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Themes Why I Became a Dissident » Rebiya Kadeer

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Interviewed April 2010

Rebiya Kadeer is a human rights defender, a former prisoner of conscience, and a leader of the Uyghur people. The Uyghurs are Turkic Muslims from China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region, which most Uyghurs call by its former name, East Turkistan.

Born into a poor family, Kadeer became the owner of a small business and eventually one of the richest people in China. She was appointed to a number of prominent positions by the Beijing government and thought that as an insider she could safely call the government’s attention to human rights violations against her fellow Uyghurs. But she was soon removed from these positions and was arrested and imprisoned in 1999 after attempting to meet with a visiting U.S. delegation from the Library of Congress.

When she refused to renounce her human rights advocacy, the government began arresting her children, several of whom are still in detention.

Released in 2005 on the eve of a visit to China by then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Kadeer now lives in the United States. She serves as president of the Uyghur-American Association and the World Uyghur Congress and continues to speak out for freedom and democracy. 

During the July 5th [2009 Shaoguan] incident the Uyghur students – for the first time in their lives – the Uyghur people, they carried the Chinese flag to state that it is a peaceful protest. And they said things like “Please do not kill us”, “Why did you move our girls?” and “Why do you suppress us?” The people who joined this protest were elementary school, middle school, high school, and university students.

The Chinese government very well could have stopped the protest. They could have peacefully dealt with it also. They could have also interrupted the protest easily. But instead of stopping it, they brought 25,000 troops to the place the students were protesting and fired guns at the innocent protesters in shooting rampages and killed so many of them right there and made the whole area covered with blood. For that reason the Chinese government orchestrated such a game successfully.

After they recorded the furious Uyghurs attacking some Chinese around nine in the evening, they shut down the electricity for the whole city and forced the demonstrators to retreat to an alley and started to shoot at the thousands of Uyghur demonstrators with automatic rifles. Up to this point, the Chinese government claims that 1,600 people were wounded and about 200 people died. The number 200 is not a small number. Even in the Iraq War, not 200 people died in one day. The Chinese government claimed that 200 died in one day. Whatever happened to those 1,600 who were wounded? Thousands and tens of thousands of Uyghurs disappeared after only being wounded.

As you see, the Chinese government did not deal with either the Shaoguan incident or the subject of relocating the young Uyhgur girls correctly. And the crackdown against the Uyghurs ended harshly with massacring the Uyghurs. It is a bloody tragedy. It is a bloody tragedy, just as the Tiananmen incident and just as the Tibet incident are. They ended as bloody tragedies.

Starting from July 5th until now, they shut down the entire Internet. Even now, 30 million Uyghur people do not have access to the Internet. There is no Internet. The whole world knows about it. They also shut down the phones and just recently, about a month ago, they barely opened the phone systems. They shut down 1,500 websites and incarcerated the websites’ hosts. They executed many and killed many in the jail by torture.

The world felt pity for us. The world media did not buy the Chinese propaganda and sent reporters to Urumqi for reporting from the actual place, although the Chinese government beat them up, broke their cameras, and deported them from the country. But they have known the actual reality and reported to the world.

However, no matter if it is the United States government, no matter if it is the U.S. State Department, their attitude toward the incident was very passive. Because the Chinese economy is getting strong, and plus it was the time for them to have a dialogue with China on the economy, they reacted in the most weak and useless manner and kept quiet. The whole European world and Asian world was watching them and didn't want to say anything strong while the U.S. didn't say much. Therefore, the Chinese shut down our Internet, killed all the wounded, and arrested Uyghurs without any hesitations. They relocated 130,000 soldiers for further suppression of the Uyghurs – 130,000 troops against the barehanded Uyghurs.

Currently, the Uyghur people cannot even lift up their heads on the streets. If they lift up their heads and look at someone, soldiers all come and attack this Uyghur and kill him. The situation is very harsh. If they had treated the Uyghur issue as an international human rights issue and not only an internal problem of China, and if they had applied American values and human rights to our people, the Chinese government would not have been cruel against our people. For the last five months, the Chinese government has announced to the world that they have openly executed 34 people for connections with the incident. And some of them were only 19 years old.

The People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, after a decades-long civil war between communist and nationalist forces. The communist victory drove the nationalist government to the island of Taiwan. While tensions have eased in recent years, both the nationalist and communist forces still claim to rule all of China. China ranks as the world’s third largest country by area, and the largest by population, with over 1.3 billion people.

Since 1949, China has been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party. Revolutionary leader Mao Zedong led the country until his death in 1976. Mao’s era was marked by dramatic swings in policy, massive crackdowns on perceived opponents of the regime, and harsh repression. Since 1976, the Chinese government has broken with Marxist economic orthodoxy by instituting limited market-based reforms, but the party has retained its monopoly on political power.

Freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and religion are severely restricted, and the people of China are denied the right to change their government. The courts are controlled by the Communist Party and do not provide due process of law. Government control extends into every aspect of people’s lives, most notably in the one-child policy in which unauthorized pregnancies often result in forced abortion and sterilization. While technology has spread quickly in recent years, Freedom House ranks China as one of the three most repressive governments in the world in terms of Internet freedom.

While the rapid expansion of the private sector has dramatically changed the Chinese economy, fundamental principles of free market systems are lacking, including property rights and independent labor unions. Official corruption remains a major obstacle to developing a fully free economy.

In 1989, 100,000 people gathered in a peaceful demonstration in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to protest human rights violations and demand democratic reforms. The protest lasted several weeks and inspired similar nonviolent demonstrations in other cities throughout China. On June 4, 1989, the People’s Liberation Army converged on the area with troops, tanks, and other advanced military weapons. Estimates of the death toll ranged from several hundred to several thousand. The army used similar tactics to suppress demonstrations in other cities and subsequently rounded up and imprisoned many thousands of protestors. The government vigorously defended these actions and instituted a campaign to purge those who had sympathized with protestors from the party and the government.

Although the Tiananmen Square massacre put an end to hopes for a speedy transition to democracy, courageous Chinese citizens have continued to risk imprisonment and worse to demand freedom. These human rights activists have included students, workers, lawyers, artists, and writers; Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims who demand respect for their cultures, traditions, and religious practices; members of the spiritual discipline known as Falun Gong; Catholics who insist that their church is headed by the Pope rather than by government-appointed religious officials; and members of the “house church” movement, representing millions of Protestant Christians who are forced to worship in secret because their churches are not authorized by the government. China’s many prisoners of conscience include members of each of these groups.

In 2010, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to imprisoned Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo. His wife was arrested in order to prevent her from attending the award ceremony, and the government employed a range of coercive techniques to prevent other human rights activists from attending. China’s leading human rights lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, disappeared in early 2009 and is presumed to be in government custody.

The most recent Freedom in the World report from Freedom House gave China scores of 6 for civil liberties and 7 for political rights, where 1 is the highest and 7 the lowest possible score. Freedom House categorizes China as a “Not Free” country.

More on this theme from Rebiya Kadeer

Rebiya Kadeer: Protests and Repression July 5 attacks on Uyghurs and international reaction. Rebiya Kadeer: Personal History "For the past 60 years, Uyghurs did not have a day of peace." Rebiya Kadeer: Voice of My People "It is my responsibility to let the world know about the cruelty my people are facing." More + Rebiya Kadeer: Family On the high price her family has paid for her leadership of the Uyghur movement.

Other videos from Rebiya Kadeer

Rebiya Kadeer: Increasing Cruelty by China Condemning the forced relocation of Uyghur girls. More +