(New York, NY) — Uyghur religious scholar Aimidoula Waili was arrested in Saudi Arabia on Friday at the apparent behest of the Chinese government, raising serious fears that he will be deported to China and either imprisoned or forced into an internment camp there. Waili’s arrest represents yet another example of the Chinese government’s wholesale attack on Uyghur cultural and intellectual life, as well as the Saudi government’s blatant disregard for human rights.

“It is unclear what basis Saudi Arabia could possibly have for detaining or deporting Waili, and if they do so, they will certainly be condemning him to face detention or abuse, and possibly death,” said James Tager, deputy director of free expression research and policy at PEN America. “The Chinese government’s targeting of Waili is part and parcel of their effort to erase Uyghur cultural and religious life, an effort that has already led to some of the worst human rights abuses taking place today. And the Saudi authorities’ disregard for the potential human rights implications of their actions also comes as no surprise; to conduct this arrest while hosting the G20 demonstrates how flagrantly they are willing to ignore the rule of law. What is especially alarming about this case is that two countries that have each engaged in extraterritorial attacks on dissidents appear to be collaborating to detain and deport Waili, whose only crime appears to be his religious scholarship.”

Waili, a prominent Uyghur religious scholar, was arrested in Saudi Arabia on November 20. He is currently being held at the Buraiman prison in Jeddah; it is unclear what charges he faces. Waili traveled to Saudi Arabia from Turkey in February 2020 for religious pilgrimage, but was forced into hiding within the country after learning that the Chinese government had requested his deportation. Waili, who had twice been arrested within China, has shared that he “feared for his life” if he were deported.

Waili was imprisoned by Chinese authorities twice before, in 2013 and 2014, and immigrated to Turkey after his release. The Chinese government is known to be monitoring thousands of Uyghurs who live or have authorization to travel abroad, and has pressured foreign governments to repatriate Uyghurs.

In recent years, Chinese authorities have forcibly detained over one million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang province. Those targeted are often sent to forced labor camps, which the Chinese government has branded as “re-education facilities,” and subjected to brutal human rights violations. It has been amply documented that Uyghur intellectuals, artists, and religious leaders are particularly likely to be targeted.

PEN America has previously condemned this forced internment as “one of the greatest human rights catastrophes occurring today, with massive implications for the right to free expression,” and has been an active advocate for targeted Uyghur writers and artists, such as journalist Gheyret Niyaz; writer Rahile Dawut; and writer and scholar Ilham Tohti, recipient of the 2014 PEN Freedom to Write Award.

Last week, PEN America hosted the “G20 Counter-Summit: Reckoning With ‘Opportunities for All’ in Saudi Arabia” to shine a light on the Saudi regime’s egregious human rights record, push back against the Kingdom’s attempts to obfuscate its rights violations, and honor and uplift the voices of those the regime has attempted to silence, in true pursuit of the theme of this year’s official summit: “Realizing Opportunities of the 21st Century for All.”