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Saudi Arabia: UN concerned about arrest of two Uyghurs at risk of being forcibly returned to China despite risk of torture

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News briefing

Translated and edited by: Committee for Justice

Geneva: 8 May 2022

UN experts have expressed their concerns about the Saudi authorities’ arrest and detention of two Chinese nationals belonging to the Uyghur minority: Hemdullah Abduweli and Nurmemet Rozi, amid fears that they would be forcibly returned to China despite the potential risk of torture and other ill-treatment.

Arbitrary arrest and detention in Saudi Arabia

The experts explained in a memo sent to the Saudi authorities on March 3, 2022, that Hemdullah Abduweli, or Waili Aimidoula as written on his Chinese passport, is a Chinese national of Muslim Uyghur ethnicity, born on 8 November 1968. In 2013, he was arrested and detained after being accused of helping organise an attack on 26 June 2013, in which 27 people were killed. In early 2014, Abduweli was released and acquitted after having been found innocent. On 27 February 2016 travelled to Turkey, accompanied by his family, where he was granted a residency permit issued by the Turkish authorities.

The experts added that On 3 february 2020, Abduweli travelled to Saudi Arabia on a one-year tourist visa to perform the umrah pilgrimage. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he was prevented from travelling back to Turkey where his family is residing. Rozi travelled to Saudi Arabia the same year, and was granted a residence permit which will expire in March 2023.

Once in Mecca, local Uyghur people invited Abduweli to perform missionary work, known as tabligh. Soon after, Abduweli and Rozi were informed by a Uyghur community member that the Saudi police were looking for them. Relatives of Abduweli were also questioned about him by the Chinese consulate in Mecca.

On 20 November 2020, Abduweli and Rozi were arrested by Saudi police officers, and after being interrogated they were transferred to Al Dhadban prison in Jeddah.

Forced deportation to China

On 3 January 2022, Saudi authorities informed Abuweli and Rozi that they would be imminently extradited to China, without giving further details. Abduweli’s relatives have been unable to speak to him since his arrest. Additionally, the relatives were informed about his upcoming extradition through Uyghur contacts living in Saudi Arabia.

The experts expressed their urgent concern at the deportation to China of Mr. Abuweli and Mr. Rozi, where they may be at risk of torture or ill-treatment.

UN demands from Saudi Arabia

The experts called on the Saudi authorities to provide information on the legal and factual basis for the Chinese government’s request to extradite these two men to China, and to provide information about existing legal, institutional and procedural safeguards in Saudi Arabia to fairly assess the risks for their liberty, and physical and mental integrity of Chinese nationals of Uyghur origin should they be forcibly returned to China.

The experts also called on Saudi Arabia to provide information on the measures taken to ensure that members of the Uyghur minority legally residing in Saudi Arabia can exercise their legitimate right to freedom of religion, peacefully, including observance their beliefs, their rites, their studies and related activities, without fear of arrest, detention, deportation or any other violation of their rights.

The experts also called on Saudi Arabia to clarify the legal proceedings relating to the extradition of these two individuals and whether they comply with the norms of due process recognised by international law, and the observance of fundamental safeguards, such as unrestrained and confidential access to a lawyer of their choice to present their evidence and defend themselves; and that they have access to an independent medical doctor and visits by their families.

Saudi response to the UN memorandum:

The Saudi authorities responded to the UN memorandum on 29 April 2022 requesting more time to examine the information and documents related to the case, without providing any answer to the allegations mentioned in the UN memorandum.

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