Uighur activist not coming because of visa problems

Originally published by Taipei Times, 18 July 2010
By Loa Iok-sin and William Lowther

NOT A REJECTION: Omer Kanat, who was to attend a film showing on Rebiya Kadeer, said TECRO told him it had to do more research on his visa case

“The government tells us in flowery speeches that enhanced economic ties with China would not have any impact on political and human rights issues, but incidents like this tell it all.”

— Freddy Lim, Guts United Taiwan chairman

After exiled World Uyghur Congress president Rebiya Kadeer was denied entry into Taiwan last year, another Uighur activist yesterday said he would not be able to make a scheduled trip to Taiwan because the Taiwanese office in Washington was still reviewing his visa application.

World Uyghur Congress vice president Omer Kanat was supposed to accompany Kadeer’s daughter, Raela Tosh, to Taiwan to attend screenings of The 10 Conditions of Love, following the official release of the movie on DVD in Taiwan last month.

Guts United Taiwan (GUT), which is hosting the screenings of the film on Kadeer, was originally planning to invite the US-based exiled leader, but learned recently that after being denied entry into Taiwan last year, the Taipei government had placed her on a three-year blacklist.

GUT then invited Kanat and Tosh to come in her stead. However, Kanat was informed by an official at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in Washington on the day of his departure that it was still reviewing his application.

Kanat, who holds a Turkish passport and a US green card, told the Taipei Times by telephone that when he sent his application in person to TECRO’s visa division, two officers took his application, told him that everything was fine and that the office would contact him when his visa was ready.

However, on Friday morning, instead of being told his passport was ready for pickup, a TECRO officer told him that his visa was not yet ready.

“This morning, an officer from the embassy came to my office and told me that my visa was still not there, and I have to wait — but they knew I was leaving today [July 16],” Kanat said. “He [the officer] said they needed more time to [do] research.”

“The officer said that, because I was born in China they wanted to know whether I hold a Chinese passport,” Kanat said.

“Well, I became a Turkish citizen almost 20 years ago, so of course I don’t have that [a Chinese passport],” Kanat said. “[The officer] stressed that Taiwan’s not rejecting my visa application, [it] just needed more time — but the explanation is not logical.”

When Kanat protested, the officer merely said that the instructions had come directly from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) in Taipei, and that he could do nothing about it, he said.

Asked if the Taiwanese officer was “embarrassed,” Kanat said: “I don’t want to use that term, but he apologized and said he was sorry. I asked him when the visa would be issued and he said that he didn’t know.”

“I feel sad that this has happened,” he added.

“I can only presume that this has created problems for them,” he said. “The Chinese must have put on pressure to stop my visa. It’s the only thing that I can think of, but it’s only an assumption. Why else would they not give me a visa?”

In Taipei, GUT chairman Freddy Lim (林昶佐) said he was “upset and disappointed” on hearing the news.

“First it’s Kadeer, and now it’s Kanat,” said Lim, who is also the lead vocalist of the heavy metal band Chthonic. “The government tells us in flowery speeches that enhanced economic ties with China would not have any impact on political and human rights issues, but incidents like this tell it all.”

“It’s ironic that officials from China can come to Taiwan any time, while human rights advocates from other countries like Kadeer and Kanat are banned from coming to Taiwan,” he added.

Asked to comment, MOFA deputy spokesman James Chang (章計平) said TECRO has its own considerations when reviewing visa applications.

When asked if the ministry had played a role in the delay of Kanat’s visa application, Chang only said that TECRO “would sometimes report individual cases to Taipei, but they have their own considerations.”

Tosh will be attending the screening of The 10 Conditions of Love at the auditorium in Taipei City Council’s basement at 7pm tomorrow.

Another screening will be held in Kaohsiung at 6:30pm on Tuesday. Initially scheduled to take place at the Moon Theater in the city’s PIER-2 Art Center, the venue has been changed to the Kaohsiung Human Rights School at Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit system’s Formosa Boulevard station.