to come looking for me within the next few days; that my situation was dangerous; and that I had to find a way to get out of it."
His fears for his safety are legitimate and should be taken into consideration by the Saudis, who will be accountable should anything happen to him or Rozi if they are sent back to China. The government in Riyadh is yet to clarify the status of the two detainees but the fact that Saudi police tracked down the two Uyghurs at the request of Beijing suggests that Saudi Arabia is keen to appease its Chinese allies.
Saudi Arabia must be well aware of the persecution that Uyghur Muslims are facing in China. Herded into concentration camps, they are abused, tortured and harassed, and some of the women have been forcibly sterilised. Moreover, the Uyghurs have been made to renounce their Islamic faith and change their identity. Uyghurs living in the autonomous region of Xinjiang are under constant surveillance and have been prevented from speaking to their family members abroad.
Despite such human rights abuses, Saudi Arabia has publicly defended China's repression of the Uyghurs, as have some other Muslim majority nations. Instead of offering them refuge in a Muslim country, they are sending fellow Muslims back to face what may well turn out to be a death sentence.
I have been covering the plight of the Uyghurs for years and have many contacts who tell me that the situation is more or less genocidal. Some Uyghurs who live abroad have not heard from their families in years and whenever they try to call they told not to or they will face the wrath of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
There have been reports of several other Uyghur Muslims being sent back to China from Saudi Arabia. This is a sad reflection of the Saudi government's complacency about the injustices that their fellow Muslims face around the world.
Personally, I have received death threats from CCP supporters for covering the Uyghur issue, and so I know that concerns about being deported are understandable and very real. As a Muslim country which purports to lead the Sunni Muslim world, Saudi Arabia should be safeguarding their co-religionists; instead, the government is pushing them away, to an early and cruel death at worst, or a life of oppression and torture at best.
Many countries and human rights organisations are recognising the extent of human rights violations against the Uyghur Muslims by the Chines authorities. When can we expect to hear Saudi Arabia and other Muslim majority countries speak up and take action to defend them?
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.