East Turkestan: Rebiya Kadeer Threaten by Chinese Guards
“Three days before I was released, eight or nine guards came to see me,” she said in an interview here March 28. “They told me not to associate with Uyghurs here, not to associate with Uyghur separatists, not to reveal sensitive information from inside Xinjiang. ‘If you do so,’ they said, ‘your businesses and your children will be finished.’”
Kadeer quoted the guards as using the colloquial Mandarin word “wandan,” meaning “to finish or put an end to” something. She was told she would be permitted to go to the United States for just 18 months to seek medical treatment but must then return to China, she said.
Out of poverty, into trouble
Raised in poverty, Kadeer became a successful entrepreneur, held up as a model of Uyghur success by the Chinese authorities. She received an eight-year sentence in 2000 of “endangering national security” but was freed early and sent to the United States on March 17 in an apparent deal with Washington.
Before her arrest, Kadeer owned a department store in the northwestern city of Urumqi, ran the “1,000 Mothers Movement” that helped Muslim women start businesses, and attended the U.N. conference on women in Beijing as a delegate in 1995.
‘I almost lost my mind’
“I am capable of becoming a millionaire again, and I will write a book about it,” she said. “But my first priority now is to fight for human rights, to help the men and women who need it.”
While the Chinese prison respected her Muslim dietary preferences, she said, “I shared a cell with three other women who watched me constantly and wasn’t allowed to speak, read, or write for six years.”
“I almost lost my mind in the beginning,” she said, adding: “It was my dream, my faith that one day I would be released, that sustained me.”
No knowledge of campaign to free her
Kadeer also said she had had no contact with her five U.S.-based children for six years, and that she was entirely unaware that human rights groups and Western governments had loudly taken up the cause of her freedom.
“In the beginning I made a lot of money, and I have learned a lot about all classes. I had witnessed first-hand how the Uyghurs are living, and I couldn’t stand it. Every time I went to the conference [the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference] I put these issues on the table—this became a threat to the Chinese government and to me.”
“I told my husband to write articles criticizing Chinese policies… I wanted to rescue Uyghur women from a poor fate, from economic dependency, to make them educated,” she said. “But the Chinese government put a stop to this through policies against my company. I couldn’t get anything done, so I wanted to appeal to the American people.”
Kadeer was at one time held up as a model citizen by the Chinese authorities and appointed to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). Several years after her husband, former political prisoner Sidik Rouzi, fled to the United States, however, Kadeer was arrested in 1999 on her way to meet with a group of American researchers about the plight of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
She has five children in the United States, five in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and one in Australia.
A distinct, impoverished people
The Uyghurs are a distinct, Turkic-speaking ethnic group whose homeland enjoyed a brief period of autonomy as East Turkestan in the late 1940s, but who have lived under Chinese rule since 1949.
According to the State Department’s 2004 Human Rights report, Uyghurs continued to be sentenced to long prison terms and sometimes executed last year on charges of separatism.
China said it prosecuted more than 3,000 cases in Xinjiang and held mass sentencing rallies attended by more than 300,000 people during its “Strike Hard” campaign, which officially ended in 2003.