Dec 12, 2007

East Turkestan: First Hajj Campaign a Success

A joint event organized by the UNPO and World Uyghur Congress attracts hundreds to protest against the religious persecution affecting the East Turkestan Uyghurs.

This year again, large numbers of China’s Muslims will not be allowed to conduct the pilgrimage to Mecca. One of the five pillars of Islam, the Hajj is a fundamental duty for all able-bodied Muslims, but Chinese law, while theoretically protecting freedom of religion, operates a de facto selection of candidates to the Hajj on the basis of political beliefs and wealth.

Spearheaded by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), the Vice-President of the European Parliament, Mr. Edward McMillan-Scott, prominent Parliamentarians as well as many human rights NGOs, an appeal for the right to conduct the Hajj was sent to Chinese authorities in October. Despite their acknowledged receipt of the document, they have failed to respond.

On 10 December 2007, human rights activists from all four corners of the world met in The Hague, the Netherlands. In order to underline the anniversary of the International Day of Human Rights, the UNPO, in conjunction with the World Uyghur Congress, organized a group demonstration at the Dutch Parliament. Under an unusual December sun, by-passers merged with human rights defenders and activists alike to denounce the blatant impossibility of Chinese Muslims from East Turkestan –Uyghurs– to participate to the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. Hundreds of white roses were given before marching in solidarity to the Chinese Embassy. Once arrived, a traditional Islamic prayer was given by local Imams while followers bowed in sobriety towards the Mecca. Participants believed that the demonstration gave them the possibility to express their faith without fear of reprisals. As one human rights supporter stated: “being Muslim and free is impossible in East Turkestan”.

Earlier that day, Dutch Foreign Affairs parliamentarian, Mr. Harry van Bommel, was invited to discuss with the UNPO and exiled Uyghurs from The Netherlands. A number of sensitive, China-related subjects were addressed. Among other topics, the current human rights violations regarding religious freedoms were raised. Mr. van Bommel replied that there is nothing that “shouldn’t be discussed in a dialogue with China”, including the situation of the Uyghurs and their travels to Mecca. Furthermore, Mr. van Bommel stated that he would make sure to discuss this issue with the Dutch Ambassador for Human Rights. He concluded by saying that initiatives such as the Hajj Campaign 2007 are a vital part of raising awareness for religious liberties in China and around the world.

Click here to see the Appeal for Freedom of Religions in China