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01-06-06, 23:21
Uighur activist: China detained my family

Incident is latest in crackdown on Uighur minority by Beijing, which says it is fighting 'terrorists.'

By Arthur Bright | csmonitor.com

A prominent advocate of China's Uighur minority says her children were detained by Chinese authorities.

The BBC reports that Rebiya Kadeer, who now lives in the US after being freed from a Chinese prison last year, announced that two sons and a daughter, all adults, were taken into custody in China earlier this week.

[Ms. Kadeer] said they were detained to stop them speaking to a US Congressional team visiting Xinjiang, the region where most of China's Uighurs live.

"I demand the immediate release of my three children," she said.

Radio Free Asia (RFA), a private nonprofit news service, quotes Uighur sources as saying the three were allowed to return to their homes Wednesday, where they were held under police detention. RFA reports that Kadeer's children were threatened by Chinese officials and told to avoid contact with the US delegation.





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[Kadeer's daughter] Roshangul Abdurehim, contacted by RFA's Uyghur service at home in Urumqi, said a police officer named Aksar had warned her, "If you don't cooperate with us, we will destroy your family. You are all criminals."

Two days earlier, police had summoned [Kadeer's son] Alim Abdurehim and asked him how he was preparing to receive a U.S. congressional team currently in China. “We are thinking of hosting a banquet to welcome them,” he replied.

“You cannot throw a banquet, and you cannot be in contact with them,” one officer replied, according to Uyghur sources, “or you will meet the same fate as your mother.”

For five years, Kadeer had been imprisoned by the Chinese government "for 'illegally providing state intelligence abroad' after she sent newspaper clippings to her husband in the US," The Christian Science Monitor reported. She was released in March 2005, prior to a visit to China by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in an apparent gesture of goodwill by the Chinese government.

Although neither the BBC nor Radio Free Asia identified the US congressional delegation said to be visiting the Uighur region of Xinjiang, the Monitor also reported after Kadeer's release last year that she believes the Congressional Human Rights Caucus played a significant role in attaining her freedom.

For more than five years, her case was a top priority of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, which held briefings on her case and rained letters on Beijing and the US State Department to make sure her name was not forgotten. "The caucus played a very big role in her release last March. They never stopped raising my mother's case," says Ms. Kadeer's daughter, Akida Roussi, who translated her mother's telephone interview for this article.

Like some 300 other informal member groups on Capitol Hill, the Human Rights Caucus works outside the official committee structure. As an informal group, it doesn't write bills or appropriate funds and can't even maintain an independent Web page. Yet it is a venue for members to set aside party ID and work together on issues they care about. Sometimes, as with the case of Rebiya Kadeer, it makes a difference.

Just days prior to Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington last month, Kadeer testified before the Caucus about the persecutions the Uighur people face in China.

The Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gurrs) are a Turkic, Muslim people numbering some 8 million who live in northwest China's Xinjiang province, near the borders of Kazakhstan and Mongolia. They saw brief periods of independence during the 1930s and '40s, but their state, East Turkistan, was subsumed by the People's Republic of China, to become the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

At least one militant separatist group does operate in region: the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which both Beijing and Washington identify as a terrorist organization. However, the Uyghur American Association, a nonprofit group that works to promote Uighur culture and self-determination, writes that Beijing has been repressing the Uighur population in the hunt for "religious extremist forces" and "violent terrorists," thereby creating "a dire human rights enviornment" for the Uighurs.

Much like Tibetans, Uyghurs in Xinjiang have struggled for cultural survival in the face of a government-supported influx by Chinese migrants, as well as harsh repression of political dissent and any expression, however lawful or peaceful, of their distinct identity.

Reports from Xinjiang document a pattern of abuse, including political imprisonment, torture, and disappearance. Mosques are summarily closed and the Uyghur language is banned from use in universities. Uyghurs are subjected to compulsory unpaid labor in the construction of a pipeline planned to export local petroleum resources to other parts of China. Uyghurs also continue to be the only population in China consistently subjected to executions for political crimes, and these executions are often both summary and public.

The Associated Press reports that despite China's claims of Uighur separatist violence, evidence is scant.

Beijing blames Uighur separatists for sporadic bombings and other violence in the Xinjiang region. But diplomats and foreign experts are skeptical and say most violence stems from personal disputes. China's military brutally suppressed a series of Uighur protests in the 1990s and is believed to continue to execute accused separatist activists.

No terrorist acts have been reported for years in Xinjiang.

Because of concerns about human rights violations by Beijing, the US government refused to return five Uighurs to China after they were released from the Guantanamo detention center, having been declared innocent of terrorism and "no longer enemy combatants." A State Department official told ABC News, "It is the longstanding policy of the United States not to transfer a person to a country if it is determined that it is more likely than not that the person will be tortured." The five Uighurs are currently residing in Albania, the only country that would grant them asylum.

However, Voice of America reports that China sees the US refusal to turn over the Uighurs, who it says are terrorists, as illegal, though doubts exist as to whether the issue will have any long-term effects.

"The East Turkistan terrorist force is part of international terrorism and has close relations to al Qaida and the Taleban," said Liu. "This act by the U.S. and Albania strongly violates international law and relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions. We express our strong dissatisfaction and opposition to it."

However, political scientist Barry Sautman at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology thinks China will do little more than issue a request for extradition and then drop the issue. He says if the men were returned to China it would place the country's judiciary under unwanted international scrutiny.

"I think they would almost certainly face trial but the question would be that they would be tried about," said Sautman. "They could just linger on in jail and of course they could face torture. I think execution is probably not likely that they a background of being known to the U.S. government."

Nonetheless, Parliament Vice Chairman Ismail Amat, the highest-ranking member of the Muslim Uighur minority in the Chinese Communist Party, told AP, "America is implementing a double standard in fighting terrorism.... The Americans caught them in Afghanistan. They were serving in a terrorist organization. They should be dealt with under the law."