For immediate release
August 19, 2009, 3:15 pm EST
Contact: Uyghur American Association +1 (202) 349 1496
The Uyghur American Association (UAA) has learned that, in violation of Chinese law, the children, grandchildren, and siblings of Uyghur democracy leader Rebiya Kadeer who live in Urumchi, the regional capital of East Turkestan, have been ordered by Chinese government authorities to leave their homes in a trade center formerly owned by the family, which officials say will be demolished. The government action follows an intense domestic and international campaign to demonize Ms. Kadeer, alleging that she orchestrated riots in the city. The move also follows a complete absence of self-examination on the part of the government into the underlying grievances that sparked unrest in Urumchi beginning on July 5. It also comes about two weeks after videotaped interviews of the children condemning Ms. Kadeer were broadcast nation-wide on state television.
Family members report that government officials told them the Kadeer Trade Center, the Akida Trade Center, and a third, smaller building, all former properties of the Kadeer family, will be demolished soon. More than 30 members of Ms. Kadeer’s family have been living on the upper levels of the Akida Trade Center. A restaurant in the Akida Trade Center has provided the only source of income to the Kadeer family for more than a decade.
Amid aggressive government propaganda demonizing Ms. Kadeer as the “mastermind” of the unrest in Urumchi, and government accusations that she is a terrorist, it is unclear where her children, grandchildren and siblings will be able to live.
“The Cultural Revolution supposedly ended decades ago, but for my family, and for all Uyghurs, it is still taking place,” said Ms. Kadeer. “Who will provide refuge for my family members when the Chinese government has blamed all of East Turkestan’s problems on me? While I have condemned all violence, the Chinese government has demonized me in the official media to convince millions of Chinese people that I am just like Osama bin Laden. I ask the Chinese government how this helps to promote ethnic harmony.”
On August 4, state-controlled television broadcast interviews with Ms. Kadeer’s son Kahar, daughter Rushangul and imprisoned son Alim, as well as with Ms. Kadeer’s younger brother Mehmet. In the interviews, the children and brother of Ms. Kadeer were compelled to make false accusations about her role in the unrest in Urumchi and condemn her for allegedly destroying the ethnic unity that had existed in the region. Alim was videotaped accusing his mother of having called her children in Urumchi and asked them to immolate themselves in a public square. The day before these interviews aired on television, the official news media published a letter that accused Ms. Kadeer of having broken her promises not to participate in “ethnic splittism” when she left China. The letter was signed by her children, their spouses and five of her young grandchildren.
“How long will the Chinese government hold my children and grandchildren hostage in retaliation for my human rights advocacy?” said Ms. Kadeer. “I am a mother. I am a woman of peace. My family is symbolic of all Uyghurs who would simply like to live in peace without fear of threats, intimidation and state terror.”
Following her release from prison in 2005, just before she was put on a plane to the United States, Chinese officials warned Ms. Kadeer not to speak out about conditions for Uyghurs, saying that if she continued to engage in “separatist activities”, her children and her businesses would be finished. While she engaged in human rights advocacy in the United States, Chinese officials shut down her businesses and harassed her family members in East Turkestan. Following her election to the presidency of the Uyghur American Association and the World Uyghur Congress, her children were first beaten and detained and later sentenced, with sons Alim and Ablikim imprisoned for seven and nine years respectively.
The Kadeer Trade Center and the Akida Trade Center have provided a place of employment to thousands of Uyghur merchants, who have in turn used much of their earnings for philanthropic purposes where no government programs existed. The Kadeer Trade Center has served as the main wholesale center in East Turkestan since it was established by Ms. Kadeer in 1990, and though the government has prevented the upkeep of the building in recent years, it has remained a symbol of hope to Uyghurs throughout East Turkestan.
UAA is concerned that the demolition of the Kadeer business properties will lead to further unrest in East Turkestan. Just as with the killings of Uyghur factory workers in Guangdong Province in late June that sparked July 5 demonstrations in Urumchi, Uyghurs are likely to be dismayed over the destruction of the Kadeer buildings, and UAA fears that public expression of discontent over the demolition of the buildings would be met with brutal force.
Official Chinese reports on the Urumchi unrest have not given any prominence to the involvement of key government officials in exacerbating disharmony between Han Chinese and Uyghurs. Xinhua reported on July 7 Urumchi Communist Party Secretary Li Zhi’s inflammatory chanting of “Down with Rebiya”, at the scene of the unrest, fanning the flames of Han Chinese nationalism and dividing Uyghurs and Han Chinese. On July 9, the official China Daily newspaper quoted Xinjiang Communist Party Chief Wang Lequan as saying that Ms. Kadeer had immediately gotten “involved with overseas terrorists, separatists and extremist forces” in the United States upon her arrival there in 2005.
Since the Urumchi unrest, the Chinese government has made a number of high profile attacks on freedom of speech in western countries. It has harshly criticized the governments of Japan and Australia for granting Ms. Kadeer visas to travel to their respective countries on unofficial visits, and attempted to prevent an independent Australian film festival from screening a documentary about Ms. Kadeer’s life. On August 18, the Chinese government announced that it had cancelled a visit by Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs He Yafei to Australia.