Human rights group Amnesty International said it had spoken to Uyghur student Abuduwaili Abudureheman, who was recently reported missing after landing at Hong Kong’s airport. Abudureheman told the group he had not entered Hong Kong, a claim that was also disputed by his South Korean professor and the city’s government.

“Abuduwaili Abudureheman spoke with Amnesty International and told us he did not travel to Hong Kong, contrary to previous information received,” an Amnesty International spokesperson told HKFP on Tuesday.

Abuduwaili Abudureheman
Abuduwaili Abudureheman. Photo: Instagram, via Amnesty.

In a statement released last Friday, Amnesty said that Abudureheman, who was born in China’s Xinjiang province and was studying for a doctoral degree in Seoul, had been missing following his arrival at Hong Kong International Airport on a Cathay Pacific flight on the evening of May 10.

Abudureheman came to Hong Kong to visit a friend and was not heard of after text messaging a friend to say he was being interrogated by Chinese police, Amnesty claimed last Friday.

The Hong Kong government “strongly condemned” Amnesty’s statement last Saturday, with a government spokesperson saying that there was no record of the student entering Hong Kong, nor of him being denied entry into the city.

‘Safe in Korea’

Jo Woogyeon, dean of the College of Physical Education at Kookmin University in Seoul, said he was Abudureheman’s PhD advisor and refuted Amnesty’s statement, Yonhap News Agency reported on Monday.

“There is no proof that Abuduwaili Abudureheman has departed for Hong Kong, and he is currently safe in Korea,” the professor said, adding that he had been in regular contact with the student and that Abudureheman had been “greatly surprised” when he heard the news about his disappearance.

HKFP has reached out to Jo for comment.

Hong Kong International Airport Cathay plane flight
Hong Kong International Airport. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The friend, who was said to have reported Abudureheman’s suspected disappearance, told AFP last Saturday that they had contacted Hong Kong’s immigration authorities a day after receiving the message but had not been given much additional information.

“He miscalculated… he did not understand the grave consequences,” the friend said, who requested that AFP give them anonymity over safety concerns. 

HKFP has not been able to reach the friend to verify their claims.

Government headquarters Tamar
Hong Kong government’s headquarters in Tamar. Photo: GovHK.

In response to the controversry, a government press release late on Wednesday expressed disapproval over what it described as “unfounded, despicable and fallacious remarks,” and demanded an apology.

“The organisation not only refused to admit its mistakes, but also claimed that it would continue to monitor the human rights situation in Hong Kong and the Mainland, attempting to cover up its mistakes and excuse itself for making the fabricated and malicious remarks that slandered Hong Kong and the Mainland. The HKSAR Government despises the act and hopes that the organisation can make a sincere apology responsibly.”

‘Promoting Uyghur culture’

Abudureheman has not made any public appearances since he was reported missing.

The 38-year-old was born in the city of Karamay, Xinjiang and obtained a master’s degree after entering Korea in 2009, Yonhap News Agency reported on Sunday.

According to the report, Abudureheman was “very active in promoting Uyghur culture and sports”, as well as “advocating for the human rights of Uyghur people”. He has appeared on Korean YouTube channels to introduce Uyghur culture and has shared posts on his Instagram account about Uyghur food, music, and dance. There have been no posts on his Instagram account since May 2021.

In the statement issued last Friday, Amnesty said Abudureheman was on a Chinese government “watch list” of Uyghurs and other Muslims from the Xinjiang region, based on the fact that he had a history of overseas travel.

The predominantly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group are among the minorities targeted in what Beijing claims is a campaign to tackle unrest and separatism. The UN says a million Uyghurs were arbitrarily detained in “political re-education camps,” whilst Human Rights Watch reports that surveillance and repression in Xinjiang has increased dramatically since 2016. Several western countries have imposed sanctions over Beijing’s actions.

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Hong Kong Free Press is a new, non-profit, English-language news source seeking to unite critical voices on local and national affairs. Free of charge and completely independent, HKFP arrives amid rising concerns over declining press freedom in Hong Kong and during an important time in the city’s constitutional development.