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Op-Ed: A profile of Rebiya Kadeer, fearless Uyghur independence activist

Digital Journal, 29 April 2013

Born three years before China annexed East Turkestan and named it Xinjiang, Rebiya Kadeer has lived a remarkable life. Born into poverty, she became one of China’s seven richest persons and model citizen before she was imprisoned for rebellious activism.

One sometimes sees photographs showing Rebiya Kadeer together with H.H. the Dalai Lama, and apart from the Tibetan’s role as religious leader, the two people have much in common; the struggle for their respective peoples culture to survive. While the Dalai Lama represents the suppressed Tibetan people, Rebiya Kadeer is the figurehead of the Uyghur people, equally suppressed with their lifestyle, language and traditions endangered by being overrun by the Chinese Han and Hui peoples who more and more dominate all and everything in the region.

Today, Rebiya Kadeer lives outside China, is president of the World Uyghur Congress and the American Uyghur Association. She’s also the author of Dragon Fighter: One Woman’s Epic Struggle for Peace With China.

Born in November of 1946 into a poor family, Rebiya Kader soon became aware that the way out of this was turning into an educated adult, and she worked on that. As a young woman, she started to sow and sell clothing, later opened a laundry service, and much later turned an old market into a department store that sold Uyghur style clothing. In the 90s, her acute business sense had turned her into a millionaire and one of the seven richest individuals in China, while she also became known as generous philanthropist. Her ‘1000 Mothers Movement’, for example, was designed to aid Uyghur women start their own business and become financially independent, and she also sustained and supported orphaned Uyghur children.
Chinese authorities hailed her as an example that someone from the ethnic Muslim minority could be successful and adapt well to the ‘New China,’ and rewarded her with political posts. However, the glamor soon faded when it was discovered that she leaked sensitive information to her latest husband Sidiq Rouzi, who had left China for the United States to become an Uyghur independence activist. Rebiya Kadeer was imprisoned from 1999 until 2005, when she was released on medical grounds. With the aid of the US government and Amnesty International, she was allowed to leave the country on condition that she would not lobby or work on behalf of Uyghur independence.

Kadeer, however, having joined her husband in the US and feeling convinced that the struggle to liberate the Uyghur land and people from Chinese oppression was a necessity, devoted her life to that task. In 2006 she became president of the World Uyghur Congress. In a fashion that reminds of Stalin, the Chinese authorities then punished her by imprisoning 3 of her in China living sons, and in 2009 they accused her of having masterminded the riots in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi. These so-called Urumqi riots cost 197 lives and saw almost 1800 wounded. Since then, she’s been the number 1 (or 2) enemy of the state, a career pinnacle she shares with the Dalai Lama.

In some countries she’s persona non grata, by virtue of Chinese diplomatic pressures, yet she’s recently spoken at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and just 3 days ago in Paris. Mrs. Kadeer speaks Uyghur as well as Mandarin Chinese, which makes watching YouTube video’s of her appearances difficult to follow: every question and answer has to be translated. The included AlJazeera video is the best introduction I’ve been able to find.
The Huffington Post sometimes carries blogs by Rebiya Kadeer. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, and is considered as one of the 500 most influential Muslims; a rare distinction for a woman.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of