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Wall Street Journal
08-09-05, 16:47
China's Newest 'Terrorist' Works for Peace


Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2005

China's latest "terrorist" is someone who has never participated in a suicide bomb attack, planted a roadside bomb, hijacked a plane, or indeed committed any act of violence. This purported danger to society does not have any contact with a terrorist organization in the world and does not subscribe to any ideology that seeks to justify terrorism. This person condemns terrorism in all shapes and forms, and even supports America's global war on terrorism.

Who is China's latest "terrorist?" Rebiya Kadeer, the prominent Uighur human-rights activist. She is a 58-year-old woman who for years now has worked peacefully to protect the human rights of Uighurs, a Muslim, Turkic people who have lived in Central Asia since time immemorial. Uighurs make up the majority in China's western province of Xinjiang, which they prefer to call East Turkistan and which many Uighurs would like to see become independent from Beijing's authoritarian rule.

Earlier this year, due to persistent international pressure, above all from Washington, Ms. Kadeer was released by the Chinese government after nearly six years in jail. She was allowed to leave for the U.S. after what was termed medical parole.

It didn't take long for China to brand her a menace to society. Last week at a press conference in Beijing, Xinjiang Party Secretary Wang Lequan called Ms. Kadeer a "terrorist" and accused her of conspiring to carry out an attack on Oct. 1, on the 50th anniversary of the founding of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

Why Beijing has moved in this fashion isn't difficult to fathom. Its fear is Ms. Kadeer will become the Uighur Dalai Lama.

Ms. Kadeer is a mother of 11 children and a former laundress-turned-millionaire. Before her arrest by the Chinese authorities in August 1999, she was one of the richest Uighur businesswomen in China, running a multimillion-dollar trading business in downtown Urumchi, the capital of Xinjiang.

In order to alleviate poverty among Uighur women, she started a group called the "Thousand Mothers Movement," which tries to help women start their own businesses. Her philanthropic efforts were hailed not just by Uighurs, but also initially by the Chinese government itself, which appointed her to the National People's Congress and the related Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. The first is China's rubber stamp parliament and the second is an advisory body.

Initially, Ms. Kadeer hoped to change the tragic situation of the Uighur people by working within the Chinese state system, despite the fact that Beijing wanted her to become the Communist Party's mouthpiece. She tried to persuade high-ranking Chinese officials, including Hu Jintao, China's president, to change the hard-line, repressive polices directed at the Uighurs. Her efforts were rewarded with an eight-year prison sentence under the vague charge of "leaking state secrets to foreigners" in a secret trial in March 2000.

China has decided to move against Ms. Kadeer now because since her release she has been "terrorizing" the Chinese government with her peaceful human-rights activism. She has briefed State Department officials on how during her six-year imprisonment she was not allowed to read, write, listen to the radio or watch TV. Ms. Kadeer also has testified before the U.S. Congress on Chinese human-rights violations in Xinjiang, such as the frequent execution of political and religious prisoners, discrimination against Uighurs in education and employment, the forced elimination of Uighur language and culture, the forced abortion of Uighur children and the postabortion trauma of mothers who were forcibly operated upon against their will. Ms. Kadeer has also taken to the airwaves, giving interviews to the BBC, VOA, and Radio Free Asia.

The Chinese government's response has been to try to intimidate Ms. Kadeer by harassing the five sons she has in China running her business, and by illegally detaining two secretaries working at her company. The sons are watched by Chinese policemen every day.

Chinese officials had warned Ms. Kadeer prior to her release that her sons and her 50 million yuan ($6 million) business would be "finished" if she did anything against the interest of the Chinese government abroad. But their words failed to put a dent on her activities. Ms. Kadeer campaigns around the world, traveling to London and Berlin recently to brief British and German officials on the situation in Xinjiang. She is also planning a trip to other European nations in October to raise awareness.

Ms. Kadeer knows what is at stake. She knows that the Chinese authorities may soon rob her hard-earned money, confiscate her property, destroy her business and even put her sons in prison on false charges. Yet Ms. Kadeer says she is unmoved not because she does not love her five sons or does not care about her business, but because she strongly believes that the freedom of the Uighur people is worth more than any sacrifice. "Without such personal sacrifice," she says, "We will be eternally enslaved by the Chinese government."

Freedom is never free. Challenging a powerful authoritarian country like China is by no means an easy task. Yet, freedom is worth fighting for because there is nothing more precious. Ms. Kadeer knows this point crystal-clear.

Mr. Seytoff is general secretary of the Uighur American Association, and assistant to Ms. Kadeer.