Feb 28, 2011

East Turkestan: ‘Without a Struggle You Can't Achieve Anything’

The harsh Chinese policy on the Uyghur minority is counterproductive and likely to lead to more violence as opposition against repression increases, Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer fears and calls for the Chinese government to revise its ethnic policy. 

Below is an article published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:

At a time when Middle Eastern dictators are feeling the heat, Central Asian autocrats are worrying about the future of their own governments. 

Far from her homeland, Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer is busy in Washington, D.C., where she is organizing a plan to rally minority Uyghurs in China. She hopes that the move will promote Uyghur independence from Chinese rule. […]

To Kadeer, the 2009 bloodshed gives the Uyghurs added reason to move ahead in their struggle for self-rule. If not respected by the Chinese, this struggle may also include the formation of a government in exile to highlight the Uyghur cause. RFE/RL's Muhammad Tahir recently talked with her at her home outside Washington, D.C.

RFE/RL: Let's start with a question on current affairs. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was recently forced to step down. Do the events in Egypt have any bearing on your own struggle?

Rebiya Kadeer: Although Mubarak has gone, people around him are still there [in power], so it's important that the people elect someone who will give them true democracy. The Egyptian people are still demonstrating in the streets; this is a good sign. 
But one thing in these events pleased me: Mubarak didn't order the army or police to suppress the demonstrators. If [the riots] had been in China, they would have been bloody. Remember what happened on July 5, 2009 [in Urumqi]? The Chinese authorities cracked down on our demonstration and as a result tens of thousands of people were killed overnight. It was similar to 1989 in Tiananmen Square. […]

RFE/RL: Coming back to your Uyghur cause. In contrast to Egypt and Tunisia, Urumqi saw bloody days back in July 2009. I think that was the first time -- at least in the contemporary history of the Uyghur struggle against China -- that things became so violent. Do you think that the once-peaceful struggle of the Uyghur cause is turning violent? Do you expect more of that kind of violence to occur back in your homeland?

Kadeer: I think there will be more bloodshed, because the Chinese [authorities] continue to crack down on the people [Uyghurs]. The situation is troublesome; several members of every family are in prison. The Chinese authorities are torturing and killing these people. 
By doing this, the Chinese [regime] is somehow forcing the Uyghur people to choose a more violent way. Therefore, I can't say that this will be always peaceful, but we are pursuing our goal with peaceful means. I've been asking the Chinese authorities not to force the Uyghur people to violence. 

RFE/RL: What is the situation on the ground today?

Kadeer: The situation is deteriorating daily. East Turkistan and the Uyghur territory -- Urumqi and Kashgar -- look like a war zone. The Chinese military, armored vehicles, and tanks are everywhere. They are patrolling the streets. It doesn't look like normal life for the Uyghur people. 

RFE/RL: Since the July 2009 bloodshed, the Chinese government says that it has invested millions of dollars into economic developments in your region. Do you see any changes in economic conditions on the ground? 

Kadeer: Yes, since the July 2009 massacre, the Chinese government has invested massively in the region, but at the same time they also transferred millions of Chinese to our land, forcing the Uyghurs to give up their land to [accommodate] the Chinese. Those [Uyghurs] who resisted were put in prisons or driven away. [The Chinese government] builds lots of apartment buildings for the Chinese so that they can have a better life.

RFE/RL: Earlier, you were saying that the people whose property was confiscated include members of your family, brothers, and sons, and some of them are still in jail. If you look back, do you think it was worth it to start this struggle? 

Kadeer: Yes, it was worth it. Tens of thousands of people are put in jail for this cause, so there is no question about its worthiness. [The Uyghur activists] knew that they would be persecuted; despite that, they joined this struggle. 

In the past, Chinese policy was the systematic assimilation of the people [Uyghurs], but after the July massacre, the policy was to pretty much wipe out the Uyghurs as a people, and the rate of execution is extremely high. Tens of thousands of people have disappeared and many more have been executed. The Uyghurs are at the top of the execution list in China. […]

Without a struggle you can't achieve anything -- haven't you seen what happened in Egypt? When the demonstration began in Egypt, there were only a few people. They probably didn't think that their struggle would lead to such a big achievement. Look at the situation in Tunisia; in the end, it was realized that it was worthwhile.

To read the full article, go to: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty