Oct 12, 2006

East Turkestan: Defending a Dissident’s Right to Speak Out

In Northern Virginia, foreign agents seek to intimidate Rebiya Kadeer, China’s prominent human rights advocates nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

WASHINGTON - Right here in Northern Virginia, foreign agents seek to intimidate a Chinese dissident nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. But 58-year-old Rebiya Kadeer, a former national parliament member and one of China’s most prominent human rights advocates, refuses to back down. “Nearly 10 million Uyghur people put their hope in me, so I cannot take a step backward,” she told The Examiner Monday, speaking through a translator.

In April, Kadeer’s 13-year-old grandson spotted four Chinese men videotaping outside her ground-floor Fairfax Circle apartment. When the boy’s mother arrived and asked the men what they were doing, they sped away. Kadeer’s daughter, one of 10 children who now lives in Centreville, got the license plate number. Congressman Frank Wolf, R-10th, co-chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, says the FBI concluded three of the men in the rental car were Chinese secret police.

As an Uyghur, Kadeer is from a peaceful Muslim ethnic group under severe persecution by the Chinese government. Kadeer was arrested in 1999 when she tried to talk to visiting Congressional Research Service officials. Imprisoned for seven years for sending newspaper clippings to the U.S., she was released last March in an apparent deal with Washington timed to coincide with a visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The same day, U.S. officials backed away from a resolution criticizing China at a U.N. Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva.

The constant threat of violence against loved ones is one of the worst forms of terror. On April 18 — the same day she testified before the caucus — three of Kadeer’s sons were arrested in China and sent to a detention center. Chinese officials forced her daughter to call her on a cell phone. “They wanted me to hear my sons screaming. It was the last time I’ve heard from them,” she told us, dabbing away tears.

Legions of Uyghurs are imprisoned in China, she says. Teenage girls are forced to work in factories in mainland China for the equivalent of $50 per month, and many turn to prostitution and drug trafficking to make ends meet. Boys as young as 7 are taken from their parents and sent to faraway schools. Meanwhile, ethnic Chinese who move there are given the best land and jobs, reducing Uyghurs to impoverished outcasts in their own homeland. “It’s the same policy the Chinese used in Tibet, but even worse. Tibetans have the Dalai Lama, but few people know about us,” Kadeer laments.

Amnesty International has documented cases in which Uyghurs have been tried without legal representation and executed for alleged separatist activities in China’s “Strike Hard” campaign. If the international community does not intervene, Kadeer fears, her ancient culture will be extinct in 30 years. But American political and business interests remain largely silent about their trading partner’s slow method of genocide.

The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize will be announced in Oslo Friday. Rebiya Kadeer is considered one of the top four finalists, so it’s obvious why the Chinese want to silence her. We must make sure they do not.