Jul 19, 2013

East Turkestan: White House Sends Ramadan Message To Uyghurs

The US Embassy in Beijing has translated Obama’s Ramadan message into the Uyghur language and posted it on its website in a move that delivers hope amidst intensified crackdowns perpetrated by the Chinese authorities on Uyghurs in Xinjiang.   

Below is an article published by Radio Free Asia:

U.S. President Barack Obama’s message marking the current Muslim holy month of Ramadan has been translated to the Uyghur language and posted online by the American Embassy in Beijing for the first time in a move that has been warmly welcomed by Muslim Uyghurs in China’s troubled Xinjiang region.

Xinjiang is home to China’s ethnic minority Uyghur Muslims, who say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness, blaming the problems partly on the influx of the majority Han Chinese into the region.

Obama’s message, according to sources living abroad, has given the Turkic-speaking Uyghur people in Xinjiang a sense of hope despite alleged oppressive conditions in their homeland and was reposted on several Uyghur websites and through social media.

Chinese authorities have significantly tightened religious restrictions in Xinjiang during Ramadan.

In the message posted last week, Obama addressed the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims by saying that the month of Ramadan serves as a reminder that “freedom, dignity and opportunity are the undeniable rights of all mankind.”

“The United States stands with those who are working to build a world where all people can write their own future and practice their faith freely, without fear of violence,” read the annual statement on the Muslim holy month.

Turkey-based Uyghur community leader Abdul Eziz said that the message gave Uyghurs, who “are being oppressed by all means and from all directions” in China, a sense of hope that the outside world was paying attention to their concerns.

“By reading the President’s message in their own language, our people will definitely find comfort and consolation, knowing that they have not been forgotten,” he told RFA’s Uyghur Service.

“At this crucial time, while being ignored by nearly everyone around the world, the Uyghur translation of the President’s message has sent hope to our people and brought light to the darkness around them,” he said. “That is why our people feel so happy, even though this is a small gesture.”

‘On the side of justice’

Beijing has tightened measures across Xinjiang following a new spate of deadly violence that began June 26 [2013], when Uyghurs attacked police and government offices in Turpan prefecture's Lukchun township, leaving at least 46 dead.

The incident led to a string of attacks in Xinjiang, leaving at least 64 dead in total, as the region marked the fourth anniversary of the July 5, 2009 violence between minority ethnic Muslim Uyghurs and majority Han Chinese in the regional capital Urumqi.

The Chinese government has recently been labeling any kind of protest by Uyghurs against Beijing’s policies as “terrorism,” Abdul Eziz said.

Chinese authorities blame outbreaks of violence in the region on Uyghur "terrorists," but rights groups and experts say Beijing exaggerates the terrorism threat to take the heat off domestic policies that cause unrest or to justify the authorities' use of force against the Uyghur minority.

Abdul Eziz said Beijing had also influenced the governments of Islamic nations Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan to deport to China Uyghurs who had sought refuge in the three countries after fleeing alleged persecution in Xinjiang.

Abdul Eziz also cited U.S. government statements expressing concern over the recent spate of violence in Xinjiang. 

“Our people greatly appreciate the latest stance by the American government on the recent atrocities committed by the Chinese government,” he said.

The State Department on June 26 called on the Chinese authorities to conduct a “thorough, transparent” investigation of the Lukchun incident, saying it was “deeply concerned by the ongoing reports of discrimination and restrictions against Uyghurs and Muslims in China.”

“In comparison to other governments around the world, America has stood on the right side of justice and did not leave our people disappointed. We are very grateful for this as well,” Abdul Aziz said.

Ramadan restrictions

Nurmemet Musabay, the U.S.-based general secretary of the World Uyghur Congress, said Obama’s message is especially poignant given a host of new restrictions put in place during Ramadan in Xinjiang.

In certain parts of the region, authorities have forbidden places of worship from holding religious teaching activities, prevented Uyghurs from attending prayers at mosques outside their residential areas, and have forced adherents to conduct their mosque prayers within stipulated hours.

Uyghur government officials, teachers, and students have been barred from fasting from dawn to dusk, according to sources, as is traditional during Ramadan, and some reports say that party officials go to Uyghur homes to provide them with food and drink during fasting hours.

“[Obama’s message] has significant importance as it directly sends a message regarding the Chinese government’s … intensified efforts to restrict religious activities during the holy month of Ramadan,” Nurmemet Musabay said.

“By releasing the President’s message in the Uyghur language during Ramadan, the American government has sent a very direct message to the Chinese government about the protection of Uyghur culture and respect for the religious freedom of Uyghurs.”