The World Uyghur Congress Welcome the Release of Rebiya Kadeer

For immediate release
Thursday, March 17, 2005

Washington – The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) and the Uyghur American Association welcome the release of prominent Uyghur businesswoman and human rights activist Rebiya Kadeer by the Chinese authorities on Thursday, and urge them to unconditionally release all political and religious prisoners for peacefully exercising their fundamental human rights.

“We are quite pleased with Rebiya Kadeer’s early release. This is a victory not only for her family but for the entire Uyghur people in East Turkestan and abroad,” said Erkin Alptekin, president of WUC, “To show its genuine good will, the Chinese government should immediately release all Uyghur political and religious prisoners.”

According to John Kamm, director of Duihua Foundation based in San Francisco, China released Kadeer on Thursday on medical parole to the United States. She safely arrived in Washington in the same evening, and was warmly welcomed by her family, friends, and officials of UAA at the Reagan National Airport. A family, long divided by the Chinese government’s hardline policies toward the Uyghur people, has finally reunited in joyful tears and in freedom, thanks to the ceaseless efforts of the U.S. government, UN, and many human rights organizations.

Before her arrest in August 1999, Rabiye Kadeer was one of the most prominent Uyghur businesswomen in China. Kadeer ran a multi-million dollar business, and a department store in her name in downtown Urumchi, capital of East Turkestan. She started “Thousand Mothers Movement” to help poor Uyghur women to start their own business. She was featured in the Forbs magazine, and even praised by the Chinese government as a symbol of its policies toward the Uyghur people.

Later, she was appointed as a member of the official advisory body of the National People’s Congress, and sent to the Fourth World Conference on Women, hosted by former first lady Hillary Clinton, in Beijing in 1995. The Chinese government used her until her husband Sidik Rouzi Haji fled to the U.S. and began to criticize China’s mistreatment of the Uyghur people via Radio Free Asia. The Chinese authorities pressured her to divorce her dissident husband in the U.S. She, however, flatly refused. As a consequence, she was stripped of her membership in the National People’s Congress and forbidden to travel abroad.

The Chinese authorities arrested Kadeer in August 1999 while she was on her way to meet a member of a U.S. congressional delegation in Urumchi. In March 2000, she was sentenced to eight years in prison in a secret trial for “leaking state secrets to foreigners,” presenting openly available newspaper clippings as evidence of her “crime.” Since then, she was being incarcerated in a notorious prison in Urumchi. Kadeer was given the highest human rights award by Human Rights Watch in 2000. The Norwegian Rafto Foundation honored her with the Rafto Award last fall. Despite such international recognition, despite her deteriorating health, and the appeals to release her by the U.S., UN, the EU, and international human rights organizations for many years, the Chinese government was determined to keep her imprisoned until it was in its interest to do so.

“While we welcome the release of Rebiya Kadeer but such release by no means represents any improvement of China’s treatment of the Uyghur people,” said Nury Turkel, president of UAA, “there are still thousands of Uyghur political prisoners in Chinese prison that need to be released.”

Currently, the Chinese authorities are still holding thousands of Uyghur political prisoners for peacefully expressing their dissent. China sentenced Tohti Tunyaz, a Uyghur historian for researching China’s policies toward the Uyghurs during the Cultural Revolution, to eleven years. China also arrested Setiwaldi (Dilkex) Telewaldi last November for meeting with a PBS reporter in Urumchi. His current whereabouts is unknown to the outside world.

In addition, China hijacked the U.S. war on global terrorism since September 11, 2001 and began to widely crack down on Uyghur dissent labeling it as “terrorism” since the Uyghur people are Muslims. According to the most recent human rights report released by the U.S. State Department, “[Chinese] government used the international war on terror as a pretext for cracking down harshly on suspected Uighur separatists expressing peaceful political dissent and on independent Muslim religious leaders.”