East Turkestan: Interview With Rebiya Kadeer
President of the Uyghur American Association speaks out about the situation in East Turkestan , the story of the Uyghur people who have a distinct culture, language and religion, but are forced to live their life as Chinese
Below is an article published by IslamOnline.net:
In a glass-walled meeting room in an ultra-modern furnished building, just across the street from the White House, a woman in a brown coat and a distinctive Doppa cap came in. She looked Asian, yet not much Chinese, but different from most of the Asians I have known.
When she spoke, she was not using an Asian language, but a Turkic one. Her passport is supposed to say "Chinese", but clearly she was not one, at least for me.
She told me about the story of her Uighur people; the people who have a distinct culture, religion, language, and traditions, but forced to live and be like Chinese.
Rebiya Kadeer is a prominent Uighur leader in the US. She spent six years of her life in a Chinese prison for standing for the rights of the Uighur people against the Chinese government. Before her arrest in 1999, she was a well-known Uighur businesswoman and at one time the seventh wealthiest person in the People's Republic of China.
Released in March 2005, Kadeer traveled to the US and became the president of the Uighur American Association, which represents Uighurs in the US, and the World Uighur Congress, that is an umbrella organization for 47 Uighur groups worldwide.
When she spoke about the situation in East Turkestan, I spotted tears in her eyes. Her Doppa cap would fall back her head as she used all her body language to deliver the meanings, the feelings about what her people are living.
IOL: Has the Obama administration taken enough steps to face the human rights violations in China? What do you think the US should be doing?
Kadeer: Obama administration has actually disappointed us — the Uighurs. On the 5th of July, 2009, there was unrest in the capital city of East Turkestan, Urumqi, and the Chinese government cracked down on our people.
The crackdown has been ongoing till today, they are arresting and detaining people. They killed hundreds of people and arrested thousands. Recently I announced that the Chinese authorities arrested thousands of people and that ten thousand Uighur people have disappeared after the Urumqi incident.
Genocide is going on in our homeland and the Obama administration knows well about it, but it is still silent and has not said anything to stop this tragedy.
Chinese authorities have been detaining and killing people everyday. We have been receiving news and information everyday that people are disappearing, arrested, and being killed. The world doesn’t know what is going on there.
The southern part of East Turkestan does have religiously devout Muslims, so the Chinese authorities arrested most of the religious people from this area. They arrested women with headscarves, men with beards, and any person with connections to religion in the region.
In February 1997, there was unrest in the city of Ghulja, this was a protest against the arrest of the religious figures. People went to the streets to ask the government to release those leaders that have been arrested on the 27th of Ramadan on that year.
Those were religious figures who did not say anything against the government, they preached Islam to people. They told people to be good with others, avoid taking drugs, and avoid drinking alcohol.
The government did not do anything to prevent the Uighur youth from taking drugs.
IOL: Does the government push the Uighur to take drugs, or it generally does not take measures against the spread of drugs?
Kadeer: I would like to explain the whole picture in details. Before 1987, sex trade was never known in Eastern Turkestan. Religion and traditions of Uighurs have always been standing against this; we never heard about it before then. We never heard about sex shops, for example, in our history.
Uighurs also have not heard before then about drugs. Drugs came from mainland China.
Until 1987, the people did not know about taking drugs and were not addicted to alcohol. Our religion prohibits drinking alcohol and people were very strict about that. Of course, there were people who were drinking alcohol, these people were the atheists and the members of the communist party of China.
Suddenly after 1987, drugs appeared in our land. There was a flow of drugs from mainland China and Uighur youth started to take these things. They did not know what it was; there were a lot of rumors about these things.
New brothels were opened by the Chinese business people; they came from China and brought their girls from there to our region. They managed also to bring some of the Uighur university girls facing financial challenges to this trade. And Because of the huge propaganda, they managed to influence many people.
I was a member of the parliament at that time, I talked to the government and urged them to take measures to raise awareness and prevent people from taking drugs and alcohol. But the government did not do anything or use the television, radio, or newspapers to promote an anti-drug and anti-alcohol culture.
Because of the lack of efforts from the government, thousands of young Uighur people became drug addicts and alcoholic. Consequently, our religious figures organized themselves and began to raise awareness. They used mosques and gatherings as a platform to speak out. Then, the Chinese authorities arrested all the religious figures who talked against the spread of alcohol and drugs.
On the 5th of February, 1997, the students of the arrested religious figures went out to protest in streets and asked the government to release the leaders. The government responded brutally, it killed hundreds of the young students and protesting Uighur teenagers.
They continued the arrest of those who participated in the demonstration and their relatives. The arresting campaign continued for one year. After this incident, hundreds of people were executed by the Chinese authorities. Execution happened everyday and the government forced people to go to streets and applause its response.
IOL: Why did the government arrest the religious leaders? Does the Chinese government have a systematic policy of discrimination against Muslims in the region?
Kadeer: Of course, it is a policy for 60 years by the Chinese authorities to root out Islam.
There was a very famous cleric in our land, Oblikim Maksum, who once had 4,000 students who used to study under his leadership for 15 years . The cleric and his students were arrested by the government. They were arrested because they were learning their own religion and preaching Islam. So, one of the main policies for the Chinese government is to, first of all, root out religion, which is Islam in this case. This is a communist government.
IOL: Do the Chinese authorities view Islam as part of the Uighur identity that would incite separatist activities?
Kadeer: It may be considered as part of that, but the Chinese government is an atheist one, it considers religion as the number one enemy of the state and therefore its main goal is to root out religion. They propagate for atheism, and their main goal for 60 years was to root out Islam just because the Uighurs are Muslims.
If the Chinese authorities do not want to root out the religion of the Uighur people then Uighurs will not have any problem with the Chinese and they can live together.
They want to destroy our religion, therefore our fight is to keep it.
I spent six years in prison. The first thing the Chinese authorities ask for is that you have to acknowledge that there is no god. If you accept it, then you will be treated well in prison; if you reject, you will be punished. Your hands and feet will be shackled.
There was a devoted Muslim called Shamshi Noor who was imprisoned by the Chinese authorities. Noor wanted to pray, so she made tayyamom [dry abolition Muslims do in absence of water] and did not want to loudly recite the verses from the Qur'an during prayer. However, the Chinese authorities suspected that she was reading the Qur'an silently; they punished her, and she was denied any food for 24 hours.
If the Muslim world investigated all these prisons, they would find that 25 percent of all prisoners in East Turkestan are religious people. The Chinese authorities do not imprison people who are drug addicts or alcoholic. If you do not wear headscarf you will be living very good in East Turkestan. All the old people who live through those conditions now and their children are facing serious problems, they are losing their moral values.
IOL: Why is the Chinese regime using such a tough policy?
Kadeer: Now, the Chinese government has a stiff policy against what it calls the "three evil forces." When the issue of human rights of Uighurs is raised in any other country, the Chinese authorities reply that they are fighting these three evil forces.
The first is "radical Muslims." But, we do not have any radical Muslims in our land; they are clean Muslims and have nothing to do with radicalism. They do not have any crime except what Chinese authorities identify as preaching Islam. They do not want to kill anybody, their main goal is to preach Islam. So, if the Chinese authorities allowed them to live their own religion, they will not have any problems with the government. They call them radical Muslims.
The Chinese authorities cheated the world. They allow some people to go to Muslim countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Turkey to study Islam, yet, when they come back they are all arrested by the Chinese authorities.
The second force that the Chinese authorities are fighting is "terrorists." What they call terrorists are all tolerant Muslims. They do not know even what terrorism is or who terrorists are like, they are only devoted Muslims.
The third force that they are claiming to be fighting there is "separatists." That’s me! China considers me as a Muslim and a separatist. They cannot call me radical because I do not wear a headscarf , so they call me a separatist.
Generally, all those they call radical Muslims and terrorists are devoted Muslims. There is a fight against Islam and Muslims and the Muslim World does not know about it. The Chinese authorities could not do that in the past, but now if Chinese soldiers see a Uighur woman putting a headscarf on in the street, they forcefully take it off and detain her. It is a normal thing now in East Turkestan.
You may have seen that recent protest by Muslim women in Urumqi, all of them wore headscarves. Women had to go to the streets because their men have been arrested.