Rebiya Kadeer

New Episode of The Keeper Podcast, Rebiya Kadeer


Our guest, Mrs. Rebiya Kadeer, is known as the “mother of the Uyghur nation”. She is the acknowledged global leader of the Uyghur people - a community of over 15 million living primarily in the East Turkestan region of China where this largely Muslim community has been subjected to discrimination, persecution, mass incarceration and cultural and religious oppression at the hands of the Chinese government. 

With the help of an interpreter, Mrs. Kadeer spoke about the increase in persecution being experienced in East Turkestan, the Government’s efforts to intimidate her into silence by targeting her family members who are still in China, and why the US government should apply the Global Magnitsky Act to the Chinese official responsible for the outrages taking place in East Turkestan.

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The Times of Israel : Muslim Uyghurs, urging freedom for ‘East Turkestan,’ picket Chinese Embassy in Washington

Muslim Uyghurs, urging freedom for ‘East Turkestan,’ picket Chinese Embassy in Washington

By Larry Luxner, Featured in The Times of Israel 

On a rainy April morning in Washington, about 150 Muslim Uyghur protestors gathered in front of the Chinese Embassy, waving light-blue flags and shouting slogans on behalf of an ethnic group few Americans have ever heard of.

They were led by the daughter of a Jewish Holocaust survivor and congressman who dedicated his life to fighting human rights injustices.

The Uyghurs (pronounced WEE-gurs) — an ancient people spread across much of East and Central Asia —live primarily in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The Beijing government officially puts their number at 1.2 million, though Uyghur activists say China is actually home to 15 million Uyghurs.

And they’re treated horribly, say protesters who accuse the Xi Jinping regime of “brutal oppression and covert genocide” against Xinjiang’s Uyghur minority.

“Between 800,000 and one million Uyghurs are incarcerated in China right now. This is human rights abuse on a massive scale,” Katrina Swett Lantos, president of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, told me. “It is particularly insidious because they are going out of their way to target Uyghurs who have relatives in the United States.”

The activist is the daughter of lawmaker Tom Lantos— a Hungarian Jew who survived the Nazi occupation of Budapest and went on to become a member of Congress. At the time of his death in 2008, the California Democrat chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Swett Lantos organized the impromptu Apr. 19 demonstration at the Chinese Embassy on Washington’s International Place. Her group also attempted to deliver a box full of protest letters to China’s ambassador, but embassy guards refused to accept the package — and D.C. police eventually asked the group to leave the premises.

“Our job is to shine the spotlight and energize Congress,” she said in an interview as protesters gathered across the entrance to the embassy, waving hand-painted signs all around her. “China is a dangerous goliath aiming to intimidate all of Asia. We cannot give it a free pass just because it’s an economic power.”

Tayir Imim, 37, studied at Israel’s Haifa University for five months last year, and now volunteers for the Uyghur human rights movement.

“Uyghurs and Jews have a lot in common,” he said. “The experience of the Jewish people in Israel inspires us to revive our national identity and establish our own independent country.”

Imam said the current violence between Israelis and Palestinians has not dissuaded Chinese Uyghurs from those warm feelings.

“Most Uyghur people are very respectful of Jews,” he said. “They believe Jewish people are smart and very detail-oriented.”

Also chanting anti-China slogans was 24-year-old consultant Salih Hudayar.

“China occupied East Turkistan in September 1949 and officially abolished our state on Dec. 20, 1949, when we officially lost our independence,” said Hudayar, wearing a traditional four-pointed Uyghur cap known as a doppa. “Since then, we have never stopped our protest.”

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which the Uyghur people themselves refer to as “East Turkestan,” is a vast, potentially oil- and gas-rich area of western China covering nearly 643,000 square miles — nearly four times the size of California. The Uyghurs themselves are ethnically related to Turks.

In an open letter to the Chinese Embassy, Rebiya Kadeer— self-described “spiritual mother of the Uyghur Nation” and leader of both the Uyghur National Movement and the World Uyghur Congress — called on Beijing to essentially let her people go.

“Since Chen Quanguo, the former secretary of Tibet [Autonomous Region of China], took office as party secretary of the Uyghur Autonomous Region in August 2016, he has been imposing unprecedented ferocious and inhumane policies in the region,” wrote Kadeer, claiming that hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs have been arrested simply because of their ethnic identity, or for having traveled overseas or having relatives living abroad.

She said China has sent at least 1.5 million Uyghurs to so-called “political re-education centers” to become indoctrinated with Chinese nationalist and communist ideology.

“Cities and towns across the Uyghur homeland have become deserted and almost all rural areas have been isolated from neighboring regions and blocked from visitors,” Kadeer said. “It is not a secret for the observers that only the dead have been coming out of these Nazi-style concentration camps since they were launched in late 2016.”

Among her demands to the Chinese government:

  • Shut down all such “re-education centers” and release all detainees.

  • Release all Uyghur political prisoners, including those of other ethnic groups in the region.

  • Account for everyone who was forcefully “disappeared” — including their children — and disclose their whereabouts.

  • Restore all communication rights for the region’s people, including phone service, freedom of movement and the right to contact relatives abroad.

  • Allow foreign journalists and investigators access to the region to conduct independent research and reporting.

  • Release Kadeer’s five children and 15 grandchildren, as well as her husband’s extended relatives.

  • Release the family members of Gulchihre Hojaand other journalists working for Radio Free Asia.

    I asked Imam why the Chinese government is so intent on driving out the Uyghurs.

    “Because China wants to wipe us out, so there won’t be any nation that claims ownership of the land,” he replied. “The Uyghur people claim ownership of the region. The want to assimilate our people into the Han Chinese majority by forcing us to abandon our national culture and identity. Their ultimate goal is to assimilate us and wipe out an entire nation, so there will be nobody anymore who can claim ownership.”

    He added: “Maybe it won’t make a big difference or have a big impact on Chinese policy, but we just began our movement. The U.S. government says the world is aware of what the Chinese government is doing against a peace-loving, civilized people — and the world will not be silent on the issue forever.”

Rebiya Kadeer - 2015 Lantos Human Rights Prize Remarks

It is a very great privilege to speak to you today. I want to thank The Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice for assembling such distinguished guests to celebrate Human Rights Day and to demonstrate our collective strength.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.” So it is with great humility that I stand before you on this occasion honored with the 2015 Lantos Human Rights Prize. Tom Lantos was my true friend. His passing was not only a sad day for rights defenders across the world, but also a great personal loss. Tom Lantos embodied integrity, truth and above all justice. His support for my release from a Chinese jail and for the Uyghur cause of human rights and democracy kept hope alive in dark days.

And now, his legacy continues through the critical work of his family and The Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice. The leadership in championing the rights of religious minorities displayed by Katrina Lantos Swett at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and the lifelong commitment of Tom’s widow, Mrs. Annette Lantos, in resisting tyranny keep a message of compassion and tolerance alive.

I am also honored to share the prize with Irshad Manji, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Their brave work is an inspiration to the marginalized people of the world and demonstrates the endurance of nonviolent resolutions to conflict. That we share this award is testament to the integral part Muslim women have in leadership of their communities. Our common faith shows that Islam has a role to play in bringing peace and progress in a globalized world.

Since the terror attacks on the United States in 2001, the Chinese government has attempted to cast Uyghurs as religious extremists in order to justify a fierce crackdown in East Turkestan. After the recent tragic events in Paris, China once again has seized a political opportunity to seek international approval of its repressive policies targeting Uyghurs.

Let me state this categorically, the Uyghurs are a people of peace and development. They reject the ideologies of extremists that threaten the welfare of humanity. The Uyghur issue is not a Uyghur problem. It is a Chinese government problem. A situation generated by systematic denial to Uyghurs of fundamental human rights and freedoms. Concerned people should not yield to Chinese narratives that deflect scrutiny of its record in East Turkestan.

It is not surprising Chinese officials work hard to conceal events in East Turkestan as the Uyghur people face gross human rights violations on a daily basis. A number of agencies have detailed a broad range of rights concerns regarding Uyghurs, including: enforced disappearances; jailing of political dissidents, journalists and webmasters; repression of independent religious leaders; forced abortions; destruction of cultural heritage; restrictions of movement and formidable obstacles in obtaining a passport; tight controls on freedom of expression, particularly on the internet; marginalization of the Uyghur language in education and society; pressures exerted on foreign governments to refoul refugees; targeted surveillance; and suppression of non-state sanctioned religious association and assembly.

Since Xi Jinping became China’s president, human rights violations of the Uyghur people have intensified. Excessive force and extrajudicial killings are now a common feature of the Chinese state’s security approach to the region. The disproportionate use of force during house-to-house searches, at security checkpoints and during peaceful demonstrations has led to credible allegations of state initiated violence. China’s lack of transparency surrounding incidents of state violence in East Turkestan and conflation between peaceful dissent and violence should cause alarm among independent observers.

Another concerning dimension to the Uyghur issue is how the Chinese government prevents Uyghurs from questioning repressive policies. The Chinese state’s persecution of Uyghur academic Ilham Tohti and his family demonstrate how even working within the system is a threat.

Using legitimate and peaceful means to initiate a meaningful dialogue with the state on the deplorable conditions facing the Uyghurs, Ilham Tohti was targeted by the Chinese authorities and sentenced to life in prison in September 2014 in a legal process that was highly politicized.

Seven of Ilham Tohti’s students who were given prison sentences of up to eight years in December 2014. Perhat Halmurat, Shohret Nijat, Mutellip Imin, Abduqeyyum Ablimit, Atikem Rozi, Akbar Imin and Luo Yuwei worked as volunteers on Professor Tohti’s website, Uighurbiz.

The trial of Ilham Tohti and his students, as well as the targeting of other Uyghur activists, send a strong message that the government will not tolerate any form of Uyghur opposition and displays the extent of Uyghur exclusion from meaningful participation in determining regional policies. That Chinese official media labeled Ilham Tohti as the “brains” behind terrorists should confirm deep skepticism of Chinese government terror claims.

In a world growing more tolerant of anti-Islamic rhetoric, it is the responsibility of enlightened governments to speak out for Muslims facing human rights violations in the name of anti-terror. This could take on no better form than a firm rejection of Chinese accusations of widespread radicalization in East Turkestan and a public stance in favor of the Uyghur peoples’ fundamental rights.

Uyghurs have always extended friendship to peoples beyond East Turkestan. Given its central role in the ancient Silk Road, East Turkestan could be considered the blueprint for contemporary globalization through its tolerance of other faiths and ideas. Now is the time for the world’s democracies to support Uyghurs in realizing their aspirations of freedom and human rights. Uyghurs share the common vision of a world as a place of development, respect and justice for all human beings.

As a former political prisoner, I can testify to the power of openly raising human rights issues with the Chinese authorities. Whenever officials from democratic countries or advocates from rights groups brought my case up to the Chinese government, not only did the conditions of my incarceration improve, but also my hope increased that the pressure would result in my release, as it eventually did in 2005.

Publicly mentioning the repression and undemocratic practices of the Chinese government in trips to China educates and alerts the general public to the falsehood that all is well in China. Publicly raising the Uyghur issue would simultaneously fill millions of Uyghurs with hope, as well as shine a light for those among the world’s public who do not yet know of the egregious human rights abuses facing the Uyghur people. It is often stated that knowledge is power and the more the public knows about the Uyghur issue the more pressure can be brought to bear on the Chinese government to reform its repressive policies.

I want to express my deep admiration to The Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice for its recognition of the dire conditions faced by Uyghurs. In a time when China’s economic prowess is increasingly silencing criticism of the Chinese government, even in democracies, this strong statement of support counts more than ever. The honor of accepting the 2015 Lantos Human Rights Prize is a further expression of solidarity with the Uyghur people and on behalf of all Uyghurs I extend our friendship in return.

Thank you.

Washington Times: Well-behaved women seldom make history, Three outspoken Muslims are honored for their courage

By Katrina Lantos-Swett - - Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Heretic. Rabble-rouser. Criminal. These words have been used and abused to describe many remarkable figures throughout history. Voltaire, when he used his unparalleled pen to demand that the clerical hierarchy of his day truly evaluate itself. Martin Luther, when he set out to reform a faith that he had dedicated his life to. And Martin Luther King Jr., when he issued a prophetic call to his country to fully respect the rights of all of its citizens.

Next month, the Lantos Foundation will proudly honor three courageous women of Muslim heritage who have chosen to make history, joining the ranks of those whom time has vindicated as righteous and brave agents of change. Rebiya Kadeer, Irshad Manji and Ayaan Hirsi Ali are all cut from the same cloth as these towering figures of an earlier time. They, too, have been vilified, but we strongly believe these women will go down in history as bold leaders, audacious reformers and righteous rebels. As has been widely observed, well-behaved women seldom make history.

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