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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Tackling China

April 4, 2008

Apr 2, 2008

Just two weeks after Tibetan monks first took to the streets in protest
against Chinese rule, unrest broke out among Muslim Uighurs in China's
remote Xinjiang region. Details about the demonstrations remain murky,
but Rebiya Kadeer, president of the World Uighur Congress, believes that
at least 400 people are being held in detention. Kadeer, 61, says the
outburst was triggered by a combination of factors, including the death
in detention of local businessman and philanthropist Mutallip Hajim; a
Chinese-imposed 10 p.m. curfew in the southern Silk Road regions of
Kashgar and Khotan on March 11, one day after the monks' protests began
in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, and subsequent attempts to prevent
Muslim Uighur women wearing head scarves that led to protests by at
least 1,000 women in Khotan on March 23 and 24.

Kadeer, whose umbrella organization represents more than 1 million
Uighurs in 35 countries, was detained by Beijing in 1999 on charges of
leaking state secrets and freed in 2005 ahead of a visit to China by
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Now based in Washington,
Kadeer spoke to NEWSWEEK's Mary Hennock through an interpreter. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: You say the Chinese authorities imposed a curfew starting
March 11. Why do you think they did that?

Rebiya Kadeer: Because Khotan is the area where the Uighurs are the
majority, and in the light of the tragic events taking place in
neighboring Tibet ... the Chinese government was very worried that the
Uighurs would stand up against Chinese rule. The Chinese government
realized that the Uighur people will support and sympathize with the
suffering of the Tibetans. After the Uighurs took to the streets, the
Chinese authorities blocked all the information, cracked down and
arrested many of them … We're not exactly sure how the Chinese
authorities cracked down on these Uighur protesters, and we urge the
Chinese authorities to immediately release these detainees and ask for
the international community to intervene.

Have Uighurs been watching events on Tibet closely? How do they see them?

Since the first day of the tragic events in Tibet, the Uighur people in
their hearts express their sympathy with the Tibetans and their
solidarity, as well … The Uighurs in our homeland support the Tibetan
people's peaceful protests for freedom and for human dignity.

The protests in Tibet were not peaceful protests, I think that's very
clear. What is your attitude on that?

It is the Chinese government that has pushed the people of Tibet and the
Uighurs to the point of no return. As a result, they took to the streets
and protested. Some of them may not be peaceful, but it is because of
the Chinese government's ongoing, long-standing, repression of the
people of Tibet.

How do you see the situation in Xinjiang compared to Tibet? Do you think
the Chinese government uses more repression in Xinjiang?

The repression in our homeland is to some extent even worse because, in
addition to China's standing army, there is another organization there
called the Xinjiang Construction and Production Corps, which is there
specifically to clamp down on the Uighurs. Another thing is because
Uighurs are Muslims, and China used 9/11 as a convenient cover to
further justify its persecution of the Uighur people.

Do you see the Beijing Summer Olympics as a chance to pressure the
Chinese government and gain international attention?

I definitely look at the Olympics as an opportunity to voice our
concerns in the world, but my hope is that the international community
will also pay more attention to China's widespread, egregious,
systematic human-rights violations of the Uighurs. So the international
community should do everything they can to save the people of Tibet and
East Turkistan [China's province of Xinjiang] because they are facing a
direct threat from the Chinese. And the Chinese authorities should also
honor their promises to improve human rights before the Olympics.

But at the same time the Chinese authorities look at the Olympics as
another great opportunity to justify and step up its persecution of the
Uighur people. The Chinese authorities are claiming [its actions are] in
the name of stability for the Olympics [and] are further justifying
detentions and arrests ... We don't have exact numbers because of the
strict control of information, but what we have been learning from our
homeland is that every day people are being detained or arrested.

Last month Chinese authorities announced they'd foiled a terrorist plot
in Xinjiang that involved a Uighur woman carrying liquid explosives onto
a plane, and linked it to a plan to attack the Olympics.
I'm not aware of exactly what happened. We only have the claims of the
Chinese authorities and no evidence, but I see it in two ways. One is that
it was something placed by the Chinese authorities to blame the Uighurs.
Secondly, the Chinese authorities severely tortured that young lady to
confess to what they wanted her to say.
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