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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. 

Therefore during 1987, and since 1984, the Chinese government announced that the Uyghur population is 9 million, which made the Uyghurs a minority within their own homeland among 1 billion 300 million Chinese. Against their own policy for the minorities, they pursued “planned child birth” to the point that they surgically removed the girls’ uteri before they got married, sterilized men, killed the babies in the uterus when they are already full term in the pregnancy, gathered up the mothers and operated on them and removed the babies forcibly, killed the babies and then left the mothers with female reproductive organs diseases, et cetera. And did not give them the medical care that is necessary.

It did not end there. In order to destroy the Uyghur national identity completely, they used the word “terrorism,” since Uyghurs as a nation believe in Islam. The Chinese government used the opportunity of the war against terrorism as the chance to wipe out Uyghurs and assimilate them, and they had another gigantic policy to achieve that goal.

The policy is that they started to move Uyghur youths between age 7 and age 16 to the inner regions of China. This is against China’s own constitution. They sugar coated this action by saying that with the children being educated in inner cities instead of in Xinjiang, the kids would have job security. They said there would be no tuitions for the Uyghur kids. This was just the first stage of assimilating the Uyghurs. In 2003, right after they achieved that, using the excuse of bilingual policy, they forced students, from kindergartners to university students, not to use their mother language, not to read their native literature, not to read their own native alphabets. And they achieved this goal.

Against their own policies for Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, as it states that each nation speaks its own language, each ethnicity practices its own religion. Because the language of each autonomous region is the language of the local ethnic people, the Chinese government restricted our language and banned people to speak their native language. It was not really a bilingual education system. In reality, the teachers, professors, intellectuals who didn’t speak Chinese got kicked out of the schools or forcefully retired.

Anyone who spoke against this unfairness was labeled as nationalist, separatist, and even terrorist and was incarcerated, faced harsh sentences and even execution. They lied to the world just like that. While Uyghurs were facing such torments, using the world economy opportunity, using the world terrorism movement opportunity, in 2006 the Chinese introduced a policy that has never happened in any other part of the world to any other nations. What is this policy?

The policy is that they started to take Uyghurs’ innocent young girls to the Chinese regions with the excuse of giving them jobs. The Chinese government made such a policy. What did the Chinese government say? They have said that it is the government’s policy that young unmarried Uyghur girls – girls who are 14 to 25 years old – must go to inner Chinese cities and work there. There is petroleum, natural gas, and cotton, and millions of Chinese. Chinese girls and men come to East Turkistan and work there. There were many questions being asked, such as why, if our girls don’t speak any Chinese, are they forced to travel to the inner cities of China and get treated like they are in jail, being used as cheap slaves.

If anyone opposed that, if anyone didn’t allow their daughters to go, then they were either arrested or their personal properties were taken away. For example, the Yengisar, Payziwat, and Yopurgha prefectures have so many people being incarcerated for this reason. Currently, the Chinese claim our population is 9 million 600 thousand. From 2006 until now, 400,000 young Uyghur girls between ages 14 and 25 were taken to the Chinese inner cities, according to the Chinese report.

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: Increasing Cruelty by China Condemning the forced relocation of Uyghur girls.

Other videos 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. More +