World Uyghur Congress Strongly Protests Travel Refusal for Uyghur Exile Leaders from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan

Press Release – For immediate release
03 May 2011
Contact:  World Uyghur Congress
0049 (0) 89 5432 1999 or [email protected]

The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) strongly protests authorities’ actions to prevent five Uyghur exile leaders from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan from participating in an international conference in Washington, DC.  The Uyghur leaders planned to attend the international conference ”The Future of the Uyghurs in East Turkestan”, held 2 – 8 May 2011, which is co-sponsored by Freedom House, WUC, the Uyghur American Association (UAA) and the International Uyghur Human Rights and Democracy Foundation (IUHRDF).

In Kazakhstan, airport authorities blocked WUC Vice President Kahriman Ghojamberdi from getting on the plane. Ghojamberdi was stopped by customs officials at the Almaty airport on Sunday and told that his passport was not valid for travel. Ghojamberdi holds both a valid passport and a valid U.S. visa, but when he handed his passport to the customs officer, he returned the passport five minutes later, saying that Ghojamberdi will not be allowed to travel with this passport, because two pages were “ripped out”.  However, the pages had been missing from his passport earlier and he had used the same passport for several trips to Europe and the U.S.

In addition, in the weeks prior to the conference, several other Uyghur activists had been pressured by Kazakh authorities to not attend the conference. Three Uyghur artists whose visas were already approved gave up their plans to attend because of threats by police.

In Kyrgyzstan, four Uyghur activists were prevented from travelling to the U.S. on Sunday. Dilmurat Akberov, former president of the Uyhgur Society of the Kyrgyz Republic “Ittipak”, who holds a position in a local government, and Ruzi Muhammed Abdulbakiev, a former member of the WUC Steering Committee, were asked by Kyrgyz authorities to refrain from travelling to the U.S., arguing that this trip would “harm Sino-Kyrgyz relations.” In addition, Hasyethan Tohtahonova and Elvaskhan Saloi-Akhunov were taken off of the airplane by police on Sunday.

The WUC believes that the men were prevented from travelling due to Chinese pressure. Central Asian countries are under strong influence from China, especially since the establishment of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.  Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, along with Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and China, are members of the regional security grouping, in which Beijing wields pre-eminent influence.

A recent report released by Human Rights in China (HRIC) entitled “Compromise of Human Rights Under Cover of Counter-Terrorism – Human Rights in China Releases a Whitepaper on the Shanghai Cooperation Organization” affirms that the SCO is misused by the Chinese government to “adopt China’s domestic approach to counter-terrorism and expand it throughout Central Asia,” and concludes that “the Chinese government and other SCO member states have thus used ‘counter-terrorism’ measures as a tool to secure domestic ‘social stability,’ often at the expense of human rights”.

The report also notes that “the climate of fear maintained through SCO joint exercises in targeted regions thus has broad potential to intimidate and compromise domestic populations, particularly ethnic groups such as Uyghurs, by deterring them from exercising their legitimate rights, including freedoms of association, expression, and religion – activities that officials regularly characterize as ‘separatism’ or ‘extremism.’”

WUC president Rebiya Kadeer expressed her indignation with the behavior of the Kazakh and Kyrgyz authorities, saying that “by following Chinese pressure, it looks like they are a part of China. Instead of supporting and protecting Uyghur brothers and sisters – Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Uyghurs together with Uzbeks and Turkmens share a long common history and are all members of the Turkic peoples – the Central Asian governments are acting like puppets in the hand of the Chinese government.”

The WUC calls on the Kazakh and Kyrgyz governments to respect their own constitutions and international treaties they are part of, and guarantee freedom of movement to all citizens, including Uyghurs. The Uyghurs are contributing effectively to the economic and social development of the Kazakh and Kyrgyz societies on their path towards democracy and their basic rights must be respected.

The WUC calls also on the international community to express its disagreement with the Kazakh and Kyrgyz practices and to call on China to stop pressuring the Central Asian governments to violate the civil rights of their own citizens.