SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: November 20, 2020

Attack Types: Imprisonment


Region & Country:Western Asia | Saudi Arabia

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On November 20, 2020, Saudi authorities reportedly arrested prominent Uyghur religious scholar Aimidoula Waili at the request of Chinese authorities. 

Waili, also known as Hemdullah Abduweli, is a prominent Islamic scholar and member of the Uyghur ethnic minority community. Waili was arrested by Chinese authorities in 2013 and 2014, in apparent connection to his work. Once released, Waili fled to Turkey where he is a resident. 

In February 2020, Waili travelled to Saudi Arabia for an Umrah pilgrimage. Waili reportedly gave a speech to a Uyghur community and encouraged them to pray about the situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in August 2018 that tens of thousands to upwards of a million Uyghur and other ethnic minority communities are detained in so-called “re-education camps.” After the speech, Saudi police allegedly began searching for Waili at the request of Chinese authorities that he be deported to China. 

On November 20, Saudi authorities arrested Waili and brought him to Buraiman prison. Saudi authorities have not disclosed what charges Waili faces, if any. 

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the detention of a scholar in apparent retaliation for nonviolent expressive activity — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from retaliating against such conduct. In addition to the harm to the immediate individual, detentions intended to punish nonviolent expression undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.