Buheliqiemu Abula and her teenage daughter were detained near Mecca and told by police they would be deported to China where they face imprisonment and torture, Amnesty says
By Michael Day
Chief Foreign Commentator
April 20, 2022
Protesters stage a mock Uyghur forced labour camp outside an Apple store in Washington in March to highlight the alleged use of illegal forced Uyghur labour in its supply chain (Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
With the world’s gaze focused on the Ukraine war, Saudi Arabia is set to quietly deport a 13-year-old Uyghur child and her mother – along with two other Uyghurs – to China, where they face imprisonment and torture. United Nations experts have already said that the deportation would be illegal.
Buheliqiemu Abula and her teenage daughter were detained near Mecca on 31 March, according to Amnesty International, and told by police they faced deportation to China, along with two Uyghur men already held.
Ms Abula is the former wife of Nuermeiti Ruze, who with Aimidoula Waili has been detained without charge in Saudi Arabia since November 2020.
Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said: “Deporting these four people – including a child – to China, where Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities are facing a horrific campaign of mass internment, persecution and torture, would be an outrageous violation of international law.”
She called on other governments with diplomatic ties to Saudi Arabia to intervene to stop the deportations.
“Strategic allies of Saudi Arabia, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, must not stand by while it wilfully ignores human rights law,” she said.
Nuermeiti Ruze and Aimidoula Waili were detained while on a religious pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia – which likes to portray itself as the pious centre of the Islamic world.
Despite this, Riyadh appears willing to deport the dissident to China, which is seeking to stamp out the Uyghur Islamic culture in its Xinjiang region.
All four Uyghurs were scheduled to be deported on a plane last week, though this was cancelled at the last moment.
Amnesty International’s China researcher Alkan Akad said on Tuesday evening: “We are still concerned that they are at imminent risk of deportation to China.”
Two senior UN experts, Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues and Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, expressed their alarm at the Uyghurs’ detention and said the expected deportations to China would be illegal under international law.
“We are alarmed by the arrest of two Uyghur men in Saudi Arabia, since November 2020, and their continuous detention without proper legal justification or implementation of fundamental safeguards,” they said, and were “disturbed by acts of reprisal against members of the two men’s families, present in Saudi Arabia”.
They noted that the prohibition of refoulement (the forcible return of refugees or asylum seekers to a country where they are liable to be subjected to persecution) was absolute under international human rights and refugee law.
Rayhan Asat, a human rights expert at the Atlantic Council think-tank wrote in an article on the Foreign Policy website that the development, “while shocking, fits well within a now-familiar pattern from two of the world’s worst perpetrators of transnational repression”.
China has been singled out by Freedom House as being particularly guilty of this tactic. Saudi Arabia remains infamous for its murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi abroad, in Istanbul. Both countries are notorious for their extensive use of the death penalty.
Freedom House says it is the oldest US organisation devoted to promoting democracy around the world. It was formally established in New York in 1941 to promote US involvement in the Second World War and the fight against fascism.
Ties between Saudi Arabia and China have been growing stronger for several years – even as Saudi-US ties weaken, following the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a leading critic of the de facto Saudi ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.