On China’s request via Interpol, Moroccan authorities have arrested Yidiresi Aishan, a Uyghur activist, because of a terrorism warrant distributed by Interpol. According to the rights group Safeguard Defenders, which specialises in cases of people detained by China, his arrest was politically driven and he will likely be extradited to China as a result. The Moroccan national security directorate has stated that:
“[He] was the subject of a red notice issued by Interpol due to his suspected belonging to an organisation on the lists of terrorist organisations.”
Aishan’s arrest is the result of a much broader Chinese campaign to wage a “war on terror” and arrest any perceived dissidents outside its own borders. As a response to a select few knifings and bombings by a small number of extremist Uyghurs residing in Xinjiang, China has been extending its global reach and arresting over a million Uyghurs as well as other Muslim minorities.
Yidiresi Aishan, 33-year-old computer engineer and father of three has been based in Turkey since 2012, until his flight to Casablanca where he was arrested on 20 July 2021. He has been working as an activist on a Uyghur diaspora online newspaper, exposing the Uyghur abuse in the Xinjiang province in China. It is evident therefore that his arrest was not related to terrorism but rather a way for the Chinese authorities to further hide their consistent abuse of the Uyghur minority.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. Peter Dahlin of Safeguard Defenders has commented that it is “not uncommon” for the Chinese government to abuse their powers by obtaining Interpol red notices for Uyghurs and other minority groups. Many Uyghurs have been arbitrarily detained for going abroad or for attending religious gatherings. In 2017, Morocco ratified an extradition treaty with China, joining the other 59 nations and jurisdictions with which China has similar treaties in place.
The arrest of a human rights activist also raises the issue of whether Interpol is fulfilling its intended purpose. The International Criminal Police Organisation, was set up to aid worldwide police cooperation and crime control, while also deterring and disrupting terrorism. However, allowing and facilitating the arrest and extradition of activists to countries that mean to prosecute them for political reasons does not align with Interpol’s politically neutral stance.
Aishan’s case is not the first instance of Uyghurs being extradited to China from Muslim countries, raising concern about China’s global outreach regarding the ethnic minority. Abduweli Ayup, a Uyghur activist based in Oslo, has documented at least 28 separate Uyghur deportations between 2017 and 2019; 21 from Egypt, five from Saudi Arabia and two from the United Arab Emirates. Ayup commented that the numbers are likely to be much higher, with many Uyghur families afraid to go public in case the attention jeopardises the safety of their loved ones.