Sep 27, 2006

East Turkestan: Nobel Nominee Speaks on Campus

Kadeer, a 2006 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, spoke Monday night in Wylie Hall on the state of her oppressed people and the life she led before her imprisonment

As Rebiye Kadeer walked into the lecture room where members of her audience watched and smiled, she held both hands to her heart. It was only a year and a half ago in a Chinese prison that she was forbidden to read, write, speak or smile. Those who simply looked at her were tortured.

Kadeer, a 2006 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, spoke Monday night in Wylie Hall on the state of her oppressed people and the life she led before her imprisonment during a 40-minute lecture. With the help of her assistant and translator Alim Seytoff, Kadeer entertained listeners through her subtle jokes and tales of her rich experiences.

"The happiest moment of a person's life is to pay a price for the freedom of her people," Kadeer said during her lecture. "If a person can't love his family, his people or his homeland, he can't love anybody."

Kadeer is from the central Asian nation of East Turkestan, the homeland for the Uyghur people who have been oppressed by the Chinese government since 1939. After the Chinese occupied the country, the Uyghur people lost human and civil rights throughout the decades.

Kadeer slowly made her way up the social and political scale in China and eventually was given a prominent position in the Chinese Parliament and became one of the richest women in her country. However, after expressing ideas that Uyghur people should be granted rights in solution to the Chinese government's unity problem, Kadeer was stripped of her titles and put on house arrest.

Kadeer said she was warned about disclosing information to outside sources but said she didn't care. After sending documents to congressional delegates in the United States, Kadeer was put in jail.

"It wasn't a secret," Kadeer said during her lecture. "I just told them what was happening."

Six years later -- a year and a half earlier than expected -- Kadeer was sent to the United States. She was able to set up residency in Washington, D.C., but not without help. Amnesty International and other human rights groups acted on her behalf while she was in jail.

Christy Campoll, an IU graduate student and a local Amnesty International volunteer, was enthusiastic about what Kadeer had to say and was interested in her status now that she has been released.

"She is a high-profile human rights activist on a global level," Campoll said. "I'm heavily interested to hear what she's doing for her community back home."

After being released from prison and moving to the United States, Kadeer's life would appear to have greatly improved. However, last June three of Kadeer's sons were imprisoned and her daughter was put on house arrest as part of the Chinese government's reaction to her activism in America. Though self-described as the "mother who loves her children the most," Kadeer will continue to act and speak out for her people.

"I want to become a voice for the Uyghur people who live under Chinese rulings," she said.

Kadeer assures that her activism will not stop there. She hopes to eventually speak for minorities under oppression, which is mainly why she is a nominee for the Peace Prize. Facing harsh criticism from the Chinese government that now considers her a terrorist, Kadeer, the "mother" for the Uyghur people, said she is proud of the nomination and thinks the award would help her cause.

"It would be a pleasure if I won it because it would work to help the Uyghur people," she said. "Mother is often known as peace, not violence."

Kadeer drew a plethora of questions from audience members, who ranged from children to professors.

"I care a lot about anyone who has to struggle to keep their existence," former IU student Ken Steele said. "I don't know much about her, and I'm sure a lot of people don't, but I'm always willing to listen about human rights."