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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."

From Exile, Kadeer Steps up Uighur Cause

May 11, 2009

May 100, 2009

WASHINGTON (AFP) -- It was a summer day in 1999
when Rebiya Kadeer headed for an appointment with
US congressional researchers, who had come to the
city of Urumqi to probe the plight of China's Uighur minority.

Fearful she was being tailed, Kadeer took a taxi.
A large vehicle lunged toward them, but the cab
driver quickly swerved, and it instead smashed
into a car behind them, leaving a hand dangling lifelessly from the window.

Paying no heed to the injured, black cars
suddenly surrounded the taxi and officers
alighted with automatic weapons. Thus began
Kadeer's six years in prison, sometimes in a
putrid 30 square-foot (2.5 square-meter) cell,
where she says guards regularly beat and stripped naked the female prisoners.

The events are described in Kadeer's memoir,
"Dragon Fighter," just published in the United
States, Britain and other English-speaking
nations by Kales Press, an affiliate of W.W. Norton.

In the book, she tells of a dramatic and diverse
life from being a mother of 11 and a department
store entrepreneur -- she says she was once the
richest woman in all China -- to her
transformation into the Uighurs' most prominent
dissident and a contender for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the process she relates the story of the
Uighurs, a Turkic and predominantly Muslim people
who according to the latest US State Department
report on human rights are facing severe cultural and religious repression.

China abruptly freed Kadeer in 2005 ahead of a
visit by then US secretary of state Condoleezza
Rice. Now living in exile in the Washington area,
Kadeer believes that Beijing regrets releasing her.

"My hope is that everyone in the world will learn
about our situation through this book," Kadeer
told AFP from her guarded office near the White House.

The slightly built 62-year-old, whose tiny
workspace has two iMac computers, three
megaphones and a framed photo of her meeting
President George W. Bush, becomes animated when speaking of her homeland.

"When I tell people of the suffering of our
people, sometimes people in the West, because of
the freedoms they take for granted, feel that
this is just a fantasy," she said.

"When five or 10 people get killed in a war zone,
people immediately find out and voice deep
sympathy," she said. "But with us it's very
different -- China's totalitarian government has
been systematically destroying the Uighur people
for six decades, so the international community
doesn't know our situation very well."

Kadeer on May 21 will come full circle from her
arrest for trying to meet congressional
researchers -- she plans to open a general
assembly of the World Uighur Congress from within the US Capitol complex.

But in another eerie parallel, Kadeer in her book
relates what she calls an assassination attempt
in Washington in which a van slammed into her
car; she said she and her assistant ran for their lives.

Kadeer says Chinese agents have surveyed her home
and tapped her telephone. Five of her children
remain in the Uighur region of Xinjiang including
two who are in prison, in what Kadeer says is a way to pressure her.

Chinese authorities have described Kadeer as a
"separatist monster" and accused of her of using
Islamic "terrorism" to bring independence to Xinjiang.

Kadeer dwells little on Islamic identity in her
memoir, in which she tells Uighur folk fables. In
one poignant episode, she relates switching from
reciting the Koran in prison to offering a Uighur
shamanistic prayer of pre-Islamic origin.

She accuses China of using the September 11, 2001
attacks as a pretext to crack down on Uighurs. In
prison, she said she was submitted to reeducation
classes in which inmates were told not to believe
in God and had to chant aloud 50 times, "We never want to separate from China!"

"Dragon Fighter," written with the assistance of
author Alexandra Cavelius, was originally
published in German by Random House in 2007.

The English version includes a forward from the
most famous exile from Chinese rule, Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

Kadeer voiced hope that the the book would
eventually be translated into Chinese. She said a
Chinese official made her pledge when she left
that she would do nothing in exile to harm the
Chinese people -- and she says she has kept her promise.

"I am not fighting against the Chinese people,"
she wrote. "Rather -- just like many Chinese
people themselves -- I am fighting for a
democratically based government and for the
unequivocal observance of human rights."
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