Family of Uyghur in Belgium Under House Arrest After Abduction From Embassy in Beijing

OCtober 10, 2019

The wife and children of a Uyghur man living in Belgium are under house arrest in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), months after they were abducted from the Belgian Embassy in Beijing by Chinese authorities, according to the man.

Huriyet Abdulla, 43, had travelled to Beijing from the XUAR with her four children in late May seeking visas from the Belgian Embassy that would allow them to join her 51-year-old husband Ablimit Tursun in Brussels, where he was granted refugee status in late 2017 after his brother was sent to an internment camp, Tursun told RFA’s Uyghur Service in June.

On May 28, when staffers at the embassy informed her that the documents would take longer than expected to issue, she replied that she was too afraid to return to her hotel room in the city after police had visited them twice already to determine the purpose of their visit, and refused to leave the building, Tursun said.

Shortly after midnight on May 29, Chinese authorities entered the grounds of the embassy, forcibly removed Abdulla and her children to their hotel, where they spent the following night, and on May 31 confiscated their phones and drove them nearly 30 hours home to the XUAR capital Urumqi.

After 18 days without contact, Tursun briefly spoke with his wife, who told him that authorities had returned her phone and that she and the children were “safe at home” in Urumqi, although it was unclear what kind of situation they were in and whether police were in their house when the call was made.

Earlier this month, however, French media outlets and the Brussels-based Hurriyet Daily, cited Tursun as saying that his wife and four children—ages five to 17—are under house arrest and cannot travel anywhere without special permission.

He expressed frustration with Chinese authorities for refusing to issue passports for his wife and children, and thereby preventing them from reuniting with him in Belgium.

Speaking with RFA this week, Tursun said he was extremely concerned about the safety of his family, who are “under strict house arrest and surveillance” at their home in the XUAR capital.

“They are being watched all the time and are not allowed to leave the city,” he said.

He also told RFA that his wife is currently “under criminal investigation” for carrying “state secrets” after she brought his computer containing their family’s personal documents with her to Beijing in May.

“If there was anything sensitive, why would I ask her to carry it around,” Tursun asked.

“Their claims don’t make any sense. My wife was asked to sign a document [while she was detained] which stated that she took documents relating to state security to Beijing. My wife refused to sign it.”

Ablimit Tursun in Belgium, in an undated photo. Credit: Ablimit TursunCriticism for Belgium

Earlier, Tursun told RFA that he had spent months since he was granted asylum in Belgium applying to the country’s immigration and foreign affairs departments to have his family join him, but could do little because Chinese authorities refused to issue them passports.

During that time, he said, he received multiple calls from security agents in China threatening his family’s safety as part of a bid to force him to return.

Following their abduction, Tursun said that both Belgium’s Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs in Brussels and the Belgian Embassy in Beijing had been “passive” in response to his inquiries about his family members.

At the time of their detention, The New York Times quoted rights lawyers as saying that the Belgian Embassy had failed to adequately assess the situation of Abdulla and her family, adding that international law obliges governments not to send people to countries where they are at substantial risk of persecution and torture.

While Belgian officials had initially refused to disclose who was responsible for allowing Chinese authorities onto the grounds of the embassy, Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Didier Reynders recently disclosed that Brussels had given the order to do so, according to Vanessa Frangville, a lecturer in Chinese Studies at the Université libre de Bruxelles, who has been following Tursun’s case.

“[Reynders] said that was the best solution for [Tursun’s family], somehow,” she told RFA’s Uyghur Service in a recent interview.

“[He said], ‘because people can’t apply for asylum in a Belgian embassy … there was no other solution than to let them go for their own good,’ and that means that they let the police in, which doesn’t make sense at all.”

The confirmation from Reynders follows an article in Foreign Policy magazine in June which cited an official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs defending the embassy’s decision, saying that as a small nation, Belgium cannot afford to offend China over the fate of one family.

Reynders also said that Tursun is under investigation in China, according to Frangville, which she pointed out is untrue, adding that his wife Abdulla has only been accused of violating the state secrets law “as an excuse to keep [her and her children] away from the diplomats.”

In July, Tursun told RFA that while Belgian authorities had twice sent diplomats to China to see his family members, they were refused access to them.

Frangville said that a journalist with the Belgian newspaper La Libre, who recently travelled to the XUAR, met with Abdulla and her children and confirmed that they are being held in a difficult situation under house arrest, adding that on the same day the paper published an article about their situation it received a letter from China’s embassy in Brussels disputing all of its details as “lies.”

“[The Chinese] seem to be sending letters to many newspapers in Europe about this,” she added.

Reported by Gulchehra Hoja for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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