China appears to be behind the round-up to get students home where they face long prison sentences on terrorism and extremism charges. Activists and international NGOs slam the "ridiculous" charges and the lack of legal protection for those in custody.
Cairo (AsiaNews) – Ethnic Uyghur students detained in Egypt are being held by the country’s national intelligence service on Beijing’s behalf for deportation home.
A human rights group cited by Radio Free Asia (RFA) says that Beijing ordered the roundup of more than 200 Uyghurs, many of them religious students at Cairo’s Al-Azhar Islamic University.
The students have been detained since 4 July, picked up in restaurants or at their homes, with others seized at airports as they tried to flee to safer countries.
Dozens of Uyghurs are believed to have already been deported home to China, where rights groups say they face a serious risk of arbitrary detention and torture.
Egyptian authorities have denied targeting Uyghurs, saying instead that those arrested were brought in for “alleged irregularities in their residency papers”.
However, Uyghur exile groups and students say the detentions were ordered by China on allegations that they had “joined extremist organizations.”
A source told RFA on condition of anonymity that he had discovered around 50 Uyghur students detained at 14 police stations over the weekend, including in several districts in Cairo and Alexandria.
For their part, Egypt’s and China’s foreign ministries are “discussing how to handle this issue,” an Egyptian police official said. Uyghurs wouldn’t be deported to China, but to a third country “in the worst-case scenario,” he said.
A lawyer who spoke with an officer at a police station was told that the students would be taken to the Chinese embassy to be photographed, and students told the activist by phone that they “would be deported after they were handed over to the Chinese embassy”.
Yesterday, one activist reported that “at least 73 Uyghur students” were currently being held at the headquarters of Egypt’s General Intelligence Directorate in Cairo, whilst some reports note that all of the students were being transferred to the capital’s notorious Tora Prison complex for interrogation by Chinese officials.
Activists and international groups are concerned about the involvement of Egyptian intelligence and the pressures exerted by the Chinese government.
In addition to the lack of transparency by Egyptian authorities, the difficulties in reaching the prisoners make it hard to provide them with legal counsel.
At present, it is unclear how many and why students are in custody, and whether they will be repatriated.
Unofficial sources say that those students who were already repatriated are now serving 15-year sentences for allegedly ‘inciting radicalism,’ which is a ridiculous charge,” an Amnesty International official said. (DS)