Uyghur man’s long journey to freedom could end with his return to China

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An ethnic Uighur who fled to Morocco faces being sent back to China while his wife fights for her freedom.

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

His wife, Zeynure Obul, said the reason given by police was that he and his Uyghur classmates were from Xinjiang and looked suspicious in a predominantly Han Chinese city.

A Radio Free Asia reporter contacted Hasan for an interview after writing about the “unfair” incident online.

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

Police target

She said he had become a regular target of police questioning since that media interview.

“They reprimanded him for receiving an interview from American media, and when he graduated, he decided to leave the country in 2012, right after we got married,” Obul said, adding that she had 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 over a year, the couple applied for a Turkish permit to continue staying in Istanbul for humanitarian reasons.

“I was quickly approved for humanitarian residency, 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 demonstrates in front of the Moroccan Embassy in Istanbul. (Zeynure Oboul)

Obul said Turkish authorities told him that Hasan’s passport was on a wanted list provided by China.

“From 2014 to last year, my husband was arbitrarily arrested four times by the Turkish authorities,” Obul said. “The longest period of his detention in Turkey was over a year.”

In 2021, after seeing his name on a released Turkish government document on Uyghurs wanted by China in Turkey, Hasan decided to leave the country.

“His two previous attempts at Istanbul airport to leave Turkey were unsuccessful,” Obul said, adding that border police questioned him and did not let him go.

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

“My husband told me on the phone that the border police had been on the phone with their boss for a long time before releasing him to fly to Casablanca,” Obul said.

When Hasan arrived, 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 informing her that he had been arrested at the airport and taken to a prison near the town of Tiflet.

He was then detained for months due to delays in his court hearing.

Request to Interpol

Obul corresponded with Interpol and learned that her husband’s arrest in Morocco was due to the Chinese Red Notice to Interpol, which is a request to law enforcement around the world for a fugitive.

“After organizations like Amnesty International spoke about my husband, Interpol finally removed my husband’s name from their list, saying they had informed all 194 member countries of the change,” Obul said.

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

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

VOA sent several inquiries to the Chinese Embassy in Washington regarding the nature of Hasan’s crime, but received no response. The Moroccan Embassy in Washington also did not respond to multiple VOA interview requests about whether Hasan would be deported.

“After months of waiting for my husband’s freedom, the Moroccan authorities have taken a decision that poses a serious threat to the life and safety of my husband and father of my three children,” Obul said.

Carolyn Nash, Asia advocacy director at Amnesty International USA, described Hasan’s case as “a grave reminder of the extraordinary efforts of the Chinese authorities to extend the government’s repressive power” beyond its borders – to intimidate diaspora communities and chill critical discourse.

“Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch must immediately stop the extradition of Idris Hasan,” Nash told VOA. “If they [Morocco authorities] Failure to do so could have terrifying consequences for the security of Uyghur diaspora communities in other parts of the world.

Accusations of child abuse

The United States is among countries and international rights organizations accusing China of genocide and crimes against humanity against the Uyghurs and other ethnic Turks in Xinjiang. They say more than a million Uyghurs are being held in internment camps while facing torture and other mistreatment by Chinese authorities.

Beijing denies the charges and said the compounds are “vocational training centers” built to fight extremism and terrorism in Xinjiang and improve the lives of Uyghurs.

UN human rights experts have called on Morocco to suspend Hasan’s extradition to China, saying Morocco’s decision “violates the principles of non-refoulement”, which is not to return asylum seekers to a place where they will be persecuted.

According to Mary Lawlor, the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders, it is encouraging that Hasan has not yet been deported.

“As long as he remains in Morocco, there is still hope for him and a positive outcome. The case is not complicated – he should not be put in danger by being extradited to China,” said Lawlor told VOA.

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