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18-03-05, 11:08
Chinese Release Prominent Dissident
U.S. Won't Seek Rights Resolution

By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, March 18, 2005; Page A13

BEIJING, March 17 -- The Chinese government released a well-known political prisoner Thursday, and hours later the Bush administration announced it would not seek a resolution criticizing China's human rights record at a U.N. meeting in Geneva.

Human rights activists celebrated the release on medical parole of Rebiya Kadeer, a prominent businesswoman arrested in 1999 while on her way to meet U.S. congressional staff members in the western province of Xinjiang. But they expressed dismay at the administration's sudden decision to drop the U.N. resolution, rejecting its claim that China had taken measures to increase human rights in the past year.


Kadeer, 58, was released from a prison in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, and put on a flight for Northern Virginia, where her husband and five of her 11 children live, said the Dui Hua Foundation, a U.S.-based human rights group.

[Kadeer arrived late Thursday at Reagan National Airport to a tearful reunion with her family, the Reuters news agency reported. "From this time on, I am free," Kadeer told Washington-based Radio Free Asia during a stop in Chicago. "I can talk to anybody I want, I can see anyone I want." The station said Kadeer looked healthy but tired.]

China often frees political prisoners and sends them into exile as gestures of goodwill before visits by senior U.S. officials. Kadeer's release came just days before a visit to Beijing by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. It appeared to be part of a deal in which the United States agreed not to sponsor a motion criticizing China at this year's meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, which opened Monday.

The United States has pursued such resolutions against China almost every year for more than a decade but has always been outvoted.

Kadeer was convicted of "revealing state information to foreigners" and sentenced to eight years in prison in March 2000 for mailing newspaper articles to her husband in the United States. But supporters say her real crime was speaking against policies she believed favored China's ethnic Han majority over its Muslim minorities.

The Communist Party has waged a harsh campaign against dissent and separatism among Xinjiang's predominantly Muslim population, most of them Turkic-speaking ethnic Uighurs like Kadeer, and it may have felt threatened by her immense popularity in the region.

Both the Senate and House passed resolutions urging China to free Kadeer, who built a multimillion-dollar trading empire and became one of China's wealthiest entrepreneurs. For several years, her name has been at the top of a list of jailed dissidents that the Bush administration regularly raises with the Chinese government.

"We're excited and happy beyond words," Akida Rouzi, 27, one of Kadeer's daughters, said by telephone from her home in Fairfax. "We can't wait to see her, and for that moment when the whole family can be reunited."

"The lesson the Chinese government wanted to teach us is that being put in prison is what happens when you stand up and fight for your freedoms," she added. "But what we learned is that we're not alone, that when things like this happen, many people in the world will support you and help you."

Kadeer's release comes as the party has intensified its crackdown in Xinjiang, citing the U.S.-led war on terrorism to justify the campaign. Scholars have challenged China's claims of organized terrorist activity in the region, blaming scattered incidents of violence on individuals frustrated by Han rule and limits on the practice of Islam.

A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman in Beijing, Camille Purvis, welcomed Kadeer's release but said the decision to drop the resolution criticizing China was also based on other human rights commitments made by Chinese officials.

Purvis said China had agreed to permit a visit this year by a U.N. official responsible for investigating allegations of torture, to let the Red Cross open an office in Beijing and to conduct a national review of prisoners accused of certain political crimes. She also said China had issued new regulations allowing people to worship in "family churches" in their homes without registering with the government.

But human rights groups noted that the State Department issued a negative report on China's rights record less than three weeks ago. Some suggested the administration decided not to sponsor the resolution because it wanted to improve relations with China before Rice began talks with Chinese leaders on North Korea, Taiwan and trade.

Mickey Spiegel, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the new regulations on religion cited by the Bush administration actually imposed greater limits on worship in China. She also noted that China had broken past promises to the U.N. torture investigator by refusing to allow unannounced prison visits.