Saudi Arabia wants to extradite Uyghur exiles to China

Believers walk around the Kaaba in the Great Mosque in Mecca at a safe distance. The number of pilgrims is currently limited to 60,000 due to the corona pandemic.

(Photo: Hassan Alfahimi/dpa)

Make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Circling the Kaaba, the black cube-shaped building, singing a hymn of praise to God with millions of other Muslims from all over the world, so many nations, but all speaking the same words. A very special moment that billions of Muslims around the world long for for the rest of their lives. One of them washemdullah Abduweli, a Uyghur scholar who traveled to Saudi Arabia for the small pilgrimage in February 2020.

There’s this photo of him: he’s in a white robe, no longer freshly shaven, around him people with turbans, prayer caps, headscarves, behind him the golden door of the Kaaba shines. That was in February 2020. Since then, his two daughters, who live in exile in Istanbul, have been waiting for his return. But Abduweli is still in the Gulf Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia: He was arrested at the end of 2020 because he gave a speech critical of China to Uyghurs in Saudi Arabia.

He was arrested at the end of 2020 because he gave a speech critical of China to Uyghurs in Saudi Arabia.

(Photo: private)

The 54-year-old has been in the Dhahban high-security prison in Jeddah for over a year. The family man belongs to the Uyghur minority, which is persecuted in China. In a few days, he and his friend Nurmemet Rozi could face extradition to China, meaning internment camps, torture, forced labor, like hundreds of thousands of his people, his daughter, Nurin Abduweli, tells the SZ.

Her father has been campaigning for the rights of his people for years, the daughter tells the camera, black glasses, a chiffon headscarf, soft facial features. He was in prison twice in China, and they have been living together in exile in Istanbul since 2016. Before leaving for Saudi Arabia, he had no concerns. For her father it was the first pilgrimage. He called her and enthused that he was so grateful that he was allowed to experience it. After the small pilgrimage, he actually wanted to do the Hajj, the big pilgrimage. But because of the spread of the corona virus, only a few people were admitted. Anyway, everything turned out differently.

Abduweli hid with Uyghur families

He caught the eye of the Chinese consulate in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, when he addressed the Uyghur community in Saudi Arabia. In it he called for armed struggle against the “Chinese invaders,” says his daughter. When he found out he was wanted, he sought refuge with Uyghur families. Departing via the airport seemed too risky to him. Saudi security forces arrested him in November 2020. From Hajj to Detention.

The 26-year-old Islamic scholar does not speak English, but Standard Arabic and Turkish. When she talks about her father, a smile crosses her face. “He loves people, he was not only a scholar but also a trader who always had to get into conversation with others.” At least in terms of health, he should be fine, says the young woman.

She hasn’t heard her father’s voice for over a year. She receives information about the Uyghur community in Saudi Arabia. They informed her that Saudi security forces had visited her father in prison and informed him that he would return “in a few days”. In a video message circulating on social media, Nurin Abduweli is now asking the Saudi government for his release.

But the kingdom currently seems to want to advance its strategic partnership with China. A few days after Nurin Abduweli’s video message, a top-class delegation from the Gulf States traveled to China for five days, the first time in this constellation. Among them: the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain and the Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Nayef bin Falah al-Hajraf.

US intelligence services assume that Riyadh is building rockets with Chinese help

For the oil-rich Gulf States, Beijing has become one of the most important buyers of oil. China’s state Global Times announced this week that the visit could also bring “breakthroughs” in talks on a free trade agreement between China and the GCC.

Politically, too, the close partnership between Saudi Arabia and China has recently caused quite a stir: According to a report by CNN, US secret services assume that Riyadh is building its own ballistic missiles with Chinese help. Late last year, CNN released satellite images claiming to show that rockets are being manufactured at at least one site near the Saudi city of Dawadmi. This could significantly alter the power dynamics in the region and complicate efforts by European states, which are currently holding talks with Saudi Arabia’s nemesis Iran to salvage the nuclear deal.

And it also shows that the time when Saudi Arabia relied exclusively on arms imports from the West seems to be over. Beijing and Riyadh attach little importance to the observance of human rights. Arms deals only if Saudi women activists get out of prison? Such deals do not exist with Beijing.

Saudi Arabia: Nurin Abduweli (left) and her sister Soumeyya are fighting for Saudi Arabia to release their father.

Nurin Abduweli (left) and her sister Soumeyya are fighting for Saudi Arabia to release their father.

(Photo: private)

None of this bodes well for Nurin Abduweli and her father. The young woman contacted the Turkish Foreign Ministry in Istanbul and asked for help, she says. “But ultimately it’s a matter between two countries. We have Chinese passports. I just hope that Saudi Arabia won’t allow it,” says the daughter.

But in recent years he has made it clear how de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman feels about the crimes committed against the Uyghurs. During a visit to Beijing in February 2019, the Saudi crown prince emphasized “China’s right to take measures against terrorism and extremism in order to protect national security”. The Uyghurs were not mentioned, but the message was clear.

If her father hadn’t made this speech, if the Saudis hadn’t arrested him, he would be here with her now, says Nurin Abduweli. She gets up, goes into another room and points the camera at her daughter, who is stretching in the cot. Zubaida, just a month old. “Will she ever meet her grandfather?” Abduweli asks and apologizes. She has to take care of the little one now.

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