An unnamed security official denied on Sunday that Egyptian authorities were targeting Uyghur students in Egypt, adding that all the circulated news about targeting them was false, according to state-owned Middle East News Agency (MENA).
Hundreds of Uyghur students studying at Al-Azhar University in Egypt were reportedly arrested, according to local media.
The unnamed source also said that security forces discovered that a number of Chinese Uyghur students were residing illegally in Egypt, which “some people interpreted as targeting”, asserting that “such procedures” are periodic and usual regarding all foreign residents in Egypt.
However, the source did not specify the procedures mentioned, nor deny or confirm the arrests.
Local media reported on Friday that the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar interfered to grant the release of the students.
Lawyer Mohab Said of the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) told Daily News Egypt that the students were not accompanied by any lawyers, nor were they allowed to contact the Refugees Commission office.
“We went to police stations (in Cairo), Alexandria, and Borg Al-Arab airport as we received news that some of them were held there; however, the reply we received was ‘we don’t have anyone’ in all stations,” Mohab said.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian Commission of Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) said on Sunday that 12 Uyghur students were deported to China on 6 July, according to the commission’s communication with eyewitnesses and students’ relatives.
The ECRF also said in a press statement that Egyptian authorities have arrested at least 80 Uyghur students in Cairo and 20 in Alexandria and Hurghada, after targeting them in places where they meet, or at airports as they attempted to leave Egypt to a safer country.
“Since May 2017, the Egyptian government has started a series of arrests of Uyghur students and deportation to China. Some of them had valid residence permits, which security forces would cancel and then deport them, while those who did not have residence permits were instantly deported without having the chance to contact the Refugees Commission office in Egypt,” the statement read.
Eyewitnesses said that students were arrested from restaurants and their houses in Nasr City, Cairo, according to the ECRF.
On 6 July, an alleged 30-second video showing Uyghur students from Al-Azhar arrested and handcuffed has been circulated on social media.
One day later, Al-Azhar Media Centre denied in a press statement that Uyghur students were arrested from the university’s campus, adding that “the concerned authorities have the right to examine the safety of residents of different nationalities in Egypt.”
However, Al-Azhar neither denied nor confirmed the arrests.
In May, Chinese authorities ordered Uyghur students residing outside China to return to their hometowns, in fear that students would engage in “anti-China activities”, reported Radio Free Asia.
Egypt’s Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar met in June with the Chinese Deputy Minister of Public Security, where they signed a “technical cooperation document”, according to an official statement. However, the statement did not clarify any further details of the cooperation.
Uyghur media reports speculated that Egypt arrested hundreds of Uyghur students to deport them to China upon China’s request.
Turkestan, also known as Uyghur, is part of the Chinese territory Xinjiang, where the government has reportedly restricted several Muslim practices.
The Chinese government perceives Uyghur Muslims as a national threat, which has long repressed them “in the name of countering terrorism,” and has ordered the deportation of Uyghurs from several countries over the past years, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report.