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Uighur activists call on Qatar to halt man's deportation to China

Activist tells MEE that Ablikim Yusuf is still at Doha airport and could be deported within the next 24 hours
Ablikim Yusuf said he faced being returned to China from Qatar (Twitter)

Uighur activists have called on the Qatari authorities to halt the extradition of a man who said he was about to be deported from Doha to China.

A video posted on Facebook by the man, who identifies himself as Ablikim Yusuf, from inside Doha's airport was widely shared on social media by activists who warned he could face "imprisonment, torture and possibly even death" if he was returned to China.

In Washington, activists gathered outside the Qatari embassy into the early hours of Saturday morning.

Salih Hudayar, one of the protesters and the founder of the US-based East Turkistan National Awakening Movement, told Middle East Eye later on Saturday that Yusuf had not yet been deported, but that he could be within the next 24 hours.

Yusuf had earlier been reported as being booked on a Qatar Airways flight on Saturday morning from Doha to Beijing.

MEE contacted Qatar Airways and Qatar's foreign ministry for comment but had not received a response at the time of publication.

Who are the Uighurs and why is China targeting them?

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According to multiple reports, more than one million Uighurs, a Muslim-majority Turkic people, are currently being held in internment camps across Xinjiang in western China (or occupied East Turkestan as many Uighurs refer to the region).

Human Rights Watch said in September 2018 that up to 13 million Muslims in Xinjiang have been subjected to “forced political indoctrination, collective punishment, restrictions on movement and communications, heightened religious restrictions, and mass surveillance in violation of international human rights law”.

The Uighurs have have been particularly targeted since Communist party leader Chen Quanguo became Xinjiang’s party secretary in 2016. Under his leadership, a massive surveillance infrastructure was unrolled across the region designed to monitor and control the Muslim community.

Uighurs and ethnic Kazakhs have been routinely rounded up for practising their Islamic faith, including praying, observing Halal, or wearing clothes synonymous with being Muslim.

The Chinese government has even labelled Islam an “ideological illness” and has destroyed some mosques in the region. In the camps, detainees are forced to learn Chinese Mandarin, praise the ruling Chinese Communist Party and face recurrent psychological and physical abuse.

Uighur activists say that entire families have disappeared into the camps, or have been executed.

China has repeatedly denied allegations that it is persecuting the minority group, instead describing the camps as “vocational training centres” designed to counter religious extremism.

It also calls concerns raised by Uighur community members, human rights groups and others “unjustified” and an “interference in China’s internal affairs”.

In the video, Yusuf appears to be free to move about within the airport terminal.

"I am currently being held at Doha airport ... They are preparing for me to leave. I need the world's help. I am originally from Hotan," he said, referring to an area in China's western Xinjiang province, which is home to most of the country's Uighur minority.

A purported copy of Yusuf's passport posted online indicated that he is 53 years old.

China has been condemned by human rights groups over its mistreatment of the mostly Muslim minority, with hundreds of thousands of people reportedly detained in camps. Beijing calls the camps "vocational training schools" and says they have been set up to tackle "religious extremism".

Photos of the protest in Washington posted on Facebook showed Uighur activists holding banners which said: "Stop aiding China's persecution of East Turkistanis," and "Free Ablikim Yusuf Stop Deportation".

Many Uighur activists refer to Xinjiang as East Turkistan and describe the area as "occupied" by China.

In a phone conversation purportedly with the protocol officer at the embassy posted on Facebook, Hudayar said: "We are standing in front of your embassy to urge you and your government to immediately halt the deportation and offer him asylum or help him seek refuge in a third country."

Hudayar said Yusuf had originally been deported from Bosnia and was being returned to China via Qatar.

"We are trying to establish why Qatar being a Muslim nation is allowing this to happen. ... Qatar is well aware of what is going on in East Turkistan."

The protocol officer repeatedly tells Hudayar that Yusuf is a Chinese citizen.

"Standing in front of the embassy on Friday night, before the weekend, it is very hard to get hold of anyone," she said.

The World Uyghur Congress, which is run by Uighur exiles in Germany, also called on Qatar to halt the deportation.

"Qatar has an absolute obligation to ensure his protection, given conditions for Uyghurs in China," the organisation said in a post on Twitter.

Kenneth Roth, the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, said it was "good news" that Yusuf had not yet been deported but added: "More pressure is needed on Qatar to respect its asylum obligations."

Muslim nations have been criticised for failing to join international condemnation of China over its mistreatment of the Uighurs.

Muslim-majority countries' silence over abuse of China's Uighurs sparks criticism
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Qatar was among several Gulf countries, also including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman, to sign a letter to the United Nations last month in support of China's policies in Xinjiang.

The letter said that China had restored security in the region while safeguarding the human rights of its residents, Reuters reported

"Faced with the grave challenge of terrorism and extremism, China has undertaken a series of counter-terrorism and deradicalisation measures in Xinjiang, including setting up vocational education and training centres," Reuters quoted the letter as saying.

Last month, Middle East Eye reported that Turkey had issued deportation papers to several Uighur refugees living in the country. However, Ankara subsequently said that no Uighurs had or would be deported to China.