Laotian authorities reportedly deported an ethnic Uighur asylum seeker and his family to China in March, three months after 20 of his compatriots were forcibly deported by Cambodian authorities.
The new information – contained in a recent media report – comes a year after Cambodia’s controversial deportation of the Uighurs, which triggered a firestorm of criticism from rights activists and foreign governments.
Last week, Radio Free Asia reported that Memet Eli Rozi, 34, his 28-year-old wife Gulbahar Sadiq and their five children were expelled from Laos in March.
Rozi was reportedly one of the 22 Uighurs who entered Cambodia in search of asylum in late 2009, after fleeing ethnic rioting in China’s Xinjiang province in July.
The report claims he was one of just two of the group who managed to escape before their deportation from Cambodia on December 19.
After his escape from Cambodia, Rozi secretly entered Laos and later asked his family to join him from Guangzhou in southern China, according to an interview with Gulbahar Sadiq.
The family were apprehended by Laotian authorities upon arrival, she told RFA, and were deported to China where they were interrogated by Xinjiang officials for 32 days.
The article claims Memet Eli Rozi’s current location is unknown, while his wife and children have been released to their hometown in the west of the province.
The news falls close to the first anniversary of Cambodia’s deportation of the 20 Uighurs, a move which many rights groups have linked to Beijing’s approval of US$1.2 billion in loans and investment to Cambodia the same week.
In a statement on Friday, Human Rights Watch called Chinese officials to account for the whereabouts of the Uighurs, saying the government had “consistently refused” to provide information about their status and well-being.
“Uighurs deported to China are at clear risk of torture,” Sophie Richardson, HRW’s Asia advocacy director, said in the statement. “China’s failure to account for any of those asylum seekers a year after their forced return is extremely worrying.”
She said the case was “a stark reminder that no country should deport Uighur asylum seekers back to China”.
Ma Zhaoxu, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in a written statement to The New York Times in February that China was a country “ruled by law” and was set to implement it in the case of the Uighurs, who were set to stand trial for committing “criminal” acts.
No other information has since been given on the fate of the 20 Uighurs, nor of Memet Eli Rozi and the other Uighur from Cambodia whose whereabouts are still unknown.
In a statement on Thursday, Jesuit Refugee Services, which helped the Uighurs during their ill-fated asylum bid, said the deportees would likely have faced harsh treatment at the hands of the Chinese authorities.
It stated that one of the Uighur men had spoken to JRS about “the daily beatings and torture” he suffered whilst in a labour camp in China.
“While in Cambodia he spoke publicly about this persecution and for this reason it is likely that upon return he has either been executed, imprisoned or again subjected to the horrors of re-education through labour.
“We call on the international community to stand vigilant against forced returns on this sad anniversary,” JRS said.