Plight of China's Uighur Minority Brought to Australia

Voice of America
By Phil Mercer
29 February 2008

Rebiya Kadeer, like the film director Steven Spielberg, says she hopes to use the global attention on China ahead of this year's Beijing Olympics to make a political point.

In Spielberg's case, it was China's alleged unwillingness to intervene in the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region, which has claimed 200,000 lives since 2003. Spielberg quit as artistic director for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing games, criticizing China for not using its influence in Sudan to help resolve the crisis.

Kadeer is in Australia to campaign for self-determination for her fellow Uighurs, a minority Muslim ethnic group from China's western province of Xinjiang. While here, she has been meeting with members of parliament, officials and community groups.

She says Uighur culture is being eroded under Beijing's policy of importing Chinese settlers into their homeland.

Since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington in September 2001, she says, the Chinese government has used fear of Islamic extremism to crush peaceful dissent by Uighur activists.

"And today's situation is so terrible that you don't have to do anything just to be arrested," she said. "As long as you're not happy with the government and if you express any kind of verbal or written dissent to the Chinese government's policies in a very, extremely mild fashion, you'd be in great trouble and imprisoned by the government. So fear is rampant and people live in daily fears."

She says the government has tortured and executed Uighur activists.

"They use two ways of killing the Uighurs for political reasons," she explained. "One is to openly, you know, sentence them and then execute them as political prisoners. Another is for political prisoners - they torture them severely - then they die in prison. They claim they died of natural reasons."

China considers Kadeer to be an extremist, and jailed her for six years. She was released on medical grounds in 2005 and allowed to travel to the United States, where she now lives.

Senior members of Australia's new Labor government, which has promoted its ties to Beijing, have refused to meet Kadeer during her visit. She has, though, been enthusiastically received by Australian human rights groups and Islamic organizations.