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Activist says China targets Uighurs, limits their religious freedom
Jessie Abrams
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Tuesday, July 21, 2009
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WASHINGTON (CNS)—A Uighur activist from China told reporters in Washington that, following violence she claimed was directed at her ethnic group, her main concern was that religious freedom be ensured for all Uighurs.

Rebiya Kadeer talked to a July 15 media round table sponsored by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom about a government crackdown on a recent demonstration in the city of Urumqi in China's northwest autonomous region of Xinjiang.

On July 5 Uighurs were protesting Chinese policies they say are repressive when Chinese police forces shut off lights in parts of the area and opened fire on protesters, according to Kadeer.

After the demonstration turned into a riot, government officials said they would shut down mosques for "safety" reasons, but then reversed the decision a few days later.

According to Kadeer, the Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim minority living mainly in the Xinjiang region, are routinely harassed during the holy period of Ramadan. For example, she said, they are forced to take a lunch break and break their month-long fast during Ramadan. Some of them have been arrested for participating in "illegal religious practices," she said.
She also said that during the riot more Uighurs were killed than the Chinese government claimed.

Official reports said at least 184 people died and 1,700 were injured during the riot, but Kadeer said she thinks many more, maybe even thousands of people, died in the violence. The Chinese government said that of the 184 victims only 46 were Uighurs and the rest were Han Chinese.

"The Chinese government is using all its power to blockade information so that only their numbers are broadcast around the world," said Kadeer. "They have been able to cover up and control information."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told the government-run Xinhua News Agency that actions to control the July 5 riots were not targeted at a specific ethnic group. Qin urged people to understand what he called the "true" situation and asked for "three relevant countries," which he did not name, to stay out of the situation.

Xinhua claimed Kadeer has "close contact with terrorist organizations."

Originally from the Xinjiang region, she spent much of her life there taking care of her 11 children and running a successful trading company in her home country. In 1999 Chinese police arrested Kadeer on charges of sharing state secrets with foreigners and sentenced her to six years in prison.

Since her release, she has been working in the United States for women's rights and Uighur religious rights. Kadeer currently serves as the president of the World Uyghur Congress and the Uyghur American Association.

Kadeer called on the United States and other countries to take action on behalf of the Uighurs, saying inaction from the international community would serve as an indication of disinterest and give the Chinese government a green light to harass Uighurs. President Barack Obama should make the issue a top priority and should send an investigative team to the region, Kadeer said.

At the round table the religious freedom commission also urged the U.S. to investigate the situation, and said it should establish a diplomatic presence in the region and take action under the International Religious Freedom Act to target the Xinjiang region.

Each year, as mandated by a 1998 law, the religious freedom commission designates countries with the most severe religious freedom violations as "countries of particular concern." The law also outlines several presidential actions that can be taken against those countries, such as limiting or suspending security assistance to them, not exporting technology to them and refusing them loans or credit.

Recommendations that other nations address the situation did not soothe the concerns of those who live in the United States and have family in Xinjiang. Kuzhati Maiti, a refugee who currently lives in the Washington area, said he cannot get over the deaths of the Uighurs.

"I couldn't explain very much," he said, "but we're very angry. They killed a lot of our people -- young people, old people, they don't care. We're just very angry." He also told Catholic News Service he was not sure what he could do to help because he is so far away, but said he wanted to raise money to take care of family members still living there.

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