Wed, 18 May 2022

Uyghur Man's Long Journey to Freedom May End With Return to China

Voice of America
14 Jan 2022, 07:06 GMT+10

An ethnic Uyghur who escaped to Morocco is facing the possibility of being sent back to China while his wife fights for his freedom.

The story of Idris Hasan, whose Chinese name is Yidiresi Aishan, started 14 years ago. In 2008, when he was a 20-year-old student at the China University of Petroleum in eastern China, he and four of his fellow Uyghur classmates were beaten and arrested by local police.

His wife, Zeynure Obul, said the reason given by the police was that he and his Uyghur classmates were from Xinjiang and appeared suspicious in an ethnic Han majority Chinese city.

A Radio Free Asia reporter reached out to Hasan for an interview after he wrote online about the "unjust" incident.

"My husband spoke to RFA about what happened in a phone interview and his life changed since then," Obul told VOA from Istanbul.

Police target

She said he became a regular target of police interrogations since that media interview.

"They scolded him for receiving an interview from a U.S. media, and when he graduated, he decided to leave the country in 2012, right after our marriage," Obul said, adding that she joined her husband in Turkey in 2013.

While in Turkey, Hasan helped Uyghur rights groups using his graphic design skills. After living in Istanbul for more than a year, the couple applied for a Turkish permit to continue to stay in Istanbul on humanitarian grounds.

"I got quickly approved for the humanitarian residence, but the Turkish police took my husband to an extradition center and kept him there in a cell," Obul said.

Zeynure Obul with three children protests in front of the Moroccan Embassy in Istanbul. (Zeynure Obul) Zeynure Obul with three children protests in front of the Moroccan Embassy in Istanbul. (Zeynure Obul)

Obul said Turkish authorities told her Hasan's passport was on a wanted list provided by China.

"From 2014 until last year, my husband was arrested arbitrarily four times by Turkish authorities," Obul said. "The longest time he stayed in detention in Turkey was more than a year."

In 2021, after seeing his name on a publicly disclosed Turkish government document about China's wanted Uyghurs in Turkey, Hasan decided to leave the country.

"His two previous attempts at the Istanbul airport to leave Turkey were unsuccessful," Obul said, adding that the border police interrogated him and did not let him leave.

In July, he finally succeeded and flew to Casablanca, Morocco.

"My husband told me on the phone that the border police were on the phone with their boss for a long time before they released him to fly to Casablanca," Obul said.

When Hasan got there, he sent his wife a message telling her he had arrived. Four days later she received a call from him from a Casablanca detention center saying he had been arrested at the airport and taken to a prison near the town of Tiflet.

He was then detained for months because of delays in his court hearing.

Request to Interpol

Obul corresponded with Interpol and learned her husband's arrest in Morocco was due to China's Red Notice to Interpol, which is a request to law enforcement worldwide for a fugitive.

"After organizations like Amnesty International spoke of my husband, Interpol finally canceled my husband's name from its list, saying it informed all 194 member countries about this change," Obul said.

Interpol did not respond to VOA's requests for comment.

Last month, however, during a sixth trial by a Moroccan court, it was decided that Hasan would be extradited to China.

VOA sent multiple inquires to the Chinese Embassy in Washington asking about the nature of Hasan's crime but has not received a response. The Moroccan Embassy in Washington also did not respond to VOA's multiple requests for an interview about whether Hasan would be deported.

"After waiting for my husband's freedom for months, the Moroccan authorities have made a decision that presents a grave threat to the life and safety of my husband and father of my three children," Obul said.

Carolyn Nash, Amnesty International USA's Asia advocacy director, described Hasan's case as "a grave reminder of the extraordinary efforts of the Chinese authorities to extend the government's repressive power" outside its borders - to intimidate diaspora communities and chill critical speech.

"Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch must stop the extradition of Idris Hasan immediately," Nash told VOA. "If they [Morocco authorities] fail in this obligation, it could have horrifying implications for the safety of Uyghur diaspora communities across other regions of the world."

Accusations of mistreatment

The United States is among the countries and international rights organizations that accuse China of genocide and crimes against humanity toward Uyghurs and other Turkic ethnic groups in Xinjiang. They say more than 1 million Uyghurs are being detained in internment camps while facing torture and other mistreatment by Chinese authorities.

Beijing denies the accusations and has said that the complexes are "vocational training centers" built to counter extremism and terrorism in Xinjiang and improve the lives of Uyghurs.

U.N. human rights experts have called on Morocco to halt Hasan's extradition to China, stating that Morocco's decision "violates principles of non-refoulement," which is the practice of not sending asylum-seekers back to a place where they will be persecuted.

According to Mary Lawlor, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights defenders, it's encouraging that Hasan has not been deported yet.

"While he remains in Morocco there is still hope for him, and for a positive outcome. The case isn't complicated - he shouldn't be put in danger by being extradited to China," Lawlor told VOA.

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