Under attack by China, Uighur activist denounces violence

McClatchy NewspapersJuly 10, 2009 

US NEWS CHINA-ACTIVISTS 1 MCT

Rebiya Kadeer, an ethnic Uyghur from China's predominately Muslim far west, has campaigned vigorously for greater freedom for her ethnic brethren.

TIM JOHNSON — Tim Johnson / MCT

WASHINGTON — Uighur emigre leader Rebiya Kadeer, accused by China of organizing violent protests in western China, disputed the charge Friday and said she was against all violence, including that by members of the Chinese Muslim community.

Chinese officials said Friday that they'd found proof that Kadeer, the president of the World Uighur Congress, was behind the July 5 protests.

Kadeer, who lives in Virginia, had "plotted to instigate riots by sending messages via the internet, telephones, and mobile phones," said Hou Hanmin, the head of the publicity department in Xinjiang province, the center of the unrest.

Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill, Kadeer said: "I'm against all violence, and I have not done that."

Earlier she'd distributed a statement condemning "the violence that has been carried out against the Uighur people" as well as "the violence some Uighur demonstrators have committed."

About two dozen Uighurs dressed in blue staged a protest outside of the White House on Friday, chanting "we want freedom," "China's fascist" and waving the blue flag of East Turkestan, which is what the separatists call Xinjiang. They assert that the Chinese communists "occupied" the region after coming to power in 1949.

The flag is banned in China, according to Alim Seytoff, the director of the Uighur Human Rights Project at the Uighur American Association, an advocacy group. "You don't even have to wave the flag; if you use the word 'East Turkestan' in China, they will shoot you," he said.

Also on Friday, Reps. Bill Delahunt D-Mass., and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., introduced legislation that condemns the "present and past violence" of the Chinese government against Uighurs.

"The violence and loss of Uighur and Han Chinese lives is appalling," said Delahunt, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs oversight committee, "but also appalling are the accusations by the Communist Chinese regime that have been leveled" against Kadeer.

"The executive branch — both under the Democrats and under the Republicans — seems to be unable to aggressively articulate and condemn the suppression and brutality of the government in Beijing," said Rohrabacher, the panel's ranking member.

The Obama White House and State Department have been quiet on the issue.

"The main thing now, I think, is for all sides to exercise restraint and avoid finger-pointing, avoid fanning flames, and just refrain from violence in general," said Ian Kelly, a State Department spokesman.

"How can the U.S. government urge restraint on both sides when one side only has their hands and the other side has guns? It just doesn't make sense," Seytoff said.

The protests began on Sunday, when thousands of Uighurs took to the streets of Urumqi, the capital of Xingjian province, to protest Chinese suppression. After government security forces tried to disperse protestors, violence broke out leaving 156 dead and 1,000 injured, according to government officials.

Although she knew about the Urumchi protests before they began, Kadeer said she had no role in organizing them. She told McClatchy that she'd heard about the plans from her daughters in the U.S. who'd seen announcements of demonstrations in Urumqi on popular Uighur Web sites.

Kadeer also claims that the number of fatalities have been misconstrued by the Chinese government.

She told McClatchy that she estimated there were around 400 deaths, compared with 156 reported by Chinese officials. "Usually in such tragic events, the government tries to downplay the numbers," Kadeer said, citing information from sources in China.

ON THE WEB

Kadeer op-ed in the Wall Street Journal

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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