On July 2, 2017, Egyptian police reportedly began detaining and deporting scores of Chinese-Uyghur students from Al-Azhar University, in parallel with actions taken by Chinese authorities.
Beginning in January 2017, Chinese authorities have systematically ordered student members of the Uyghur Muslim minority who were studying abroad to return to China. Reports indicate that federal authorities began calling the students’ family members, and demanding that they urge the students to return home by May 20. Authorities have also reportedly held family members hostage in order to pressure the students to return. Reports further suggest that students who have returned have been jailed, sent to reeducation camps, and even disappeared. The official basis of this campaign has not been publicly disclosed; however, Chinese authorities have previously explained policies that negatively impact the Uyghur community as part of state anti-terrorism measures.
As news of these pressures began to spread, many Uyghur students in Egypt, mostly from Al-Azhar University, prepared to leave the country or went into hiding. During the first week of July, Egyptian authorities detained as many as 80 Uyghur students at airports, in cafes frequented by Egypt’s Uyghur population, apartments, and on the campus of Al-Azhar University. Reports indicate that many of these students have been deported to China, while an unknown number remain detained in Egypt.
Scholars at Risk is concerned over mass detentions, deportations, and other pressures against students exercising their right to academic freedom and to freedom of movement — rights that are expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which both Egypt and China are parties. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and university autonomy, and undermine democratic society generally.